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by Marlys Kruger
OSSEO — When Elk Mound moved into the Cloverbelt Conference for football this season, they knew they were going to face some tough competition.
They were already familiar with Mondovi and Durand, a pair of strong teams that left the Dunn-St. Croix Conference with them. Adding to the mix were Eau Claire Regis and Stanley-Boyd, teams that have had deep runs into the playoffs in recent years. The Mounders showed they could hold their own as they finished with a 4-3 record in conference play following a 32-16 win over the Osseo-Fairchild Thunder November 6 in Osseo.
A harassing defense and a balanced offense were keys to the win as Elk Mound came up with four interceptions and a pair of quarterback sacks. Meanwhile, their rushing attack collected over 200 yards by four different runners while quarterback Ryan Bohl passed for over 100 yards to lead the offense.
Ethan Johnson intercepted a pair of passes in the first quarter, but the Mounders didn’t take advantage of either of the turnovers. They fumbled the ball away after the second pick to give the Thunder the ball at the Mounders 32. The Mounders dodged a bullet when a Thunder receiver dropped what appeared to be a TD pass in the end zone.
Elk Mound took over at their own 24 and used three straight runs by Avery Kaanta to get to the Thunder 32 yard line. Ethan Levra ran for a few yards, Kaanta gained a couple more and Nate Lew ran to the three to set Kaanta up for a touchdown. Kaanta ran the two-point conversion in and it was 8-0 with 1:35 left in the first quarter.
The Mounders used a couple of quarterback sacks to keep the Thunder offense in check for most of the second quarter, but the Thunder quarterback caught the Mounder defense napping and he completed a 51-yard pass for six points, and a two-point pass knotted it up.
Elk Mound responded a few minutes later, however. After pinning the Thunder deep in their own territory and forcing a punt on fourth down, the center snapped the ball over the punters head for a safety, giving the Mounders a 10-8 lead.
Elk Mound took advantage of the free kick and with 51 seconds left in the half, Bohl connected with Ben Heath for a 23-yard score. The extra point kick failed but the Mounders held a 16-8 lead at the intermission.
“I think our young men came out a little flat in the first half,” coach Dave Lew said. “But we found our stride in the second half and played really well. We stressed to them that a win would most likely give us a home game in the first round of playoffs and our seniors really took that to heart,” he added.
The third quarter was scoreless until the Thunder scored on another pass play, this time for 34 yards with 4:30 on the clock. With another two-point pass it was 16-16 before the Mounder offense went to work again.
It took just a minute and a half for Elk Mound to retake the lead, scoring on a two-yard run by Levra. Bohl passed to Heath to make it 24-16 heading into the final 12 minutes.
The Mounder defense took over from there, shutting the Thunder down. They put the game on ice when Blake Burlingame pounded his way into the end zone from six yards out with just over six minutes to play. Carson Steinhorst added the two-point conversion for the final Mounder points.
“We were happy with our play in the second half of the game,” Lew said. “And happy to ride into playoffs with the momentum of three straight wins. We are very proud of these young men for the entire year for doing what was asked of them during such a crazy time.”
Kaanta carried most of the load for Elk Mound’s ground game, rushing for 146 yards but Burlingame and Levra both finished with 44 yards while Lew added 30 yards. Bohl was nine-of-13 for 135 yards in the passing department and the versatile Kaanta snagged two of those passes for 88 yards while Heath caught two for 32 yards. Besides Johnson’s two interceptions, Heath and Kaanta each had one and Alex Johnson was credited for one of the quarterback sacks.
Coach Lew was right about the playoff picture as his Mounders, a number two seed, will host number three seed Spooner this Friday night, November 13.