Elk River junior running back Denis Bardashevskiy switched to a smaller-sized jersey for the playoffs, hoping a tighter fit would make him harder to grab.
He was dressed for success on Saturday, spurring the Elks to a wild 53-42 upset at No. 7 Rogers in the Class 5A, Section 6 semifinals. Bardashevskiy ran 25 times for 370 yards, including five touchdown runs totaling 287 yards. Elk River finished with 514 rushing yards.
Offensive assistance came from an unlikely place. Third-string junior quarterback Clay Elrod entered the game in the third quarter and energized Elk River (5-5) with a 26-yard touchdown run that cut the Elks' deficit to 35-33 and prevented the Royals (7-2) from pulling away.
"I wanted to come in and finish the job the first two guys were doing," Elrod said.
His called his touchdown a byproduct of the Elks' shell game offense, one designed to hide the ball and befuddle defenses.
"Their guy actually had a hold of me on that play, but he didn't think I had the ball so he let go and I just kept going," Elrod said. "We practice hiding that ball as best we can. They never knew where it was."
The ball kept showing up in Bardashevskiy's hands and then in the end zone. He wore No. 32 in the regular season, averaging 136 yards per game and scoring 10 touchdowns. Donning No. 15 for the playoffs, he has posted two-game totals of 581 yards and six touchdowns.
"The No. 32 was baggy and defenses would grab my jersey a lot," Bardashevskiy said. "This one is a small, and it's a good, tight fit. They can't grab cloth anymore."
Despite an offense predicated on fooling defenses, little trickery was involved on Bardashevskiy's touchdown runs of 81, 22, 25, 69 and 90 yards, Elrod said.
"Our line went to work, they got him big holes and he's a fast Russian," Elrod said.
Bardashevskiy moved to the United States from Russia at 12 months old and speaks fluent Russian and English.
Rogers scored to cut Elk River's lead to 53-42 in the fourth quarter, then recovered the ensuing onside kick. But a Jordan Meyer sack turned the Royals over on downs.