Panthers were better than 0-9 record
Aaron Morris expected the Park Rapids football team to produce at least a .500 record this season.
Even though the Panthers finished 0-9, Morris felt his team was a few plays away from finishing at the .500 mark.
"I knew it was going to be a tough year, but I was banking on three or four wins," said Morris. "We were very close to that. Four plays here or there and we could have been 4-4. We just didn't get any breaks. I'm very proud of the guys. The kids worked hard and never gave up. I don't look at records. I look at growth the kids are making as a team and as individuals. In those terms, the season was a success."
In the season opener, the Panthers had a pass deflected away in the end zone on the final play of the game in a 19-13 loss to Wadena-Deer Creek. Two fumbles and a blocked punt helped the Wolverines escape with the win. Park Rapids compiled 202 yards in offense while allowing 314. This game was tied 13-13 at the half.
Park Rapids was in position to pick up another win in Week 2, but a bad snap on a punt enabled Perham to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. The Yellowjackets prevailed 12-6 in overtime despite producing only 171 yards in offense. Park Rapids racked up 248 yards in that game, but turned the ball over three times.
In Week 3, Crookston compiled 452 yards in offense en route to a 44-6 victory. Three turnovers cost the Panthers, who managed only 144 yards in offense. Crookston jumped out to a 24-6 lead at the half.
Pequot Lakes held the Panthers to only 148 yards in offense in a 36-0 victory in Week 4. Pequot Lakes, which led 36-0 at the half, finished with 326 yards in offense and capitalized on three Park Rapids turnovers for the shutout.
Park Rapids built an 18-0 lead in the first quarter and led 18-8 at halftime at Roseau before the Rams rallied for a 32-25 win in Week 6. The Panthers had a season-high 354 yards in offense, but turned the ball over twice. Roseau scored the winning touchdown with 50 seconds to go to pull off that win.
East Grand Forks tallied 379 yards in offense while holding the Panthers to only 128 yards in a 24-8 victory in Week 7. East Grand Forks led 14-0 at the half.
The Panthers racked up a season-high 250 yards on the ground and 315 yards in total offense in Week 8, but West Central Area prevailed 27-19 in the regular-season finale at the Fargodome. West Central held a 21-7 lead at the intermission.
Park Rapids received the No. 8 seed for the Section 8AAA playoffs and had its season end with a 22-0 loss at No. 1 Pequot Lakes. The Panthers managed a season-low 72 yards in offense in the rainy conditions. Pequot Lakes led 16-0 at the half.
Pequot Lakes ended the season rated No. 10 in the state Class AAA poll. East Grand Forks ended up defeating Thief River Falls 19-10 in the Section 8AAA title game.
For the season, the Panthers averaged 187 yards and 9.2 points a game while allowing 264 yards and 28.1 points a night. Park Rapids was outscored 253-83 in the nine games. The Panthers went winless for the first time since going 0-9 in 2004.
Leading the Panthers this season were seniors Tyler Barr, Nick Belfiori, Kevin Just, Kyle Kanten, Billy Kimball, Dan Pike, Christian Ridlon and Colin Vaadeland; juniors Caleb Abraham, Robert Borger, Josh Crist, Forrest Drury, Levi Erickson, Brock Fritze, Jeff Hemenway, Kyle Kniss, Jameson Nessman, Cory Odland, Zach O'Hern, Tyler Ridlon, Brandon Ritter, Logan Schmaus, Zach Steffen, Herman Steing and Cole Tretbar; and sophomores David Dirks, Zach Eystad, Cory Gartner, Chris Goplerud, Kyle Goplerud, Ian Johnson, Kyle Ritter, Jade Roy, Andy Waller, Kody Walsh and John Wiederin.
Offensively, Pike led the team in rushing with 114 carries for 365 yards and four touchdowns. Vaadeland carried the ball 101 times for 362 yards and one TD and Drury rushed 82 times for 264 yards. Johnson had 46 carries for 161 yards and four TDs.
Johnson was the starting quarterback and completed 30 of 97 passes for 462 yards and three TDs. Drury was the Panthers' leading receiver, catching 10 passes for 149 yards and three TDs. Vaadeland had seven receptions for 57 yards, Tretbar caught four passes for 63 yards, Kanten had three receptions for 85 yards, Pike caught three passes for 29 yards, Kyle Goplerud had two receptions for 48 yards and Kniss caught one pass for 31 yards.
Kimball was the starting center, Barr and Fritze were the starting guards, and Christian Ridlon and Brandon Ritter were the starting tackles. Belfiori and Schmaus filled in at guard and tackle while Crist filled in at end. Erickson and Vaadeland handled kickoff and punt returns.
Defensively, Christian Ridlon, Brandon Ritter, Tretbar and Schmaus played end; Kimball, Fritze, Belfiori and Kyle Ritter played tackle; Pike, Drury, Waller and Tretbar were the linebackers; Odland, Vaadeland, Eystad and Gartner played cornerback; and Kanten, Erickson, Johnson and Abraham played safety. Waller handled the punting duties while Pike, Abraham and Steing handled kickoffs.
Pike led the defense with 46 solo tackles, 100 assisted tackles and two quarterback sacks for 102 points. Kimball had 15 solo tackles, 64 assists and two fumble recoveries for 54 points. Drury had 14 solo tackles and 60 assists for 44 points. Erickson made nine solo tackles and 44 assists for 35 points. Brandon Ritter had 33 points with eight solo tackles and 42 assists.
Also scoring points on defense were Kanten (27.5 points), Ridlon (27), Tretbar (22), Odland (21, including two interceptions), Vaadeland (15), Waller (13), Fritze (9), Belfiori (9), Chris Goplerud (7), Kniss (6), Steffen (5), Abraham (5), Walsh (4.5), Schmaus (4), Ritter (3), Gartner (2.5), Kyle Goplerud (2), Barr (2), Eystad (1.5), Nessman (1), Just (1), Johnson (1) and Hemenway (1).
Pike received the Gary Rehn Award as the Most Valuable Player, the Mike McClelland Award as the Most Valuable Defensive Player and the Kip Gauldin Leadership Award while Johnson was named the team's Most Improved Player.
Pike and Kimball earned Heart O'Lakes Conference Northern Division honors while Ridlon, Vaadeland and Johnson were all-conference honorable mention players.
Morris is counting on the returning players and other underclassmen to dedicate themselves to the weight room and make the Panthers a contender in the conference and section next season.
"It would have been nice to get a couple wins for the seniors, but unfortunately that didn't happen. The seniors worked very hard and wanted to win. They laid the foundation for the future," said Morris, who was assisted by Joe Grimes, Brett Bishop and Aron Moses. "There are a lot of positives I can take out of this season. We have a lot of talent and good numbers coming back. Our biggest weakness is our weakness. We need to get in the weight room and get stronger. I don't doubt our talent. We just need to get stronger physically and mentally and believe in ourselves. We're going to be young again next year, but we have a lot of talent. I know these kids are competitive and they want to win. We have a bright future. It all depends on the kids. They need to hit the weight room in order for us to get to the next level."