by Bruce Strand
Elk River Star News
This time, the Rogers Royals were ready for anything Elk River tried.
The unbeaten, top-seeded Royals thrashed the Elks 52-14 in the Section 6-5A semifinals Saturday afternoon, with Gunnar Bloom running for 240 yards and four touchdowns, and Nate Weber for 106 more and three touchdowns.
The Royals (9-0) will host St. Michael-Albertville (8-1) in the section finals Friday evening, in a rematch of their thrilling conference championship game won by Rogers 38-37 in overtime.
The Royals, with most of the same players on the field that lost to Elk River 53-42 in the semifinals last year, when Denis Barashevskiy ran for 370 yards five touchdowns, shut down the Elks’ all-time rushing leader in their second shot at him, holding him to 52 yards in 16 carries.
“We knew it would be tough,” said Elk coach Steve Hamilton. “We missed one call in the first half or maybe we could have been down just 24-21 and had a better chance, but Rogers just came out and took it to us in the second half.”
The misdirection plays that launched Bardashevskiy and completely fooled the Royals in 2012 did not work once this time.
“Last year, when Elk River broke a couple big plays early, our kids lost focus, and they started guessing, and you saw the results,” said Royal coach Marc Franz.
“Today, they (Elks) broke a couple big ones right away and they were ahead 14-10, but we were able to tweak a couple things, and the guys kept trusting themselves, and trusting each other, to stay in their assignments. You have to do that, because Elk River executes so well. So I was happy with how our kids played with discipline. A big part of it was the experience factor. ”
It also helped that Rogers put in a special seven-man front for the Elks, holding out two defensive backs. The front seven included down linemen Jake Liveringhouse, Andrew Piehl, Trevor Schwartz, Grady Reinking and Trent Rgnonti, and outside linebackers Jake Walker and Lance Lendl. Also plugging things up were inside backers Weber and Jake Owens.
“That was not our normal defense,” acknowledged Franz. “Elk River runs a unique offense, and they are so big and physical and want to try run right over you, so we had to make special substitutions.”
The only tactic by the Elks that did work, if only temporarily, was quarterback Nolan Dwyer faking into the line and going around end with the ball on his hip, which worked touchdowns of 23 and two yards as the Elks took an early 14-10 lead. The Elks top rushers were Dwyer, who played the whole game after starter Trent Pink was shaken up on the Elks first series, with 63 yards in 10 carries, and Zach Ernst with 76 yards in 16 carries.
Bardashevskiy, who finished his two-year career with 3,720 yards, said the Royals were ready for them this time.
“Yeah, they figured out our schemes, and they didn’t make mistakes, and stayed home, and made the tackles. We expected them to be smarter this year and watch for the traps.”
Weber said his team was well-prepped and confident.
“Our coaches did some great work game-planning. We were expecting this game to come. We couldn’t let them break big plays and then get frustrated like we did last year. We attacked, and played a lot more physical. We’ve played against this Elk River offense a couple years now and we knew our assignments better.”
Bloom, a junior with close to 1,300 yards for the season, was the marque running back on this day, scoring from 10, 13, 55 and 47 yards as he rolled up his 240 yards on just 15 carries. He also snagged three passes for 56 yards from Connor Henderson.
The Royals led 24-14 at halftime with Bloom scoring three times. After Bloom dashed for another 55-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage of the second half, Weber scored from the 12 on the next play, then busted for touchdowns of 29 and 49 yards, those TD’s coming on three successive carries.
Bloom’s 47-yard touchdown run completed a 28-0 domination of the third quarter by the Royals, who shut down the Elks with four straight three-and-outs.
The Royals also got a 42-yard field goal and 7-for-7 extra points from Isaac Aanerud.
The Elks, who had beaten Monticello 69-42 in the quarterfinals on Tuesday night, finished 3-7.