MOORHEAD - On the three-hour drive to Moorhead on Friday, Elk River senior running back Kevin Egbujor watched video of Elk River's loss in the Minnesota Class 5A football championship last season.
"Last time I put these pads on bad things happened," Egbujor said. "But not today."
Elk River has been in the last two state championship games and the Elks showed Moorhead why Friday. The Elks seemingly took their anger for last season's loss in the title game out on the Spuds in a 40-20 win Friday at Jim Gotta Stadium.
"I internalized it and that gave me motivation," said Egbujor, who finished with 132 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries Friday. "Our running game is a beast because of our lineman. I have a lot of confidence in it."
Moorhead didn't take long to find the end zone in the season opener for both teams, as Riley Schock went 44 yards for a touchdown on the third play from scrimmage.
"We need to fight more," Moorhead coach Kevin Feeney said. "We got to have more fight in us. We got have a little bit more grit and some toughness. It's everything that we believe in within this football program. We're not going to overblow this, this is Game 1, but at the same token we've got to find some guys who are going to have energy and a body language that wants to win every single snap."
Moorhead's Alec Thingvold pounced on a fumble at the Moorhead 13-yard line on the ensuing Elk River drive, but the rest of the first half would belong to the Elks. Egbujor broke four tackles en route to a 21-yard touchdown run on the second play of the second quarter. Adam Nelson ran in the two-point conversion and Elk River was up 8-6 with 11 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the first half.
After a Moorhead punt, Elk River used six plays to go 68 yards for a touchdown. On third-and-4, Egbujor made two players miss and broke a tackle for a 32-yard touchdown run. The only pass of the half was from Beau Ruby to Egbujor for the two-point conversion.
"I'm proud of how we responded, but we definitely didn't come out ready to play," Elk River coach Steve Hamilton said. "That's on us."
The Elks delivered the backbreaker in the final minutes of the first half. A holding penalty put the Elks at second-and-18 on their own 23-yard line. Nelson broke through for a 57-yard run, Jon Suchy followed with a 19-yard rumble and Logan Enkhaus punched it in from 2 yards out with 1:34 remaining in the half. Tyler Leshovsky ran in the two-point conversion and Elk River had a 24-6 halftime lead.
"We have to be more physical," Feeney said. "They are a physically and mentally tough football team. That's a credit to them. They are the class of 5A. The road goes through them. It's different to defend them. When some things broke we got some inexperienced guys out there that have to learn how to handle adversity. I thought we played high late in that first and early in that second half. Didn't play with the same sort of pride we had in the early part of the game."
It took 75 seconds and four plays from scrimmage for Elk River to find the end zone in the second half. Nelson gutted through the Moorhead defensed for a 25-yard touchdown run. Beau Ruby got the two-point conversion and the scoreboard became a countdown to 1-0 for Elk River. Nelson added a 58-yard touchdown run on his next carry just in case, finishing with 204 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
"We were ready," Nelson said. "(Losing in the state championship last season) fired us up a lot."
ER 0 24 16 0-40
M 6 0 0 14-20
M-Schock 44 run (kick blocked)
ER-Egbujor 21 run (Nelson run)
ER-Egbujor 32 run (Egbujor pass from Ruby)
ER-Enkhaus 2 run (Leshovsky run)
ER-Nelson 25 run (Ruby run)
ER-Nelson 58 run (Otto run)
M-Narum 12 pass from Feeney (Horan pass from Feeney)
M-Horan 17 pass from Feeney (pass failed)