by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
It was a duel of a winless tortoise and an unbeaten hare Friday evening, and the hare prevailed. The Elk River football team is still looking for that first W after falling to the Andover Huskies 35-20 at home.
Not that the Elks are slow, but they could not break off long gainers like the two Andover players, Connor Wilkie and Derek McLaughlin, who gushed them all evening. The Elks (0-4) ran 77 plays and gained 393 yards. The Huskies (4-0) ran 36 plays and gained 386.
It didn’t help that the Elks bogged themselves down with 12 penalties, five of which were personal fouls.
Elk coach Steve Hamilton said the Elks were more physical up front than they’ve been all season although that included costly mistakes.
“We had two drives where we killed ourselves on penalties,” said Hamilton. “Last week it was 13 fumbles (in a loss to Maple Grove). This week it was all the penalties. We have to clean that stuff to get better.”
Denis Bardashevskiy carried 39 times for 234 yards for the Elks and scored on 10- and 16-yard bursts in the first half, the latter of which was his longest. The Elks longest play overall was Trent Pink’s 22-yard pass to Zach Ernst.
Wilkie, Andover’s sweet-slinging, left-handed, 6-foot-4 quarterback, hit 13 of 18 passes for 202 yards, with touchdowns of 28 yards to Justin Freyholtz and 12 yards to McLaughlin.
McLaughlin, rugged but fancy-stepping senior tailback, broke away for touchdowns of five, 30 and 60 yards, giving him four TD’s overall. The only man carrying the ball for Andover, he gained 184 yards in 16 totes.
McLaughlin’s running was helped by Wilkie stretching the field with his laser throws. Chris Wilson caught seven for 84 yards.
“That No. 11 and No. 7 have been throwing to each other quite a bit for years,” said Hamilton. “No. 4 (McLaughlin), he’s pretty good, too.”
Andover coach Rich Wilkie said his team’s main concern was the Elks’ ability to hang unto the ball with their relentless ground game — which the Elks did, piling up 349 ground yards, but Andover won comfortably anyway.
“My biggest issue is that we were not going to have enough chances, and it makes you feel like you’ve got to be more perfect,” said Wilkie.
Asked about his son and the other playmaker, the coach said, “We can be pretty explosive. Those two kids are talented, but honestly, our offensive line is really solid. They picked up some stunts tonight we haven’t seen before. Credit goes to those five guys for opening up gaps and protecting the passer.”
Pink, a sophomore getting his first start, scored the other Elk touchdown on a sneak, He hit four of six passes for 44 yards and rushed for 38 in 14 keepers. Zach Ernst gained 49 in 11 carries.
The Elks’ four opponents so far have a combined 15-1 record, and all 15 of those wins were by at least two touchdowns. Eden Prairie, Maple Grove and Andover are all 4-0. Centennial is 3-1.
“We’ve got probably the toughest schedule in the state so far, but, that’s OK,” said Hamilton. “It pays off in the playoffs, when it matters.
“All we focus on is getting better every week for the playoffs. We gear everything to finding the right people in the right places. We are going to be really good when we get there.”
It doesn’t get easier next week when the Elks play at Totino-Grace, the Class 5A powerhouse (eight state titles including the last two). The Eagles have posted three decisive wins while losing to 6A juggernaut Eden Prairie 42-7.
Personal fouls not flagrant
The Elks had five personal fouls, including two straight offensive plays in the third quarter as Bardashevskiy had to keep re-gaining the same yards. None of these PF’s were for flagrant hits, though. Hamilton said the Elks are taught to stay with their block until the whistle, and the calls resulted from opponents knocked the ground right after the whistle. Wilke agreed: “It was guys shoving after the play and that kind of stuff.”
Larson switched to defense
Hamilton switched to Pink to start at quarterback, but not to demote senior Austin Larson, who played linebacker. The three-year veteran who started QB the first three games made an interception against Wilkie that set up Bardashevskiy’s second touchdown.
“Austin can contribute a lot on defense,” said Hamilton, “and he is so physical at running back, which we’ve been missing a little bit. He also kicks for us, so we count on him for more things than anyone. And we have Trent and Nolan Dwyer, who can get the job done (at quarterback).”
Andover 35, Elks 20
Andover …….. 7 14 14 0 — 35
Elk River ……. 6 8 8 0 — 20
ER—Denis Bardashevskiy 10 run (kick failed)
And—Derek McLaughlin 5 run (Ben Peterson kick)
ER—Bardashevskiy 16 run (Zach Ernst run)
And—McLaughlin 30 run (Peterson kick)
And—Justin Freyholtz 28 pass from Connor Wilke (Peterson kick)
And—McLaughlin 12 pass from Wilke (Peterson kick)
ER—Trent Pink 1 run (kick failed)
And—McLaughlin 60 run (Peterson kick)
Rushing —Elks 71-340, Andover 16-184
Passing — Elks 4-6-44-1, Andover 13-18-202-1
Penalties — Elks 12-105, Andover 9-56
Turnovers — Elks 1 (int), Andover 2 (fum., int.)
Rushing — McLaughlin 16-184
Passing — Wilke 13-180-202-1
Receiving —Chris Larson 7-86, Jacob Geier 2-44, Freyholtz 1-28
Interception — Austin Lorch
Elk River leaders
Rushing — Bardashevskiy 39-234, Ernst 11-49, Pink 14-38, Nolan Dwyer 3-21
Passing — Pink 4-6-44-1
Receiving — Ernst 2-29, Bardashevskiy 2-15
Interception— Austin Larson
Fumble recovery — Brad Yankowiak