by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
An early evening sun was glaring right into the faces of the Elk River sideline as the team sputtered to a 42-6 loss to the Maple Grove Crimson on Friday.
But that wasn’t all bad, said Steve Hamilton.
“With the sun in my eyes, I wasn’t able to see a lot of what was going on out there on the field,” the Elk coach joked, keeping a sense of humor in an 0-3 start.
The Elks fumbled 13 times and lost five of them. They never got much going from the line of scrimmage; at least, not until Denis Bardashevskiy broke 81 yards for a touchdown with time running out, against the reserves, to avert the shutout.
“You can’t lose the ball that many times. You couldn’t beat a ninth-grade team like that,” said Hamilton. “And Maple Grove is a pretty good team.”
Bardashevskiy gained 197 yards on 17 carries, and Zach Ernst had 82 on nine carries.
The Crimson (3-0) rushed for 300 yards and passed for 111 while collecting a bouquet of Elk fumbles.
The game started at 5 p.m. due to a Jewish holiday as Maple Grove has a significant Jewish population. Hence, the sun blasting over the top of the big grandstand on Maple Grove’s side.
The Elks almost had a kick return touchdown, but that, too, wound up as a fumble. Zach Ernst was inside the 10 when the Crimson’s Adam Brant caught him and knocked the ball loose with a chop of his right arm.
The other most significant fumble was one that popped loose on a handoff with the Elks down 13-0 and perched on the Crimson 15. Crimson safety Jake Engelken plucked the ball out of the air and raced 85 yards untouched.
Tahi Nahome opened the scoring on a seven-yard run and finished with 115 yards on nine carries. A newcomer to Maple Grove this year, he has 650 yards and six touchdowns in three games.
Quarterback Karl Altenburg hit six of 12 passes for 111 yards. Clark Wieneke scored from 57 yards on a screen pass from Altenburg and added a 34-yard TD run. Tyler Coyne had a one-yard TD run. Backup QB Evan Pukal closed it out with a 51-yard jaunt with three minutes left.
Hamilton felt his defensive unit, which didn’t get much rest, did a solid job.
“We got off the ball pretty well,” he said.
Crimson coach Matt Lombardi also cited the Elk defense.
“They were physical, and we had more trouble running against them than we have our other two games,” he said. “It was unfortunate for them that they had all those fumbles.”
The Elks have managed just one touchdown in three games against opponents’ starters, although it’s been rough schedule against three Class 6A teams with a total record of 8-1. It won’t get much easier next Friday as the Elks host Andover, which is 3-0 and has outscored opponents 124-45.