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Panthers' errors aid 28-8 win by Pirates

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Mark Bittner produced big play after big play in leading Crookston to a 28-8 Section 8AAA victory over Park Rapids in the regular-season finale last Wednesday night.

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The junior quarterback rushed 26 times for 105 yards, completed 8 of 12 passes for 167 yards and caught a 17-yard pass as the Pirates moved up to the No. 5 spot in the section standings. The loss dropped Park Rapids to the No. 7 spot for the section playoffs.

"We didn't play with any intensity," said Park Rapids head coach Aaron Morris. "We were not ready to play and they were. They wanted it more than we did."

The tone of the game was set on the opening series when Park Rapids lost a fumble on the first play of the game. Crookston recovered at the 35 and scored six plays later when Bittner hit Austin Proulx on a 25-yard touchdown pass. That TD on third-and-10 gave the Pirates a 6-0 lead with 8:11 to play in the first quarter.

Park Rapids used an 18-yard pass from Dan Pike to Kevin McMorrow and an 11-yard carry by John Drury to reach the Crookston 25. But Drury was stopped on fourth-and-3 and the Pirates took over at their own 16.

After each team exchanged punts, the Pirates put together a 10-play, 67-yard drive to pad their lead. A 22-yard pass from Bittner to Wade Johnston and three 5-yard carries by Bittner led to a first down at the Park Rapids 20. Bittner was then sacked twice for 15 yards in losses to set up a third-and-25 at the 35. Bittner caught a pass for a 17-yard gain and followed with an 18-yard TD run on fourth-and-8 as Crookston led 14-0 with 2:29 to play in the first half.

McMorrow rushed three times for 15 yards and Drury rushed twice for 20 yards as the Panthers threatened before the half. But Proulx intercepted a pass at the Crookston 17 to end that threat.

Crookston used another big play to extend its lead at the start of the second half.

Bittner's 5-yard run on third-and-4 kept the drive alive before Proulx ended the seven-play, 74-yard march with a 48-yard TD pass from Bittner. That score gave the Pirates a 20-0 lead with 8:02 to play in the third quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Panthers fumbled again and Crookston recovered at the Park Rapids 44. Bittner hit Johnston for an 18-yard gain, but a holding penalty and a sack forced the Pirates to lose possession at the Park Rapids 33.

Pike's 14-yard run on fourth-and-1 at the 42 led the Panthers into Crookston territory, but an interception by Victor Martinez at the 30 ended that threat.

A holding penalty and an offside penalty pushed the Pirates back to the 13. On the next play, the Pirates recovered their own fumble in the end zone for a safety. With 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter, the Pirates held a 20-2 lead.

On the ensuing series, a 16-yard run by McMorrow led to a first down at the Crookston 13. But the Panthers fumbled on the next play and Crookston took over at their own 4.

A 10-play, 96-yard drive followed. A 10-yard catch by Johnston, an 11-yard run by Proulx, a penalty for a late hit and a 22-yard reception by Ben Curran led the Pirates to the Park Rapids 24. Bittner's 5-yard run on fourth-and-4 at the 18 set up Josh Edlund's 13-yard TD run. Crookston led 28-2 with 5:56 to play.

The Panthers regained possession on a fumble recovery at their own 46 and ended the game with an eight-play, 54-yard drive. A 9-yard run by Colin Vaadeland, an 8-yard catch by Tyler Ridlon, a 6-yard run by Levi Erickson and a 12-yard catch by Vaadeland set up a 20-yard TD pass from Cole Tretbar to Forrest Drury as time expired to end the scoring.

The Panthers finished with 191 yards in offense, with 136 rushing yards. McMorrow rushed 13 times for 63 yards and John Drury gained 47 yards on nine carries. Pike, Tretbar and Dan Ricke combined to complete 5 of 12 passes for 55 yards.

The Panthers finished the regular season with a 2-6 record and opened the section playoffs at No. 2 Perham Tuesday night. Crookston ended at 3-5 and traveled to No. 4 Thief River Falls for a first-round game. The section semifinals will be held Saturday night.

"We made some mistakes and Crookston played mistake-free football," said Morris. "We didn't execute and we didn't make plays. That was not the way I wanted us to end the regular season."

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