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Prowlers capitalize on turnovers to end Panthers' season

Tom Ahrendt expected the Park Rapids football team to be playing for the Section 8AAA title this season. The Panthers were one step away from reaching that goal after routing Crookston 38-0 in the first round of the Section 8AAA playoffs. In orde...

Tom Ahrendt expected the Park Rapids football team to be playing for the Section 8AAA title this season.

The Panthers were one step away from reaching that goal after routing Crookston 38-0 in the first round of the Section 8AAA playoffs.

In order to play for the section title, Ahrendt said the Panthers had to play a mistake-free game against Thief River Falls in the section semifinals Saturday night.

Instead it was Thief River Falls that avoided mistakes to end the Panthers' title hopes with a 35-6 win.

Thief River Falls, the No. 1 seed in the section and the No. 5-rated Class AAA team in the state, scored on five passing plays - highlighted by four touchdown catches by Chase Haviland - and forced four Park Rapids turnovers to improve to 8-1 on the season. The Prowlers will play No. 2 Perham, which defeated No. 3 Roseau 40-28 in Saturday night's other section semifinal, for the Section 8AAA title.

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The No. 4-seeded Panthers were looking to secure that trip to the section final, but lost two fumbles and were forced to punt five times in facing a 14-0 deficit at the half.

On the second play of the game, a fumble by the Panthers was recovered by Thief River Falls at the Park Rapids 25. The Prowlers couldn't capitalize on that turnover as a holding penalty enabled Park Rapids to regain possession.

Neither team managed a threat until Thief River Falls took over at its own 43 late in the first quarter. Six plays later, Kasey Trontvet hit Haviland on a 10-yard scoring route and the Prowlers led 7-0 with 21 seconds to play in the first quarter. Trontvet scrambled for gains of 24 and 10 yards to key that scoring drive.

Billy Winkler returned the ensuing kickoff 43 yards to the Thief River Falls 47 and Caleb Brown had a 9-yard run to the 36. But the Prowlers ended that threat by recovering another Park Rapids fumble.

Thief River Falls took over at its own 31 and drove 69 yards in five plays to pad its lead. Cody Conners completed passes of 30 and 10 yards to set up a 28-yard TD pass to Haviland. With 9:49 to play in the first half, the Prowlers held a 14-0 lead.

The rest of the half saw the Panthers run only nine plays for minus 4 yards and punt three times. Park Rapids managed only 57 yards in 26 plays in the first half.

"We shot ourselves in the foot," said Ahrendt. "When we'd get something going, we'd either fumble for have a penalty. You can't do that against a good team."

On the third play of the second half, Tom Loe broke free for a 52-yard run. However, Nick Abraham tackled Loe and forced a fumble, which Derek Ricke recovered at the Park Rapids 9.

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The Panthers were forced to punt and Thief River Falls took over at the Park Rapids 43. A 16-yard catch by Andrew Rook on fourth-and-10 from the 30 set up an 8-yard TD pass from Trontvet to Haviland. That touchdown followed a 10-yard TD run by Haviland that was called back because of a facemask penalty. At the 5:49 mark of the third quarter, the Prowlers held a 21-0 lead.

Park Rapids put together its only sustained drive of the night on the ensuing series. Kevin Vaadeland rushed twice for 16 yards to open the drive. A 5-yard gain by Vaadeland on fourth-and-2 at the TRF 43, an 8-yard run by Brown, an offsides penalty on TRF on third-and-3, and a pair of 5-yard runs by Vaadeland and Brown set up a 1-yard TD plunge by Vaadeland. That score - which capped a 14-play, 67-yard drive - closed the deficit to 21-6 with 11:22 to play in the game.

Thief River Falls was forced to punt on the next series, but the Panthers fumbled the kick and the Prowlers recovered at the Park Rapids 25.

On the next play, Conners and Haviland connected on a 25-yard scoring route and the Prowlers held a 28-6 lead with 9:13 remaining.

"We were taking control at the line of scrimmage as the game progressed," said Ahrendt. "We drove down the field pretty easily and we were about to get the ball back with nine minutes to play. We had the momentum, but the fumbled punt killed us."

Both teams exchanged punts before the Prowlers stopped the Panthers on downs at the Park Rapids 27. Three plays later, Zach Sorenson caught a 25-yard TD pass from Trontvet to end the scoring.

"Our goal was to stop the run and make them throw it," said Ahrendt, whose defense allowed only seven pass completions, but five of those resulted in touchdowns. "We were able to stop the run, but they caught us on their play-action passes."

This game marked the seventh time this season Thief River Falls' defense has held the opponent to single digits. The Prowlers have allowed an average of 10.7 points a game while scoring an average of 28.3.

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The Panthers, who entered this playoff game surrendering an average of only 7.5 points a game, ended the season with a 7-3 record.

"You have to give Thief River Falls credit. They are a very good team," said Ahrendt. "We were so close. We're right there. We proved we can play with those guys. It was a tough way to end the season, but we had a very good year."

Park Rapids 0 0 0 6 6

TRF 7 7 7 14 .35

SCORING

TRF-Haviland 10 pass from Trontvet (Rook kick)

TRF-Haviland 28 pass from Conners (Rook kick)

TRF-Haviland 8 pass from Trontvet (Rook kick)

PR-Vaadeland 1 run (kick failed)

TRF-Haviland 25 pass from Conners (Rook kick)

TRF-Sorenson 25 pass from Trontvet (Rook kick)

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