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Quick-striking Panthers roll

Park Rapids' Chris Goplerud, Kody Walsh and Ben Baumgartner (16) tackled Staples-Motley's Mike Beach during Tuesday night's Section 8AAA playoff game. (Vance Carlson / Enterprise)

Statistics can often be misleading.

Take the first half of the Section 8AAA quarterfinal football game between Park Rapids and Staples-Motley, for instance.

Staples-Motley's offense controlled the ball for 22 of the first 24 minutes and the Cardinals' defense limited Park Rapids to only eight plays from scrimmage and no first downs.

Instead of facing a halftime deficit, the Panthers relied on three big plays to build a 21-6 lead at the break. Several more big plays in the second half sparked Park Rapids to an easy 48-6 victory.

"The kids came out with a lot of fire," said Park Rapids head coach Aaron Morris, whose team compiled 216 yards on only eight plays from scrimmage in the first half. "The kids knew that it's one and done and there is no tomorrow. They really wanted to win this game."

On the first play from scrimmage, Cory Gartner broke free for a 75-yard touchdown run. Ian Johnson kicked the extra point and the Panthers had a 7-0 lead just 16 seconds into the game.

After forcing the Cardinals to punt, Johnson broke free for a 93-yard TD run on Park Rapids' next play from scrimmage for a 13-0 advantage with 9:10 to play in the first quarter.

The next two plays from scrimmage resulted in an exchange of fumbles before Staples-Motley put together an 11-play drive. Mike Beach rushed four times for 23 yards as the Cardinals reached the Park Rapids 39. But a sack by Nathan Rak ended that drive as the Panthers took over at the 37.

Kody Walsh broke free for a 44-yard run to the S-M 13, but was stripped of the ball and the Cardinals regained possession at their own 21.

A 19-play drive followed as the Cardinals cut the deficit to 13-6. Zach Fietek rushed 10 times for 39 yards and Beach rushed seven times for 30 yards as the Cardinals drove to the Park Rapids 5. Colton Border capped the drive with a 5-yard TD run on fourth down as the Cardinals scored with 3:36 to play in the first half.

On the ensuing kickoff, Zach Eystad broke free for a 75-yard score and Johnson ran in the conversion as the Panthers led 21-6 at the 3:24 mark.

A roughing-the-punter penalty and two carries for 12 yards by Beach led the Cardinals to the Park Rapids 29 on the next series, but two incomplete passes ended that drive.

Park Rapids took over at its own 26 with 19 seconds remaining and almost had another big scoring play when Tyler McCollum hit Kyle Goplerud on a 74-yard TD pass. However, a penalty for a false start negated that touchdown and the Panthers had to settle for a 21-6 lead at the half.

The second half was a replay of the first half as more big plays helped the Panthers pull away.

After forcing the Cardinals to punt on the opening series of the second half, Johnson broke free for a 54-yard TD run on Park Rapids' first play from scrimmage. Johnson's kick gave the Panthers a 28-6 lead with 10:14 to play in the third quarter.

A 10-yard run by Fietek and 21-yard carry by Beach led the Cardinals to the Park Rapid 25, but a holding penalty and a sack by Kurt Fritze ended that drive.

The Panthers quickly struck for another score as a 43-yard run by Johnson and 26-yard carry by David Dirks set up a 6-yard TD run by Dirks. Johnson's kick made it 35-6 with 4:22 to play in the third quarter. The Panthers covered 75 yards in only four plays on that scoring drive.

Beach's 7-yard run on fourth-and-4 led the Cardinals to midfield, but Park Rapids' defense held and the Panthers regained possession at their on 47.

Eystad started this four-play, 53-yard scoring drive with a 12-yard carry before ending it with a 39-yard run. Johnson again converted the kick and the Panthers led 42-6 with 10:03 to play.

A holding call on Park Rapids' next series negated a 32-yard run to the S-M 4 by Jon Burlingame, but a fumble recovery by the Panthers set up the game's final touchdown when Burlingame capped a three-play, 35-yard drive with a 28-yard TD run That made it 48-6 with 1:27 to play.

The Panthers compiled 472 yards in offense, all of it on the ground. Johnson had three carries for 195 yards and Eystad had four carries for 57 yards to lead a balanced rushing attack. The Cardinals finished with 168 rushing yards.

"I didn't expect us to have that many big plays," said Morris, whose team finished with three first downs while allowing 13 to the Cardinals. "We expected to win this game, but we didn't expect to win it in this fashion."

The win lifted Park Rapids to 4-5 on the season while Staples-Motley ended at 0-9.

In Tuesday night's other quarterfinal games, No. 3 Roseau eliminated No. 6 Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 22-6 and No. 4 Crookston edged No. 5 Pequot Lakes 21-20.

Park Rapids hosts Roseau today (Saturday) at 3 p.m. in a semifinal game while Crookston travels to No. 1 Perham. The section championship game is set for next Friday at 5:30 at the Fargodome.

Staples 0 6 0 0.....6

Park Rapids 21 0 14 13..48


PR-Gartner 75 run (I. Johnson kick)

PR-I. Johnson 93 run (kick failed)

SM-Borders 5 run (kick blocked)

PR-Eystad 75 kickoff return (I. Johnson run)

PR-I. Johnson 54 run (I. Johnson kick)

PR-Dirks 6 run (I. Johnson kick)

PR-Eystad 39 run (I. Johnson kick)

PR-Burlingame 28 run (run failed)


RUSHING: I. Johnson 3-195, Gartner 1-75, Eystad 4-57, Walsh 2-49, Dirks 4-36, Burlingame 3-34, Baumgartner 2-6.

PASSING: T. McCollum 0-2-0 for 0 yards.

Park Rapids 0 0 0 0..6

Roseau 0 16 00.....16


R-Okeson 46 pass from Ziegler (Sampson pass from Ziegler)

R-Johnson 4 run (Sampson pass from Ziegler)

PR-MacPherson 85 pass from I. Johnson (pass failed)


RUSHING: I. Johnson 10-32, Gartner 9-11, Baumgartner 7-11, Dirks 4-9.

PASSING: T. McCollum 4-19-2 for 64 yards; I. Johnson 1-1-0 for 85 yards.

RECEIVING: MacPherson 3-97, K. Goplerud 2-52.