by Eric Oslund
The Elk River Elks traveled to St. Cloud State to take on the Alexandria Cardinals in the first round of the 5A state playoffs.
The No. 1 team in the state had a few scares early on, but were able to hold tough and battle through the adversity. It all started on their first drive when Nicholas Rice took a handoff up the middle and found a lot of room to work with. He broke it off for a big gain, but a Cardinals defender was able to knock the ball loose at the end of the run.
The ball was kicked around for awhile, but the Elks were eventually able to recover the fumble at their own 41-yard line. They then faced third-and-9 and the offensive line once again opened a gaping hole for Rice up the middle and he was able to go 58 yards for the score.
The Cardinals took over on their own 46-yard line after a big return, but were unable to do anything with the field position. Their quarterback, Jaran Roste, hit a wide open receiver on third-and-3, but he was unable to hold on to the pass, which led to fourth down and a punt.
The Elks took over at their own 20-yard line, but were dropped for a 5-yard loss on the first play. They went to Rice, once again, on second down and he was able to gain 15 yards and a new set of downs, but it didn’t matter as Sherrod Kpahn fumbled the ball and the Cardinals recovered on their own 45-yard line.
For the second drive in a row, the Cardinals started with great field position, but this time they were able to capitalize. They faced third-and-9 from the Elks’ 43-yard line and Roste completed a short pass which the receiver was able to take and break multiple tackles en route to a touchdown. The Cardinals then took an 8-7 lead following a successful 2-point conversion.
This was an odd spot for the Elks to be in as they have rarely ever trailed this season, but Rice would be able to turn things back around for his team. They started at their own 26-yard line and Rice took a handoff up the middle for 24 yards on the first play of the drive. The offense then faced third-and-5, and once again it was Rice who picked up the first. He was then given the ball from the Cardinals’ 35-yard line and was able to break free for his second score of the night. Rice also scored on the 2-point conversion, giving his team a 15-8 lead.
The Cardinals would start the next drive at their own 30-yard line with 1:56 remaining in the first quarter, but only gained one yard. They punted after three plays, giving the ball right back to the red-hot Elks offense.
At first, it appeared as though the Cardinals defense might be able to hold the Elks and give the ball right back to their offense. The Elks faced a third-and-1 to start the second quarter, but decided to ride the hot hand, giving the ball to Rice up the middle. He was able to convert the first down, which lead to Blake Hills scoring from 12 yards out. That extended the Elks’ lead to 23-8 following a successful 2-point conversion by Rice.
About eight minutes remained in the first half when the Cardinals got the ball back at their own 14-yard line, and it didn’t taken them long to get things going. Running back Micah Christenson took the handoff up the middle and was able to break loose for a 56-yard gain, down to the Elks’ 24-yard line. Roste took a shot to the end zone on the next play, but Hills was able to come down with the interception.
Hills thought about taking the interception out of the end zone, but ultimately decided to kneel down for the touchback. The Elks took over on their own 20-yard line with 7:20 remaining in the first half. Once again, they were able to drive down the length of the field, but this time they ate up a ton of time. Their drive took about 4:20 and it was capped by Rice’s third touchdown of the night. Gibas then scored the 2-point conversion, which gave their team a 31-8 lead.
The Cardinals really had one last chance to score before the end of the first half in order to make the game more manageable, but things would not go according to plan. They fumbled the ball with 1:45 remaining before halftime and it was the Elks who recovered. They took over on the Cardinals’ 28-yard line, in prime position to score once again.
They were able to milk time off the clock while they moved 28 yards down the field, with their drive being capped off by a Gibas touchdown with 14 seconds remaining on the clock. However, they did not convert on their point-after attempt, which gave them a 39-8 lead heading into halftime.
The start of the second half was filled with turnovers and it led to no points being scored and a lot of time being taken off the clock, which really helped the Elks’ cause. It started with a fumble by the Cardinals, which was recovered by the Elks. Hills then tried to go deep on third down, but was intercepted, giving the Cardinals the ball back at the Elks’ 48-yard line. The Cardinals were then able to drive down the length of the field, but Hills was able to pick off Roste in the end zone for the second time of the night.
After the touchback, the Elks began their drive at their own 20-yard line and were able to work their way downfield. Converting on both a fourth-and-1 and a third-and-1 en route to a 1-yard touchdown run by Hills with 2:40 remaining in the quarter. It was the only score of the third quarter and it gave the Elks a 46-8 lead.
The Cardinals started the fourth quarter on the Elks’ 23-yard line and were eventually able to score their second touchdown of the game when Roste ran it in from 13 yards out. They then converted the 2-point conversion, which made the score 46-16.
The Elks were then able to recover the ensuing on-side kick, but did not do much with the great field position. They ended up going three-and-out and tried punting the ball away, but the Cardinals blocked it and recovered it at the Elks’ 41-yard line. They took full advantage of the great field position with Roste hitting one of this receivers for a 28-yard touchdown. They also converted the 2-point conversion, which made the score 46-24.
Another on-side kick was attempted following the touchdown, but the Elks were able to fall on it once again. The offense started out at their own 49-yard line and this time they were able to capitalize on the field position. They moved the ball a little, but got most of their yardage from a a 34-yard Hills run that brought the ball down to the Cardinals’ 3-yard line. Hills was then able to cap the drive off with a 1-yard touchdown run, which made the score 53-24 following a successful point-after attempt.
The Cardinals took over on the at their own 24-yard line with 5:00 remaining in the game. They were able to move the ball into Elks territory, but they were wasting too much time doing so. They burned almost two minutes and needed to score fast if their comeback was ever going to happen. That’s when Roste scrambled out to his right, pitched the ball back to his running back and then the running back hit a wide open receiver in the end zone. It was the quick strike they needed and made the score 53-30 after a failed 2-point conversion.
The Elks recovered yet another on-side kick, giving them the ball at the Cardinals’ 45-yard line. It wouldn’t take them long to capitalize, as Kpahn broke a 45-yard touchdown run on the first play of the drive, giving the Elks a 60-30 lead following a successful point-after attempt.
2:51 remained in the game when the Cardinals took over again at their own 25-yard line and they once again would need to score quickly. They would end up scoring on Christenson run, making the score 60-36, but it did not happen quickly as just 1:28 remained in the game at the time of the touchdown.
The game ended with the scoreboard reading 60-36 in favor of the Elks. They will now head to US Bank Stadium on Friday, Nov. 18, to take on Owatonna at 2 p.m.