Jeremy Nordick and the members of the United North Central football team are feeling right at home at Vern Weekley Field.
Two years ago, UNC opened the 2015 season with a 6-0 victory over Park Rapids at Vern Weekley Field. Friday night in the 2017 season opener, the Warriors posted another shutout on the Panthers' home turf as quarterback James Clark rushed for three touchdowns to spark a 22-0 victory.
"We were pleased with our effort for 48 minutes," said Nordick, the Warriors' head coach. "It was a very big win for our program. We've got a lot of respect for the Park Rapids players and coaches. I feel we've developed a friendly Highway 71 rivalry the last few years. Anytime you can go into Park Rapids and get a win, it's huge. It's not an easy thing to do."
"You could tell that our players were very nervous. For most of them, this was the first chance they had to play a varsity game," said Park Rapids head coach Aaron Morris. "I have to give credit to UNC. They came out firing on all cylinders and they had a very good game plan. They played with a lot of confidence and we did not. We just got nervous and we could not get anything going as a team. We will get there. We just have to be patient because the more experience our players get, the more confidence they will gain."
The Warriors played well on both sides of the ball, compiling 260 yards in offense while limiting Park Rapids to only 101 yards offensively for their second win in as many games at Vern Weekley Field.
After forcing the Warriors to punt on their first series, Park Rapids took over at the UNC 35. Cody Dravis opened with a 5-yard run, but a motion penalty and a sack ended that drive where it started.
An 11-yard gain by Owen Anderson marched the Warriors to the Park Rapids 48. A 12-yard run by Clark was negated by a holding penalty, which forced another UNC punt.
The Panthers took over at their own 21 and used a 5-yard run by Jason Haas, a 15-yard penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit, a 12-yard reception by Tristin Persons, and a facemask penalty to reach the UNC 33. Haas had a 10-yard run to the 25 brought back by a holding penalty before another sack by the Warriors' defense ended that drive at the 45.
Park Rapids' defense forced another punt before UNC's defense set up the first score of the night when Anderson intercepted a Haas pass and returned it 26 yards to the Park Rapids 1-yard line. Two plays later, Clark plunged in from 2 yards out. Clark found Cade Lacoe for the two-point conversion and the Warriors led 8-0 with 11:07 to play in the first half.
After having a 35-yard touchdown run by Zach Floyd called back because of a holding penalty on their next series, the Warriors extended their lead on another 2-yard TD run by Clark. Mason Dailey caught the conversion pass and UNC held a 16-0 lead with 3:30 remaining in the first half. That scoring drive took six plays and covered 53 yards and featured a 27-yard catch by Tristan Aho and a 29-yard catch by Dailey.
Park Rapids threatened to score before the half when Marque Cook intercepted a Clark pass at the UNC 35. But Caleb Mostrom picked off a pass by Haas as the Warriors carried a 16-0 lead into the half.
On the Warriors' first possession of the second half, Floyd followed a 16-yard run with a 15-yard gain. However, that drive stalled at the Park Rapids 17.
The Panthers put together their only threat of the second half on the ensuing series as Dravis had gains of 9 and 13 yards and caught a 14-yard pass to the UNC 10. A 15-yard personal-foul penalty on the Warriors and a 5-yard run by Zach Fritze on third-and-4 also aided that drive, which eventually stalled at the 3.
A 45-yard reception by Aho gave UNC a first down at the Park Rapids 40, but the Panthers forced three incomplete passes to end that drive at the 35.
Dravis caught a 15-yard pass as the Panthers reached midfield, but that drive stalled at the UNC 48.
Six plays later, Clark broke free for a 33-yard TD run as UNC sealed the win with 4:23 to play.
Morgan Olson intercepted a pass by Jens Anderson at the Park Rapids 28 and Brett Pinoniemi followed with a 13-yard run to the 13 but Park Rapids' Marcus Benson recovered a fumble two plays later at the 13 to prevent another score.
Clark completed 4 of 15 passes for 103 yards and rushed 15 times for 72 yards to lead the Warriors' offense. Floyd had nine carries for 54 yards and Anderson had 12 attempts for 43 yards. Mostrom had seven solo tackles, Anderson had six solo tackles, Olson had five solo tackles, Floyd had four solo tackles and Justen Berttunen had four solo tackles to lead UNC's defense.
Haas completed 7 of 19 passes for 44 yards and rushed 18 times for 21 yards. Dravis added 35 yards on nine carries and caught two passes for 29 yards.
UNC had 12 first downs while being whistled for 13 penalties for 95 yards. Park Rapids finished with 10 first downs and had four penalties for 25 yards. UNC ran 55 plays compared to the Panthers' 57 plays.
"We were extremely proud of the shutout. I thought defensively, we played with a ton of energy and fire all night long. We moved around a bunch to try to give Park Rapids some different looks. We were able to create a few key turnovers by doing this and I felt that was big. It was great to see all 11 guys swarming the football all night," said Nordick, whose team lost to Park Rapids 13-6 at Menahga in last year's season opener. "Offensively, we had a pretty good mix of running the football inside the tackles along with spreading them out on the perimeter with a couple of big plays from our receivers. I think our kids felt that we left a few more big plays out there and had a couple more opportunities that we should have capitalized on."
"This is a new offensive scheme that will take some time to get used to. This was our first major test and it showed some flaws. We need to spend more time making sure the players understand what we are looking for and we need to build confidence in each one of them. This was the first time we ran this scheme for an entire game and there will be some bumps, but we will work through them and be just fine," said Morris. "Our defense played hard and made some plays. We just need to figure things out on the offensive side of the ball. UNC has some great athletes and they made some big plays. If we would have gotten a few fumbles or caught a pass, who knows what the score would have been. We just have to relax, concentrate on the game and take things one week at a time."
UNC plays at West Central Area Friday night while Park Rapids travels to Thief River Falls. Both games kick off at 7 p.m. West Central Area opened the season with a 14-6 win over Breckenridge while TRF fell to Ottertail Central 6-0.
"These players want to get better and I know they will do what is necessary for that to happen," said Morris. "We'll work through the issues so we can get ready for Thief River Falls. We have to stay positive as a team, because this is a team effort. I believe these players will be just fine and we will do what is necessary to get better each week."
In the other Section 8AAA and Section 8AA games, Barnesville defeated Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 27-14, Crookston edged East Grand Forks 31-27, Pequot Lakes blanked Staples-Motley 52-0, Perham received a 2-0 forfeit win over Frazee, Hawley defeated Mahnomen 60-28, Lake Park-Audubon defeated Bagley 24-14 and Warroad topped Roseau 21-14 in overtime. Warroad edged LP-A 7-6 in the season opener on Aug. 25.
UNC 0 16 0 6...22
Park Rapids 0 0 0 0...0
UNC--Clark 2 run (Lacoe pass from Clark)
UNC--Clark 4 run (Dailey pass from Clark)
UNC--Clark 33 run (run failed)
RUSHING. UNC: Clark 15-72, Floyd 9-54, Anderson 12-43. Park Rapids: Dravis 9-35, Haas 18-21, Z. Fritze 1-5, Anderson 1-1, S. Fritze 1-0, Vang 1-0, David 1-(-2), Persons 2-(-3).
PASSING. UNC: Clark 4-15-1 for 103 yards. Park Rapids: Haas 7-19-2 for 44 yards; Anderson 0-4-1 for 0 yards.
RECEIVING. UNC: Aho 2-74, Dailey 1-29, Floyd 1-9. Park Rapids: Dravis 2-29, Persons 2-12, S. Fritze 2-3, David 1-0.