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Defense helps WCA upset Panthers

Two missed scoring opportunities on the first two series led to the first loss of the season for the Park Rapids football team Friday night. West Central Area's defense stopped the Panthers at the 1-yard line on the opening series and forced a fu...

Two missed scoring opportunities on the first two series led to the first loss of the season for the Park Rapids football team Friday night.

West Central Area's defense stopped the Panthers at the 1-yard line on the opening series and forced a fumble inside the 10-yard line on the Panthers' second series to spark an 8-6 win at Barrett.

"Every thing was switched around. Usually we're the ones stopping the opponent inside the 20 and every time we get inside the 20 we score," said Park Rapids head coach Tom Ahrendt, whose team fell to 5-1 on the season. "You have to give West Central credit. They were ready to play ball and we didn't play the type of football we've been playing all year."

Park Rapids controlled the line of scrimmage in the first quarter, but couldn't finish off two impressive drives.

On the game's first series, the Panthers marched 79 yards in 15 plays only to be stopped at the 1. A 9-yard run by Kevin Vaadeland, an 11-yard carry by Caleb Brown on third-and-7, a 25-yard catch by Lee Branstrom on another third-and-7 play and a 22-yard reception by Vaadeland led to a first-and-goal at the 9. The Knights' defense delivered on the next four plays and West Central took over at its own 1.

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After forcing the Knights to punt, the Panthers regained possession at the West Central 48. A pair of 9-yard carries by Vaadeland and two carries by Brown for 10 yards led to a first down at the West Central 7. Park Rapids fumbled on the next play and West Central took over at the 10.

"We marched up and down the field, but we had a couple of breakdowns," said Ahrendt. "As the game rolled on, West Central picked it up and became more confident."

Each team exchanged punts before the Knights put together their best drive of the half. A pass interference penalty gave West Central a first down at the Park Rapids 21 and three plays later the Knights appeared to take the lead on a 26-yard TD pass. However, that play was called back on an illegal procedure penalty. West Central fumbled on the next play and the Panthers had the ball near midfield.

Dylan Walsh caught a 13-yard pass and Anthony Koeller followed with a 20-yard carry, but time ran out as these two Heart O'Lakes Conference teams settled for a scoreless tie at the half.

Quarterback Kolten Lee sparked the Knights on the opening series of the second half by completing two passes for 34 yards to the Park Rapids 20. Lee capped off the 12-play, 70-yard drive by breaking four tackles and scrambling for an 18-yard score. Marshall Strand caught the two-point conversion and West Central had an 8-0 lead with 6:12 to play in the third quarter.

Koeller had three carries for 19 yards as the Panthers marched to the West Central 49 on the ensuing series. But a holding penalty ended that drive and Park Rapids was forced to punt.

Derek Bredy's 18-yard reception led the Knights to the Park Rapids 38, but the Panthers' defense held and West Central punted.

West Central regained possession with 8:00 remaining, but Lee was sacked at the Park Rapids 40 on fourth down and the Panthers had possession with 4:43 to play.

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Koeller opened the Panthers' final drive with five carries for 43 yards to the West Central 17. Dierkhising rushed for 12 yards to the 5 and capped off the 60-yard drive with a 5-yard run on fourth-and-goal. However, the Panthers were stopped on the two-point conversion and West Central held an 8-6 lead with 1:26 remaining.

The Knights recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock to finish off the upset of the state's No. 6-ranked Class AAA team.

"We had a letdown," said Ahrendt. "We got beat on the line of scrimmage for the first time this season."

The Panthers finished with 250 yards in offense with Dierkhising completing 5 of 10 passes for 61 yards and Koeller rushing 18 times for 107 yards.

Park Rapids' defense held West Central to only 146 yards in total offense with Lee passing for 86 yards. The win lifted West Central to 2-4 on the season.

The loss dropped Park Rapids into a tie for the No. 2 spot in the Section 8AAA ranks with Perham at 63 points. Thief River Falls holds the top spot with a 6-0 record and 84 points. Roseau is fourth at 4-2 and 58 points.

The Heart O'Lakes Conference North Division title is on the line this Friday night when the Panthers travel to Perham. The winner of that game is also in position to lock up the No. 2 seed in the section. Perham opened the season with a 14-13 loss to Pelican Rapids before going on a five-game winning streak. The Yellowjackets have outscored their opponents 153-46 during that stretch. Kickoff at Perham is set for 7 p.m.

"A lot is on the line," said Ahrendt. "We're playing for the conference championship and the No. 2 seed in the section. We have to be ready to play. I think the kids will respond. I look for them to pick things up and refocus."

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Park Rapids 0 0 0 6 6

West Central 0 0 8 0 .8

SCORING

WCA-Lee 18 run (Strand pass from Lee)

PR-Dierkhising 5 run (run failed)

TEAM STATISTICS

PR WCA

First downs 15 10

Rushing 42-190 25-66

Passing 5-10-0 10-18-0

Yards passing 61 86

Total net yards 250 146

Fumbles lost 1-1 1-0

Penalties-yards lost 2-20 5-35

PR OFFENSIVE STATISTICS

RUSHING: Koeller 18-107, Vaadeland 8-34, Brown 10-32, Dierkhising 5-19, McAllister 1-(-2).

PASSING: Dierkhising 5-10-0 for 61 yards.

RECEIVING: Branstrom 1-25, Vaadeland 1-22, Walsh 1-13, Tolle 1-1, Ricke 1-0.

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