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by Marlys Kruger
ELK MOUND — For the second week in a row, the Elk Mound football team hosted a playoff game against a team from the Heart O’ North Conference. After defeating Spooner in triple overtime last week, the Mounders had a little easier time with a 34-12 win over the St. Croix Falls Saints, Thursday evening, November 19.
Normally, if a high school team in Wisconsin is playing a game the week before Thanksgiving, it means they are playing at Camp Randall Stadium for a state championship. But we all know this is not a normal year, so with a late start to the season, this game was a Division 4, Level 2 matchup, and the final level of playoffs for the season.
The win ended the Mounders season at 6-3 while the Saints finished at 4-5.
Elk Mound started the scoring on their second possession which began in the first quarter. After collecting four first downs on a drive that went 67 yards on runs by Avery Kaanta and Nate Lew, combined with a pair of passes from Ryan Bohl to Michael Jenson, Kaanta carried the ball across the goal line from six yards out. Using a bit of trickery, Jenson passed to Bohl for two points to make it 8-0 just seven seconds into the second quarter.
The Saints, much like the Spooner team, rely heavily on their ground game, running 95 percent of the time. The Mounders kept their running backs in check for most of the game, however, and forced them into two consecutive punts.
Starting at midfield, Elk Mound moved the ball to the 30 on a slick catch and run down the middle by Ben Heath and with Kaanta running the ball and Bohl connecting with Jenson again, it was third and goal from the two. Bohl found a wide open Carson Steinhorst for the touchdown and after the conversion run was stopped, Elk Mound was up 14-0 with just two ticks on the clock left before the half.
“Our assistant coaches prepared our young men very well by focusing on what we do well and studying what SCF did well,” Elk Mound head coach Dave Lew said. “They put a great game plan together.”
The Saints’ coach must have given his team a pretty good pep talk at the break, however. Taking the kickoff to their own 40, on first down Dayo Oye blasted right up the gut of the Mounder defense for a 60-yard touchdown, and a missed kick made the game close at 14-6.
But it took only two and a half minutes for the Mounders to respond. On fourth down, they pulled off a fake punt on a pass to Brex Todd to get to the Saints 17 yard line, and two plays later Lew zipped around the left side for a 15-yard score. Bohl hit Steinhorst for the two points and it was 22-6.
It was all Elk Mound from there as their defense stifled the Saints running game the rest of the way.
Ethan Levra scored on a four-yard run on the Mounders next possession to make it 28-6 with 5:07 left in the third stanza.
The Saints fumbled the ball a few seconds later and Lew pounced on it to give the Mounders the ball at the Falls eight-yard line. They failed to score, however, when they fumbled themselves to lose possession. They held the Saints again to force a punt, and with Kaanta and Lew pounding the turf, Kaanta finally hit paydirt from 15 yards out with 36 seconds to go in the third for a 34-6 advantage.
Saints quarterback Zack Clark connected on a pair of long passes to his receivers, and on fourth down, Oye punched it in for SCF’s final points of the game with 6:50 to go.
After the Mounders turned the ball over on downs, they forced the Saints into another fourth down. And on this night, it was only fitting that Lew, one of the 14 seniors on the team, intercepted Clark with a minute left to finish things off.
“Our seniors played with pure emotion knowing this was their final game,” coach Lew said. “We are very proud of them for finding a way to rise up and compete at such a high level these past few weeks. This season has been an emotional roller coaster and we beat the odds to play nine games. We couldn’t have done it without our school board, administrators and athletic director,” he concluded.
Kaanta, just a junior, rushed for 149 yards on 29 carries while Lew added 30 yards on five attempts. Bohl completed 12 of 15 passes for 161 yards with Jenson snagging three of them while Heath and Kaanta caught two each.