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Kurt Fritze (52) sacked Hawley quarterback Jordan Harms during the first half of Friday night's season opener.

Nuggets defeat Panthers in opener

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     Overcoming turnovers was the difference as Hawley defeated Park Rapids 35-14 in the season-opening football game at Hawley Friday night.

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     Jordan Harms overcame two turnovers inside the Park Rapids 5-yard line by throwing for two touchdowns, rushing for another, and stopping two Park Rapids drives with an interception and fumble recovery as the Nuggets prevailed in this Heart O’Lakes Conference game.

     Neither team was able to move the ball in the early going as the Panthers punted on their first two possessions while Hawley lost a fumble on its second offensive play.

     Hawley put together a 13-play drive, but that series ended when Harms’ pass was intercepted by Drew Bade at the 4.

     The Nuggets’ defense held and forced another punt. An 18-yard punt gave Hawley possession at the Park Rapids 29. Two plays later Harms hit Ben Ellefson on a 26-yard scoring route. Gary Althoff’s kick gave the Nuggets a 7-0 lead with 22 seconds to play in the first quarter.

     After each team exchanged punts, Harms recovered a fumble at the Park Rapids 40. Six plays later, Harms ran in from 4 yards out as Hawley took a 13-0 lead with 8:34 to play in the first half. Dillon Omberg rushed three times for 23 yards to set up Harms’ TD.

     The Panthers responded with an eight-play, 64-yard drive to get back in the game. Josh Severtson opened the drive with a 12-yard run, Tyler McCollum hit Noah MacPherson on an 8-yard route on third-and-7, and Rilee Johnson and Severtson combined for 13 yards for another first down to set up a 28-yard TD pass from McCollum to Severtson. McCollum found Bade on the conversion as the Panthers cut the gap to 13-8 with 6:27 to play before halftime.

     Harms’ 10-yard run on fourth-and-2 helped lead Hawley to the Park Rapids 38, but Kurt Fritze sacked Harms for a 6-yard loss to force the Nuggets to punt.

     Park Rapids took over from the 10 with 1:52 to play, but had to punt with 1:07 left. Omberg’s 17-yard return gave the Nuggets possession at the Park Rapids 20. The Panthers’ defense held, but Althoff’s 31-yard field goal gave Hawley a 16-8 lead at the break.

     On the opening series of the second half, the Nuggets drove 62 yards in eight plays to increase the lead. Omberg’s 13-yard TD run capped the drive, which gave Hawley a 23-8 lead with 7:35 to play in the third quarter.

     The Panthers responded by driving into Hawley territory, but Harms intercepted a pass at the Hawley 35 and returned it to the Park Rapids 46. The Nuggets had another chance to score, but Harms fumbled at the 1 and the Panthers recovered the ball in the end zone.

     Again the Panthers drove into Hawley territory, but a fumble ended that drive at the Hawley 30.

     A 70-yard scoring drive followed as Harms hit Ellefson on a 14-yard scoring play to cap the drive and give Hawley a 29-8 lead with 8:13 to play.

     After the Panthers lost possession on downs, Austin Koenig broke free for a 40-yard scoring run as Hawley led 35-8 with 1:20 to play.

     Ben Baumgartner returned the ensuing kickoff 76 yards for a touchdown to conclude the scoring.

     “The kids and the coaches were not mentally ready. I take responsibility for not getting the kids ready to play,” said Park Rapids head coach Aaron Morris. “We had some turnovers and missed some opportunities and Hawley’s a good team and they capitalized on our mistakes and good field position. They came out with fire in the second half and we came out flat. We played well at times, but we need to play well for the entire game.”

     Hawley finished with 376 yards in offense, including 313 yards on the ground.

     The Panthers compiled 207 yards in offense with Tyler McCollum completing 11 of 32 passes for 127 yards. Noah MacPherson had two receptions for 33 yards while Baumgartner (eight carries for 26 yards) and Severtson (four carries for 25 yards) led Park Rapids’ rushing attack, which was held to 80 yards on 21 attempts.

     Defensively, Rilee Johnson made four solo tackles, had 14 assists and recovered a fumble. MacPherson made 11 assisted tackles, Fritze had two sacks and Riley Massie recovered a fumble.

     “We need to run the ball better and we need to be more consistent. Every time we had some momentum, we turned the ball over,” said Morris. “We had a lot of first-time starters who now realize they have to play hard for an entire game. We’re not satisfied with how we played. The positive thing is these are all things we can fix. We’ll keep getting better.”

     The Panthers make their home debut Friday night at Vern Weekley Field by hosting Roseau. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Park Rapids        0      8    0      6…14

Hawley               7      9    7      12..35

SCORING

H–Ellefson 26 pass from Harms (Althoff kick)

H-Harms 4 run (kick failed)

PR-Severtson 26 pass from T. McCollum (Bade pass from T. McCollum)

H-Althoff 31 FG

H-Omberg 13 run (Althoff kick)

H-Ellefson 14 pass from Harms (run failed)

H-Koenig 40 run (run failed)

PR-Baumgartner 76 kickoff return (run failed)

PARK RAPIDS OFFENSIVE STATS

RUSHING: Baumgartner 8-26, Severtson 4-24, J. McCollum 4-11, R. Johnson 3-8, Burlingame 1-5, T. McCollum 1-5.

PASSING: T. McCollum 11-32-1 for 127 yards.

RECEIVING: Porozinski 2-33, R. Johnson 2-20, Bade 2-17, MacPherson 2-15, Severtson 1-28, Burlingame 1-10, Baumgartner 1-7.

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