Defenses rule in TRF's 7-6 win over Panthers

Body: 

Based on the season openers, both Park Rapids and Thief River Falls needed to rely on their defenses in order to pull off a victory in the Midwest Red District and Section 8AAA football opener Friday night at Thief River Falls.

Park Rapids managed only 101 yards offensively in a season-opening 22-0 loss to United North Central while Thief River Falls' offense was held to only 145 yards in a 6-0 loss to Ottertail Central in Week 1.

Both defenses dominated Friday night as Thief River Falls forced five turnovers while Park Rapids' defense set up a score while stopping three drives in the red zone by the Prowlers. In the end, the Panthers' five turnovers and a failed two-point conversion were the difference in Thief River Falls' 7-6 victory.

"I'm proud of the guys. They came back after our loss to UNC and worked hard in practice and played well on the road," said Park Rapids head coach Aaron Morris. "It was a good, defensive game. We vastly improved from last week and we had our chances to pull off a win. I'm happy any time we can play well at Thief River Falls. I'm not happy with the loss, but I'm happy with how much improvement I saw."

Park Rapids threatened on its first series, driving to the TRF 15 before two penalties and a sack ended that drive.

Thief River Falls took a 7-0 lead at the 10:55 mark of the second quarter on Josh Bernier's 5-yard touchdown run and Alexander Grant's kick. Park Rapids' defense stopped the Prowlers on two other first-half trips inside the red zone, taking over at the 4 and 15.

The Panthers threatened to score at the end of the first half as a 7-yard reception by Zach Severtson, an 11-yard run by Tristin Persons and a 19-yard run by Jason Haas led to a first down at the TRF 28. That drive stalled at the 23 as TRF carried a 7-0 lead into the half.

On Park Rapids' first series of the second half, an 11-yard reception by Spencer Fritze and a pass interference penalty led the Panthers to the TRF 39. That drive stalled at the 30.

An interception return by Severtson gave the Panthers possession at the TRF 18. A 5-yard run by Persons and 6-yard run by Cody Dravis led to a first down at the 5, but the Prowlers ended that threat with an interception.

Park Rapids' defense forced a punt and took over at the TRF 11 after a bad snap. A 9-yard run by Persons set up a 1-yard TD run by Persons. The conversion pass failed as the Panthers trailed 7-6 with 6:58 to play.

TRF's defense sealed the win by intercepting three passes on the Panthers' final three possessions.

Offensively, the Panthers compiled 188 yards with Persons rushing 14 times for 54 yards, Haas rushing 18 times for 47 yards and Severtson gaining 44 yards on four carries. Haas completed 6 of 18 passes for 35 yards. Park Rapids had 11 first downs while possessing the football for 19:49. The Panthers also had six penalties for 40 yards.

Defensively, the Panthers allowed 197 yards and 14 first downs as TRF held the ball for 28:11.

"You have to give credit to our defense. They made some huge plays and made some huge stops to keep us in the game. We had some turnovers, but our defense held their ground and gave us a chance to win," said Morris. "We had a chance to score on our first possession, but we made some inexperience mistakes. Our offense is progressing. We have some minor corrections to make. We need to sustain our blocks and make some catches to help open up our running game. Things are starting to click on offense. The kids are getting comfortable at their positions. If we continue to work hard, we're going to finish off drives and get the ball into the end zone."

In Friday night's other district games, Perham defeated Detroit Lakes 32-20, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton defeated East Grand Forks 27-0 and Fergus Falls edged Pequot Lakes 23-21. Perham, D-G-F, Fergus Falls and Thief River Falls sit at 1-0 in district play while the Panthers join Detroit Lakes, East Grand Forks and Pequot Lakes at 0-1.

Perham leads the Section 8AAA standings at 2-0 while D-G-F, Thief River Falls and Pequot Lakes sit at 1-1. Park Rapids and East Grand Forks at 0-2 entering their key clash at East Grand Forks this Friday night. Kick-off is set for 7 p.m.

"This is a must-win game for us as far as the section seedings go," said Morris. "We don't want to go 0-3. East Grand Forks is going to be tough, but if we continue to work hard and come out ready to play, hopefully we'll come home with a win."

Park Rapids 0 0 0 6..6

Thief River Falls 0 7 0 0..7

SCORING

TRF--Bernier 5 run (Grant kick)

PR--Persons 1 run (pass failed)

OFFENSIVE STATISTICS

RUSHING. Park Rapids: Persons 14-54, Haas 18-47, Severtson 4-44, Dravis 2-8. TRF: Bernier 26-61, M. Johnson 14-59, B. Johnson 3-15.

PASSING. Park Rapids: Haas 6-18-4 for 35 yards. TRF: B. Johnson 4-13-1 for 54 yards.

RECEIVING. Park Rapids: Severtson 2-13, S. Fritze 1-11, Persons 2-8, Hoyt 1-3. TRF: Dahlin 1-25, M. Johnson 2-23, Lundeen 1-3.

KICKOFF RETURNS. Park Rapids: Z. Fritze 1-18, Severtson 1-7.

PUNT RETURNS. Park Rapids: Severtson 3-8, Haas 1-0.