by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Elk River-Zimmerman Elks got what they rely upon from their big-play guys and their stingy defensive corps and earned a trip to the state tournament Tuesday evening.
The Elks went two overtimes to conquer top-seeded Anoka 1-0 on a goal by Storm Heyer in the Section 8AA finals on a chilly, misty evening in Anoka.
“We knew it was going to be another battle like that, and we got some payback,” said Elk coach Aaron Lindquist, hearkening to a 1-0 overtime loss to the same team on the same field Sept. 4.
“It was a very even game, very clean and well-played, and both teams had plenty of chances,” said Lindquist. “And we wound up the better team tonight.”
The Elks and goalkeeper Cody Christ recorded their 11th shutout, and third straight in the playoffs.
They’ll take a 13-2-3 record into the state tournament, yielding just 13 goals for the season.
After the first 10-minute, golden-goal overtime went scoreless, the Elks showed some resolve in the brief huddle before the second OT.
“The guys were saying, we don’t want to go to a shootout, let’s win it right now,” said Lindquist.
Heyer notched his 13th goal of the season four minutes in the second OT on a play starting with Grant Tesdahl winning a ball in the middle of the field and steering it to Joey Benz, stationed wide on the end line. Benz crossed it toward Heyer, who slid to beat a defender to the ball and got a strong leg on it from about five yards out.
“Storm is our go-to guy. We need him to make big goals like that and he came through,” said Bill Stefano, assistant coach.
Christ made three key saves in particular, a quick-reaction snag of a header, a block of a shot from the front and a catch of a crossing shot in the second half. As Lindquist has pointed out during the season,”We’ve always said we need at least one big save from Cody and the defense will do the rest.”
The Elks had some near-misses, including a header by Rob Burger where a Tornado defender made the save painfully as the ball struck his groin, causing a halt to the action for a few moments.
The Elks kept their eyes on Anoka all-state midfielder Jake McElmury and were able to block some of his shots but “we were fortunate he missed on a couple, too,” said Lindquist.
The Elks defensive crew includes Rob Burger, Tanner Becklerleg, Trevor Riebel, Emmanuel Kai and Mitch Weege.
The coach said his team seemed loose for the big game, doing some singing on the bus ride to Anoka and generally staying upbeat and positive as game time approached.
The Elks, who’ll make the program’s seventh state tournament and first since 2010, were ranked as high as sixth in QRF rankings during the season, but slipped to 15th after going 0-2-1 their last three games of the regular season.
Anoka, a 12-time state qualifier, finished 13-4-2. The Tornadoes were No. 5 in the QRF ratings.
The state tournament first-round games will be held Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, at various locations, and will shift to the Mall of America Field (Metrodome) for the semifinals Oct. 28 and finals Oct. 31. Pairings will be drawn up Sunday.