Prep Bowl: Elk River runs past Mankato West in 5A title game
Elk River’s Power-T offense, a style that deceives opponents and fans alike with a “who-has-the-ball” mystification, pulled the magical football act one last time in 2022. Out of the trickery that comes from a crowded backfield, the Elks completed their season of running dominance by sprinting to the Class AAAAA championship following a 29-26 victory over Mankato West on Saturday, Dec. 3 at U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis.
It was the final game of the seven-game Prep Bowl championship series and ended a salute to the 40th edition of the Prep Bowl Era.
Elk River (13-0) compiled 400 rushing yards in their entertaining style of play that shares the ball en route to winning the Class AAAAA title for the first time since 2016. In 1990, the Elks were the Class AA runner-up, and in 2017, the Class AAAAA runner-up to Owatonna.
Junior running back Logan Bunker led a five-player rushing attack with 120 yards on seven carries and a touchdown. Sophomore running back Gavin Schmidt was next with 89 yards on 16 carries. Senior running back PJ Bono had nine carries for 87 yards, senior quarterback Cade Osterman had 70 yards and senior running back Myles Gordon had 37. The Elks completed 1 of 2 passes for 10 yards.
Elk River’s victory snapped Mankato West’s 31-game winning streak that dated to a section final loss to Chaska in 2019, a span of 1,128 days, Chaska would move on to win the Class AAAAA crown. That 31-game winning streak included winning the Class AAAAA title in 2021.
Mankato West made its move to perhaps extend that streak when it scored with 8:37 remaining in regulation on a 7-yard touchdown run from senior running back Jackson Froderman to pull to within three at 29-26.
But ball control by the Elks and timely defensive stops preserved that three-point lead and the program’s second state championship.
Junior quarterback Barton Mcaninch paced the Scarlets (12-1) with 90 yards rushing and a touchdown, as well as 176 passing yards for another TD.
Elk River had extended its lead to 29-19 through three quarters on the strength of P.J. Bono’s 57-yard scoring dash with 40 seconds left in the third quarter. He found an opening on the right side of the line and then darted left and sprinted down the middle of the field. Both times that Bono rushed the ball, the plays resulted in touchdowns. Through three quarters, the Elks had rushed for 339 yards with zero passing.
About 3 ½ minutes earlier, Bono had give the Elks another lead on a 4-yard to the right side.
Mankato West took its first lead since opening the scoring by taking the opening possession of the second half 74 yards in 11 plays. The drive was punctuated on a 3-yard pass from Mcaninch to senior tight end Dylan Williams. A missed extra-point set the lead at 19-13.
Elk River held a 14-13 lead at the half behind some historic heroics.
Junior running back Logan Bunker gave the Elks their first lead with a Prep Bowl-record 93-yard touchdown run with 9:01 left in the second quarter. That eclipsed the previous mark for longest run from scrimmage of 92 yards by Hutchinson’s Robbie Grimsley in 2013. Senior kicker Breanna Bernardson increased the lead with her second extra-point of the first half. She is the first female player to record a point in a Prep Bowl game.
Mankato West closed to within 14-13 with 2:58 remaining in the first half on a 1-yard run by Mcaninch. He bulled his way in on a 4th-and-goal from the 1.
Bunker had seven rushes for 120 yards to pace the Elks’ running game that compiled 204 yards in the first half, all on the ground.
Mcaninch completed 8 of 10 passes for 77 yards in the first half and was the Scarlets’ leading rusher with 51 yards.