Second-half struggles cost Panthers

Tom Ahrendt thought the Park Rapids football team had the talent to contend for the Section 8AAA title again this season. The inability to find the end zone in the second halves of games in the second half of the season prevented the Panthers fro...

Dylan Walsh
Senior quarterback Dylan Walsh (24) used blocks by linemen Jacob Swenson (60), Caleb Atkins (51), Dylan Sievers and Tom Drury (right) to score on a 1-yard touchdown run in Park Rapids' 14-8 overtime victory over Wadena-Deer Creek in the season opener. Walsh earned Heart O'Lakes Conference honors and received the Kip Gauldin Leadership Award after completing 47 of 107 passes for 726 yards and seven touchdowns, rushing 49 times for 254 yards and two touchdowns, and finishing fourth in defensive points with...

Tom Ahrendt thought the Park Rapids football team had the talent to contend for the Section 8AAA title again this season.

The inability to find the end zone in the second halves of games in the second half of the season prevented the Panthers from achieving that goal.

Winning two close games helped the Panthers jump out to a 3-1 record. Being outscored 74-8 in the second half of the final five games resulted in five losses and a 3-6 overall record.

"We had a pretty good season. We went 3-5 but we could have been 7-1 so easily," said Ahrendt. "We needed to play four quarters. We played well, but we didn't make the big plays when we needed them."

Park Rapids opened the season with a 14-8 overtime win over Wadena-Deer Creek. The Panthers' defense forced four turnovers and held W-DC to only 156 yards in offense. Park Rapids had 242 yards in offense to offset four turnovers.


In Week 2, the Panthers jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead in a 28-13 victory over East Grand Forks. Park Rapids had 261 yards in offense while allowing 254 yards.

The Panthers battled Thief River Falls to the end in a 14-13 loss in Week 3. Park Rapids' defense allowed 428 rushing yards, but forced five turnovers to keep the game close. The Panthers, who lost to Thief River Falls 35-6 in last year's section semifinals, had 241 yards in offense. Thief River Falls earned a return trip to the section title game.

Roseau racked up 359 yards in offense in Week 4, but the Panthers countered with 378 yards to spark a 14-12 win.

The second half of the season didn't go as well.

Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton compiled 352 yards in offense while holding the Panthers to only 152 yards in a 41-7 win in Week 5. D-G-F outscored the Panthers 21-0 in the second half.

In Week 6, the Panthers dominated the first half in building a 21-0 lead before Pequot Lakes dominated the second half to rally for a 28-21 victory. Pequot Lakes finished with 307 yards in offense while the Panthers had 293 yards. Park Rapids also had four turnovers.

Park Rapids held a 14-0 lead against Perham in Week 7 before the defending section champs rallied for a 19-14 win by outscoring Park Rapids 12-0 in the second half. Perham had 267 yards in offense while the Panthers accumulated 228 yards. Perham went on to win the section title.

In the regular-season finale, the Panthers had a chance to secure a home playoff game with a win. But Crookston held on to a 19-6 halftime lead for a 19-14 victory. Six Park Rapids turnovers proved costly as the Panthers held a 307 to 250 edge in yards in that game.


Going 3-5 during the regular season gave the Panthers the No. 5 seed for the section playoffs and a rematch at No. 4 Pequot Lakes. Park Rapids led 7-0 at the half in a defensive battle before Pequot Lakes scored twice in the second half for a 13-7 win. The Panthers outgained Pequot Lakes 252 to 220 in that playoff loss.

For the season, the Panthers rushed for 1,577 yards and had 760 yards in passing. Park Rapids committed 50 penalties for 340 yards and turned the ball over 24 times. In comparison, the Panthers' opponents rushed for 1,761 yards and passed for another 642 while committing 15 turnovers and being penalized 42 times for 270 yards.

"Going 3-6 doesn't show the level of where we're at. We made the big plays early in the season, but we didn't make the big plays in the second half of the season," said Ahrendt. "The second half was tough. We lost a lot of close games. Football is like life. It doesn't always go your way, but you learn from it and move on."

Of the 22 starters on offense and defense, only four returned to their same position from last season.

