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Perham clinches conference title

In the final 2:31 of Friday night's game at Perham, the Park Rapids football team went from celebrating a conference championship to suffering a second straight staggering setback.

In the final 2:31 of Friday night's game at Perham, the Park Rapids football team went from celebrating a conference championship to suffering a second straight staggering setback.

The Panthers, who were coming off an 8-6 loss at West Central, held an 8-7 lead and were about to celebrate an important Section 8AAA victory when Mac Stoll missed a 23-yard field goal with 20 seconds to play. However, Park Rapids was called for a roughing-the-kicker penalty, giving Stoll another chance.

Stoll took advantage by kicking a 20-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining to give Perham a 10-8 victory, the Heart O'Lakes Confer-ence North Division championship and most likely the No. 2 seed for the Section 8AAA playoffs.

"Our guys deserved to win the conference championship," said Park Rapids head coach Tom Ahrendt. "We had our opportunities, but we came out on the short end. This was a good Friday night football game."

After being held scoreless for the first 45 minutes of this defensive battle between section rivals, the Panthers took an 8-7 lead with 2:31 to play when Kevin Vaadeland broke free for a 53-yard TD run and ran in the two-point conversion.

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Perham responded with an equally impressive drive. A 13-yard run by Stoll and an 11-yard carry by Nathan Schmitz started Perham's winning drive. Sopho-more quarterback Ben Bucholz, who started in place of the injured Marcus Hendrickson (who had rushed for 550 yards and four touchdowns and thrown for 878 yards and 11 scores in Perham's first six games), set up the winning field goal with a 25-yard completion to Nick Dockter on third-and-6 at the 36. Four plays later, Stoll made up for his first miss by kicking the winning field goal.

The Panthers drove near midfield on an 11-yard pass from Grant Dierkhising to Lee Branstrom, but an incomplete pass ended the game as Perham prevailed in this battle of state-ranked teams.

"You have to give Perham credit," said Ahrendt. "They're a good football team and they made the big plays down the stretch."

Park Rapids, which entered this game ranked No. 13 in the latest state Class AAA poll, threatened to score on the opening series of the game. Vaadeland's 6-yard run on third-and-2, a 12-yard carry by Caleb Brown, a 7-yard catch by Dylan Walsh, a 7-yard run by Vaadeland on fourth-and-2 and a 5-yard carry by Anthony Koeller highlighted a 12-play, 46-yard drive that was stopped at the Perham 14.

Perham, which was tied for the No. 9 spot in this week's state Class AAA poll, responded with a 12-play, 65-yard drive, including a 39-yard pass to Stoll. However, that drive ended at the Park Rapids 20.

After forcing the Panthers to punt, Perham went on a 10-play, 62-yard scoring drive. Bucholz completed four passes for 48 yards to set up a 4-yard run by Stoll. Kurt Weber's kick made it 7-0 with 7:58 to play before halftime.

Neither team mounted a scoring threat the rest of the half as Perham carried a 7-0 lead into the break.

Perham missed a chance to extend its lead on the opening series of the second half as an 11-play, 64-yard drive resulted in a missed 25-yard field goal attempt by Weber.

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Vaadeland and Brown each rushed for 9 yards and Koeller had a 17-yard carry as the Panthers marched to the Perham 42. That drive ended when Stoll intercepted a Dierkhising pass at the 28 and returned it to the Park Rapids 48.

Park Rapids' defense held and forced a punt and the Panthers used a pair of 6-yard carries by Koeller and two carries for 15 yards by Vaadeland to reach the Park Rapids 40. That drive ended and Dierkhising punted.

A 49-yard catch by Jordan Woessner and a 17-yard run by Schmitz led to a first down at the Park Rapids 13. That drive stalled and Weber had a 23-yard field goal attempt blocked as Perham clung to a 7-0 lead with 6:14 to play.

The Panthers took over at the 20 and used a pair of 6-yard runs by Koeller and Brown, a 6-yard catch by Walsh and a 7-yard catch by Vaadeland to set up Vaadeland's 53-yard TD run. Vaadeland ran in the two-point conversion to give Park Rapids an 8-7 lead.

Perham then marched 62 yards in 2:16 to set up Stoll's winning kick.

Vaadeland gained 100 yards on 12 carries, Koeller had 48 yards on 11 attempts and Brown added 39 yards in 11 carries as the Panthers finished with 236 yards in total offense.

Schmitz rushed 20 times for 138 yards while Bucholz completed 9 of 24 passes for 180 yards as Perham compiled 375 yards in total offense.

The win gave Perham a 5-0 record in the conference and 6-1 overall mark and the No. 2 spot in the section standings with 75 points. Park Rapids will finish second in the conference standings with a 4-1 mark and fell to 5-2 overall and into the No. 4 spot in the section with 69 points.

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The Panthers need a win against Wadena-Deer Creek and a loss by Roseau against Pelican Rapids to earn the No. 3 seed for the section playoffs. Otherwise Park Rapids will have to defeat No. 1 Thief River Falls in the section semifinals in order to advance to the section title game at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.

"Our goal is to play in the section finals at the Alerus Center," said Ahrendt. "We need to focus and execute on every play. We're playing some good football, but we still have a ton of things we can improve on."

Park Rapids will conclude the regular season by hosting Wadena-Deer Creek tonight (Wednesday) at 7 p.m. at Vern Weekley Field. The Panthers will open the Section 8AAA playoffs with a home game next Tuesday night.

Park Rapids 0 0 0 8 .8

Perham 0 7 0 3 .10

SCORING

P-Stoll 4 run (Weber kick)

PR-Vaadeland 53 run (Vaadeland run)

P-Stoll 20 FG

TEAM STATISTICS

PR P

First downs 10 16

Rushing 37-200 37-195

Passing 5-12-2 9-24-0

Yards passing 36 180

Total net yards 236 375

Fumbles lost 0-0 0-0

Penalties-yards lost 3-41 3-24

OFFENSIVE STATISTICS

RUSHING. Park Rapids: Vaadeland 12-100, Koeller 11-48, Brown 11-39, Winkler 2-9, Dierkhising 1-4. Perham: Schmitz 20-147, Stoll 6-31, Woessner 6-17.

PASSING. Park Rapids: Dierkhising 5-12-2 for 36 yards. Perham: Bucholz 9-24-0 for 180 yards.

RECEIVING. Park Rapids: Walsh 2-13, Branstrom 1-11, Vaadeland 1-7, Tolle 1-5. Perham: Stoll 4-63, Dockter 3-57, Woessner 1-49.

KICKOFF RETURNS. Park Rapids: Tolle 2-45. Perham: Woessner 1-16, Biegler 1-9.

PUNT RETURNS. Perham: Stoll 1-11.

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