Last season the 5A champion Elk River Elks largely rolled through the playoffs en route to their first-ever football state championship. This season – while attempting to win two in a row – things are not coming as smoothly for…
Last season the 5A champion Elk River Elks largely rolled through the playoffs en route to their first-ever football state championship. This season – while attempting to win two in a row – things are not coming as smoothly for the Elks. They only dropped one regular season game, but the path to the Prep Bowl has not been as smooth. They advanced past Andover by one score and were in a dogfight in the semi-finals against Apple Valley. The offense is still nearly unstoppable – as it was Friday night – but the defense struggled for the second straight week. Behind that high powered offense and just enough big plays from their defense, the Elks advanced to their second consecutive Prep Bowl with a 51-40 victory.
The full house backfield, two tight end offense got rolling on their second drive of the game and was rarely stopped the rest of the way.
Adam Nelson had an outstanding first half. He broke through the middle of the line and scored the first touchdown as Corey Hughes threw a downfield block to get Nelson into the clear. Kevin Egbujor ripped off the first of his long runs behind a trap block by Reese Norby and another block on the outside by Hughes. Nelson broke free for another long touchdown run up the middle behind center Maxwell Weisberg. The Elks pulled the trick again – this time from 80 yards out – when Nelson benefited from another perfectly blocked inside trap play. Nelson would end the game with 302 yards rushing on just 18 carries and three touchdowns – most of that coming in the first half.
Egbujor didn't do poorly for himself either. He didn't get as many opportunities, but he still ran for 91 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. Egbujor's most impressive run included a broken tackle a gang of Eagles' defenders hanging on him to bring him down.
Arik Nordenstrom carried the ball on two straight powerful runs, one with Norby opening a hole with yet another trap block.
Quarterback Mitchell Stroh – who NFN ranks 136th in the senior class – didn't throw one pass, but his sleight of hand and his legs were more than enough for the Elks offense. With all the fakes he carries out, I only noticed one ball handling mistake. With his feet, he made a sharp cut to pick up a first down. His faking and the blocking on the edge got him around the corner later in the game. He put the game out of reach with a 22-yard touchdown run.
Stroh's game-sealing touchdown was set up by the hard running of NFN’s 219 ranked senior Sherrod Kpahn. None of his 144 yards rushing was more significant than his two runs behind Ronnie Audette and Lorser Wuanti to pick up a first down to keep Apple Valley's offense on the sidelines.
The Elks ran in a number of offensive linemen, but Audette (ranked 7th) and Norby's efforts stood out. They were both at or near the point of attack on many of the long runs and both had at least one pancake block.
As a unit, the Elks' defense didn't play well. They were often way out of position; they missed tackles, gave up over 500 yards of offense and surrendered 40 points. Even though the defense as a whole didn't play well – they did make some great individual plays.
Stroh, Rey Roske, and Patrick Boland all made open field tackles preventing chunk plays.
Roske also came on a blitz, shed a blocker and sacked the quarterback.
Jackson Sundt made two open field tackles, made a tackle for loss and also deflected a pass near the line of scrimmage.
Zach Berg made an open field tackle from his cornerback position, had tight coverage on an out route, and tight coverage on a deep pattern in the end zone – both resulting in incompletions.
Tristan Carlson picked off an overthrown ball down and safety Devon Garrison (ranked 344th) came from the middle of the field to the sidelines to make a one-handed, tap the toes on the sidelines interception.
I usually don't like to deal with stats in these stories, but these were too unbelievable not to post. As a team, Elk River ran the ball 60 times for 700 yards for an 11.7-yard average and six touchdowns. They didn't attempt a pass. I try to stay as unbiased as I can but after seeing the Elks play four or five times in the last few years I have to say – watching that offense when it is humming is one of my favorite things to observe in football.