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Zach Eystad tip-toed along the sideline on a punt return during Park Rapids' Section 8AAA playoff game against Roseau Saturday afternoon.

Panthers avenge loss to Roseau, advance to section championship

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Panthers avenge loss to Roseau, advance to section championship
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

In the regular-season finale, a muddy field at Roseau hindered the running game of the Park Rapids football team in a 16-6 loss.

Footing wasn't a problem for the Panthers in the rematch Saturday afternoon at Vern Weekley Field.

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The Panthers compiled 362 yards, including 184 yards on the ground, in the first half alone in building a 34-6 lead en route to a 41-14 victory in a Section 8AAA semifinal playoff game.

With the win, Park Rapids advances to the section title game against Perham Friday night at 5:30 at the Fargodome. Perham, the No. 1 seed in the section, defeated the No. 2-seeded Panthers 34-12 in Week 2. This marks the first time the Panthers have played in a section title game since losing to East Grand Forks 21-0 in 1985.

"The kids came out focused and ready to play," said Park Rapids head coach Aaron Morris, whose team improved to 5-5 on the season. "The kids were looking for a little redemption after losing up there. They really wanted to win this game and get to the Fargodome."

The Panthers, who were held to a season-low 58 rushing yards in the loss at Roseau, finished with 213 yards rushing and four touchdowns while Tyler McCollum broke the school record for passing yards in a game by throwing for 236 yards and two TDs in the rout. Rocky Donatelle held the old record with 224 passing yards against Crookston in 2005.

This game was decided early as the Panthers scored on five of their first six possessions.

On the opening series, the Panthers drove 80 yards in 14 plays to open the scoring. Ian Johnson and Cory Gartner had 10-yard carries before Johnson's 23-yard run and Gartner's 12-yard run led to a first down at the 3. Gartner capped the drive with a 3-yard TD run and Johnson kicked the extra point to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead with 8:43 to play in the first quarter.

Roseau faced a fourth-and-2 at its own 39 when Alex Ziegler was stopped on a fake punt.

The Panthers took over at Roseau's 40 and used Johnson's 23-yard run to the 14 to set up a 5-yard TD run by David Dirks on fourth-and-goal. Johnson's kick gave Park Rapids a 14-0 lead at the 5:25 mark.

Three punts followed before the Panthers took advantage of a short field to extend their lead. Zach Eystad started the short drive with a punt return to the Roseau 27. After a holding penalty moved the ball back to the 37, McCollum hit Noah MacPherson for a 15-yard gain to the 22. On the next play, Eystad rushed in from 22 yards out and Johnson added the kick as the Panthers led 21-0 with :08 remaining in the first quarter.

Roseau was backed up to its own 2 on the next series, but Ziegler hit Tanner Okeson on a 49-yard route on third-and-16 as the Rams drove to the Park Rapids 47. That drive stalled and Park Rapids took over at its own 32.

An 11-play, 68-yard scoring drive followed as a 5-yard carry by Johnson on fourth-and-3 and a 39-yard catch by Kyle Goplerud set up a 2-yard TD run by Dirks. Johnson's kick extended the lead to 28-0 with 5:31 to play in the first half.

Two big pass plays by Ziegler got Roseau on the board. After a facemask penalty, Ziegler hit Trevor Johnson on a 29-yard route before finding Okeson on a 35-yard scoring route. With 4:05 to play in the first half, the Rams trailed 28-6.

Park Rapids responded as a 40-yard pass from McCollum to Eystad set up a 3-yard TD pass from McCollum to MacPherson as the Panthers led 34-6 with 1:15 to play in the first half. That 67-yard drive took only six plays.

After Roseau was forced to punt, the Panthers threatened to score again when McCollum hit MacPherson for 12 yards and Goplerud on a pair of passes for 19 and 35 yards to reach the Roseau 7. On the last play of the half, Johnson intercepted a pass in the end zone as the Panthers had to settle for a comfortable 34-6 halftime lead.

The Panthers sealed the win by scoring on their first possession of the second half.

Roseau opened the second half by using a 47-yard catch by Johnson to reach the Park Rapids 28. But a sack by Kody Walsh ended that drive.

Park Rapids took over at the 32 and drove 68 yards in nine plays. A 30-yard catch by Gartner and 9-yard catch by MacPherson set up an 11-yard TD pass from McCollum to Goplerud. Johnson's kick gave Park Rapids a 41-6 lead with 7:18 to play in the third quarter.

Eystad's interception stopped Roseau's next drive and the Rams were forced to punt on the following series. Roseau then put together a 12-play drive as a pass interference call and 14-yard run by Jared Pahlen led to a first down at the Park Rapids 19. Roseau eventually lost possession on downs at the 10.

The Rams concluded the scoring when Alex Halstengard, who had runs of 27 and 12 yards, scored on a 2-yard run with 19 seconds to play.

"The offensive line blocked well and gave Tyler time to throw the ball and gave our backs holes to run through," said Morris. "Our defense really stepped up. I was very impressed with how quick we were to the ball. This was a total team effort."

McCollum completed 13 of 23 passes with Goplerud making five receptions for 111 yards. Johnson led the rushing attack with 84 yards on 13 carries while Gartner added 69 yards on 14 attempts.

Ziegler completed 8 of 17 passes for 186 yards before leaving the game with an ankle injury. Okeson caught five passes for 104 yards while Halstengard led Roseau's rushing attack with 12 carries for 66 yards. Roseau ends the season with a 5-5 record.

Now the Panthers are looking to avenge the regular-season loss to Perham and win a section title for the first time since 1984.

"From Day 1, our goal was to win two playoff games and get to the Fargodome," said Morris. "Now that we're there, we're not content. We can beat Perham if we play a good game. These kids have worked hard and have accomplished a lot. We want to keep it rolling and get to state."

Roseau 0 6 0 8....14

Park Rapids 21 13 7 0..41

SCORING

PR-Gartner 3 run (I. Johnson kick)

PR-Dirks 5 run (I. Johnson kick)

PR-Eystad 22 run (I. Johnson kick)

PR-Dirks 2 run (I. Johnson kick)

R-Okeson 35 pass from Ziegler (pass failed)

PR-MacPherson 3 pass from T. McCollum (kick failed)

PR-K. Goplerud 11 pass from T. McCollum (I. Johnson kick)

R-Halstengard 2 run (Eaton run)

OFFENSIVE STATISTICS

RUSHING. Roseau: Halstengard 12-66, Pahlen 1-14. Park Rapids: I. Johnson 13-84, Gartner 14-69, Dirks 10-32, Eystad 9-29, Baumgartner 5-7, Walsh 1-6, Olson 1-1.

PASSING. Roseau: Ziegler 8-17-0 for 186 yards; Jobman 2-5-1 for 14 yards; Eaton 1-4-0 for 7 yards. Park Rapids: T. McCollum 13-23-1 for 236 yards.

RECEIVING. Roseau: Okeson 5-104, Johnson 2-76, Pahlen 2-19. Park Rapids: K. Goplerud 5-111, MacPherson 5-47, Eystad 1-40, Gartner 1-30, Dirks 1-8.

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