Offensively, only seniors Dylan Sievers (guard) and Kevin Vaadeland (running back/wide receiver) returned to their starting spots. The other starting spots were filled by seniors Jake Swenson (guard), Devon Ondracek (tackle), Tom Drury (tackle), Dylan Walsh (quarterback), Justin Peterson (running back), Ryan Mattson (wide receiver) and Nathan Bachleitner (tight end); juniors Tucker Coborn (wide receiver/running back), Kevin McMorrow (fullback), Dan Ricke (tight end), Caleb Atkins (center), John Drury (tight end/running back), Jake Grimes (fullback) and Cameron Free (wide receiver); and sophomore Billy Kimball (center).

Walsh took over the quarterback duties and completed 47 of 107 passes for 726 yards and seven touchdowns. Walsh also rushed 49 times for 254 yards and two TDs.

Vaadeland led the Panthers with 25 catches for 388 yards and three touchdowns and rushed 79 times for 294 yards and three scores. Vaadeland also completed 1 of 12 passes for 34 yards and a TD.

Coborn caught 11 passes for 254 yards and four TDs and rushed 12 times for 136 yards and a TD.


Peterson gained 334 yards on 97 carries and scored two TDs and caught five passes for 53 yards.

John Drury caught three passes for 42 yards and rushed three times for 13 yards.

Ricke had a 19-yard TD catch and Grimes had eight carries for 25 yards.

Leading the Panthers on defense were Vaadeland and Sievers at linebacker. Vaadeland led the team with 83 defensive points, including 23 solo tackles, 88 assists, five quarterback sacks and two fumble recoveries. Sievers was second in points with 78.5, including 28 solo tackles, 83 assists, two sacks and one blocked kick.

Also playing key roles on defense were Coborn, Walsh and Mattson at cornerback; Ricke at safety; John Drury, McMorrow, Kimball and sophomore Danny Pike at linebacker; and Peterson, Swenson, sophomore Christian Ridlon, Ondracek, Tom Drury, Grimes and junior Kenny Weaver on the line.

Coborn was third in points with 47, including 13 solo tackles, 34 assists, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and one blocked kick.

Walsh compiled 44.5 defensive points, led by 17 solo tackles, 17 assists, one interception and seven knocked-down passes.

Ricke finished with 10 solo tackles, 42 assists and four knocked-down passes for 39 defensive points.


John Drury had 10 solo tackles, 39 assists and two fumble recoveries for 33.5 points.

McMorrow had 10 solo tackles, 33 assists and one interception for 31.5 points.

Peterson finished with 30 points, including 36 assists, one sack and one recovered fumble.

Swenson had 28 assists, 2.5 sacks and one fumble recovery for 27 points.

Ridlon tallied 25.5 points with 27 assists, two sacks and one forced fumble.

Ondracek had 26 assists, a forced fumble and a blocked kick for 21 points.

Tom Drury had 26 assists for 17 points.

Grimes had 12 assists and a quarterback sack for 10 points.


Also scoring points on defense were Mattson (8), Weaver (8), Kimball (6.5) and Pike (5).

Park Rapids had eight players earn Heart O'Lakes Conference honors with Vaadeland, Sievers and Walsh leading the way. Vaadeland was named the conference's Most Valuable Linebacker. Ondracek, Peterson, Swenson, Coborn and McMorrow earned all-conference honorable mention honors.

Vaadeland received the team's Gary Rehn Award as the Most Valuable Player. Sievers received the Mike McClelland Award as the team's Most Valuable Defensive Player while Walsh and Peterson shared the Kip Gauldin Leadership Award.

Rounding out this year's varsity squad were senior Trevor Matheny, junior Andrew Spears, and sophomores Tyler Barr, Nick Belfiori, Tarrin Hamblin, Daniel Hovelsrud, Kevin Just, Kyle Kanten, Jordon Mack and Colin Vaadeland.

"We had a lot of new faces in new positions and that inexperience showed in the close games," said Ahrendt. "We're going to miss our seniors. We have some specialty guys returning; the big question mark will be our line. The key will be in the weight room. We have to improve our speed and our strength. If we're going to be successful, the guys will have to hit the weights big time. I think our kids will be ready for the challenge."

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