WILLMAR -- If this is the 5A football playoffs ... uff da!!
Bumped up the big-school level just below the new Super 32, the Cardinals got mugged on their own field Tuesday night.
Feeling frisky after grinding through a 6A schedule, the Elk River Elks overpowered Willmar 51-28 at Hodapp Field with perhaps 700 on hand.
The Elks (4-5) led 30-7 by intermission and 44-7 after three periods of the Section 6-5A quarterfinal.
The Willmar defense seemed confused by the Elks' flashy execution. Deploying an old-time full-house backfield behind a tight seven-man line, the Elks had stampeded for four touchdowns and a field goal by halftime. Five quickly executed marches the first 24 minutes covered 44 yards, 64 yards, 92 yards, 80 yards and 56 yards -- all accomplished without a single pass.
Elk River quarterback Austin Larson dazzled with his fakes and keepers. It was a guessing game who had the ball. He shuffled the ball like a crooked card dealer, often slipping the pigskin into his hip pocket and slipping out the side door.
Thousand-yard back Denis Bardashevskiy had 154 yards by half and Larson 124 yards, which was only five less than the entire Willmar offense over the same two quarters.
Larson's 27-yard field goal as the end of the half made it 30-7 and somewhere someone may have chortled "And there is your dagger."
In eight regular season games, the Cardinal defense hadn't allowed more than 3 TDs and a high of 22 points. But the Elks were a different beast, obviously much better than a No. 5 seed in a six-team section would indicate.
The Willmar bright spot in the first half was an 81-yard touchdown in the second quarter when Alex Grove throwing on the run hit Brandon Christenson in full stride down the Cardinal sideline.
Grove ran for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and then took to the sidelines ending his outstanding three-year tenure as the starting QB.
Sophomore Augustine Hahn took over and provided a glimpse of what looks like a bright future for Willmar football. Hahn ran 19 yards for one score and threw to junior Adam Nibaur 18-yards for another. Hahn quarterbacked a JV team that finished 7-1 while the freshman class went 8-1.
Defensively, linebacker Jordan Geurtz sifted through the Elks' maze to make 10 solo tackles. Sophomore linebacker Vaughn Johnson got a shot on varsity and responded with 7 tackles.
Grove ran 60 yards but was able to complete just three passes. Two-way player Zech Streed ran for 34 yards and made 6 tackles. Michael Heitzman returned to the line-up and had a couple of good runs. Hahn ran for 58 yards against the Elks' reserves.
Bardashevskiy finished with 20 carries for 211 yards (10.1 average) plus a 91-yard kickoff return. Larson finished with 196 yards in 15 keepers (13.0) and scored half his teams points. The Elks play at neighboring No. 1 Rogers on Saturday. No. 3 St. Michael-Albertville beat No. 6 Buffalo 34-23 and will play at No. 2 Monticello.
Willmar ends up 4-5 on a squad with 23 seniors.
Twenty-five years ago these same two teams played three straight section games (1987-89). Willmar won the first two to go to state, 24-21 at Elk River and 35-19 at Willmar. The next year the lower-seeded Elks came back to Willmar to play the undefeated Cards (8-0) and the outcome was similar to last night, a 31-0 win for the lower-seeded visitors from Elk River.
Elk River 51, Willmar 28
Elk River (3-5) 14 16 14 7-- 51
Willmar (4-4) 0 7 0 21-- 21
ER - Maclean Berglove 1 run (Austin Larson kick)
ER - Larson 14 run (Larson kick)
ER - Larson 7 run (Larson kick)
Wil - Brandon Christenson 81 pass from Alex Grove (Patrick Courtney kick)
ER - Berglove 1 run (kick blocked)
ER - Larson 27 field goal
ER - Larson 44 yards (Larson kick)
ER - Bardashevskiy 3 run (Nate Storby kick)
Wil - Grove 4 run (Courtney kick)
ER - Bardashevskiy 91 kickoff return (Storby kick)
Wil - Augustine Hahn 19 run (Courtney kick)
Wil - Adam Nibaur 18 pass from Hahn (Courtney kick)
First downs: 20 ... Rushing: 55-483 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 0-0-0-0 ... Fumbles lost: 0 ... Penalties: 9-83
Rushing: Austin Larson 15-196, Denis Bardashevskiy 20-211, Nate Storby 4-32, Devin Donelson 3-5, Maclean Berglove 6-15 ... Passing: none ... Receiving: none ... Punting: none ... Interceptions: Terry Hadden ...
First downs: 13 ... Rushing: 39-204 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 5-10-113-1 ... Fumbles lost: x ... Penalties: 6-60
Rushing: Michael Heitzman 6-22, Alex Grove 13-60, Zech Streed 5-34, Braydon Johnson 7-30, Augustine Hahn 8-58 ... Passing: Grove 3-8-81-1, Hahn 2-2-32-0 ... Receiving: Johnson 1-14, Patrick Courtney 1-5, Streed 1-(-5), Adam Nibaur 1-18, Brandon Christenson 1-81 ... Punting: Streed 4-33.3 ... Interceptions: none ... Fumble recoveries: none ... Tackles (solo-assist): Hunter Mottinger 5-1, Tyler Stegeman 2-1, Streed 1-5, JordanGeurtz 10-3, Buzzy Tollefson 3-1, Travis Deegan 2-1, Vaughn Johnson 5-2, Kristof Jensen 2-3 ... QB sacks: none ... Blocked kick: Stegeman