by Eric Oslund
The Elk River and Rogers boys lacrosse teams squared off against one another on May 18, in a classic Big River Rivalry game that came down to the wire. And in the end it was the Royals celebrating a 7-6 win, while the Elks headed back home heart broken.
Two weeks later, on June 1, the Elks once again had to make their way to Rogers to go up against the Royals, but this time the stakes were raised.
The two teams were competing in the second round of the Section 8 tournament, and you could tell the recent loss to the Royals had the Elks on edge to start the game.
“The problem was we were playing really tight,” Elk River head coach Thomas Haugen explained. “We lost here, I think two weeks ago, and we were able to kind of relax and play Elk River lacrosse. That means having fun. We weren’t having fun, and we were playing up tight.”
The Royals entered into halftime with a 5-1 lead, scoring the final five goals in the half – including two from senior captain Dylan Mertz – after Elk River senior captain Hunter Kivley scored the first goal of the game.
It was not an ideal situation for the Elks to be in, but they weren’t overly concerned. After all, they were in this same situation two weeks ago, and proved they could come back from it.
“We were down, I think 6-1, so we knew we could come back,” Elk River senior captain Nick Rice said of the team’s first game against Rogers. “We just fought.”
And fight they would, with sophomore Kyle Carr starting things off by scoring two quick goals in the third quarter to make it a 5-3 game in favor of the Royals.
One problem the Elks had to overcome was the loss of freshman attacker Talon Heath, who tied a team-high three goals in their first-round game. He started the match up against Rogers, but had to leave after getting over heated.
While he sat on the sidelines with ice packs on his neck, the team needed to find a replacement. Enter Nicholas Utz, a former starter who was coming off a leg injury.
The Elks turned to him to pick up the slack and did he ever, following up Carr’s two goals with two of his own, and then adding a third with 6:42 remaining in the game to tie it up 6-6.
“Utz bailed us out, he’s such an instant energy,” Haugen said. “Three goals, and those are huge goals, so Utz is our money man.”
The game would eventually head into overtime with both teams getting great looks, but both goaltenders – P.J. Hoffman and Cody Simon – were coming up with big save after big save. Someone had to win.
Then, with 30 seconds remaining in overtime, Rice got the ball in front of the Rogers net and finished it.
“I play mostly defense, but at the end I wanted to stay out there,” he said. “There was a bunch of chaos and I saw (Kyle Jussila) pick it up and he threw it to me. I did a little stutter step and went around them.”
The moment the shot went in, it was instant jubilation for all the Elk River players, and instant heartbreak for those on the Rogers squad.
It was a hard-fought game all around and while neither team wanted to lose, you could see the respect these two programs have for one another.
“Hats off to Rogers, they played one heck of a game. Those guys are just stellar,” Haugen said afterwards. “Their coach runs a phenomenal program, and we were just on the right side of it this time. Last time, it was the same exact score and they beat us. It was a good game all the way around, and they’re tough guys. They make us better and hopefully we make them better.”