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by Marlys Kruger
ELK MOUND — Playing the Spooner Rails on the gridiron for the first time in school history, a team that happens to be coached by former Elk Mound standout Josh Fizel, the Mounders needed three overtime periods to earn a 20-14 win in a first-round playoff game on their home field November 13.
The win allows Elk Mound to move into the second- and final-level of the 2020 WIAA Division 4 playoffs.
Both teams entered the game with 4-3 records, with the Mounders playing in the Cloverbelt Conference and the Rails in the Heart O’ North Conference. And both teams relied on a powerful running game for most of those wins.
That being said, most of the first quarter was spent feeling each other out while trying to establish their ground games. Elk Mound had two possessions in the quarter, resulting in having to punt the ball both times.
Spooner received the second punt at their own 25 and began to move methodically down the field. Running the ball 13 straight times and picking up six first downs along the way, the Rails moved out of the scoreless first quarter and into the second stanza, eventually scoring on a one-yard run by Brody Jepson with 6:31 to go in the quarter. A two-point conversion run gave them an 8-0 lead.
The Mounders picked up a first down on a pass from Ryan Bohl to Carson Steinhorst on their next possession, but that drive stalled when the ball carrier was stuffed on a fourth-down run.
Spooner started another drive but coughed up the ball and Elk Mound recovered the fumble with 23 seconds left in the half. Bohl threw for the endzone with three seconds left but the half ended on an interception.
Spooner took the kickoff to their own 30 to start the third quarter, and once again used their ground game to pound the ball through the Mounder defense. One pass in the drive resulted in a first down to the Elk Mound 16-yard line, but two Rails penalties and a tackle for a loss by Ethan Levra made it fourth and 20. Bohl was in the right place at the right time, picking off a pass thrown by Lincoln Sondreal to keep the Rails out of the endzone yet again.
Starting at their own 35, the Mounders began to open things up with Bohl hitting Michael Jenson with a pair of passes, one for 16 yards and another for six yards. Nate Lew ran for a first down and snagged a pass for another one, but a penalty on the Mounders gave them a first and 20. Bohl connected with Jenson to get some of those yards back. Moving into the fourth quarter, the Mounders finally found the end zone when Bohl found his leading receiver, Ben Heath, for an eight-yard score. However, the two-point run was stopped, leaving the Mounders trailing 8-6 with 11:02 left in the game.
“We made some adjustments at half time, but we didn’t abandon the run,” Mounders’ coach Dave Lew said. “We still do what we do and let a couple of other guys carry the ball to keep Spooner guessing. That helped open up the passing and running game.”
As expected, the Rails continued to keep the ball on the ground, eating up yards and time on the clock. But the Elk Mound defense stood tall and forced them to punt the ball away.
Starting at midfield, the Mounders used a 16-yard run by Lew, another long pass to Jenson and a run by Avery Kaanta to get to the two yard line. Lew punched it in from there and the two-point conversion pass from Bohl to Heath gave the Mounders their first lead of the game at 14-8 with just over six minutes to go.
But folks, it was Friday the 13th and all kinds of crazy things have been known to happen on this day. The Mounders’ lead lasted only 13 seconds after the Spooner kickoff returner took the ball and flew down the sideline for 82 yards and a score to knot things up at 14-14. However, the extra point kick was botched to leave the score tied.
“Special teams are called special teams for a reason,” coach Lew said. “Our kids did not hang their heads and quit after Spooner tied it up. They rose to the challenge and continued to play the game,” he added.
Neither team could move the ball in the final six minutes, resulting in the overtime period.
In high school football, each team gets a chance to score from their opponents 25 yard line. Spooner won the toss and elected to go on defense first. The strategy seemed to work as they stopped the Mounder offense from getting anywhere near the goaline. But Elk Mound returned the favor and stopped the Rails on four plays to move into a second overtime.
This time Spooner started with the ball and they pounded the ball down to the four line line. But on fourth and two, a swarming Mounder defense halted yet another attempt by a Spooner ball carrier to get into the endzone. Elk Mound, however, failed to move the ball on their four plays, and they went into a third overtime.
Elk Mound thwarted another Spooner drive with a final stop on a fourth and nine, and then it was time for the offense to get down to business. Several running plays eventually got the ball to the two and Kaanta took the ball in from there for the winning score.
“We knew Spooner ran the ball a lot and did not pass much,” Lew said after the exciting win. “I felt our defense really took over in the second half with the entire group just deciding they were not going to be scored on in the overtime. It was a great high school football game and special in so many ways. The history we have with their coach (Fizel) and the fact we even had the chance to play the game in this year of so much uncertainty. It was also special because the seniors thought it could be their last home game and they now have a memory they will never forget. Plus, they earned another home game in the second round,” he added.
Kaanta, who rushed for 146 yards a week earlier in a win over Osseo-Fairchild, was held to just 66 yards in the game to lead the Mounders. Lew added 36 yards on nine carries while Bohl was 14 for 24 in the passing department for 141 yards. Jenson caught six of those passes for 67 yards, Kaanta collected four of them for 42 yards and Heath snagged two passes for 11 yards and a score. Spooner had four runners combine for 199 rushing yards and quarterback Sondreal attempted just three passes all game, with one of them being intercepted.
Elk Mound will host St. Croix Falls, a 28-26 winner over top seed Bloomer, this Thursday night, November 19. With the COVID-19 outbreak creating havoc with football scheduling, you may want to check on the school website throughout the week to see if the game is still being played.