With both running games shut down, Fergus Falls and Park Rapids were forced to rely on the passing game during a Midwest Red District and Section 8AAA football showdown at Vern Weekley Field on Friday, Oct. 4.
Three passes proved to be the difference as Fergus Falls spoiled the Panthers’ homecoming game with a 21-6 victory.
A 15-yard touchdown pass from Ethan Olson to Brock Kotschevar gave Fergus Falls a 7-0 lead at the half before Parker Jacobs’ 24-yard interception return and Cody Norgren’s 26-yard TD reception made it 21-0 in the third quarter. Josiah May led a late scoring drive, capped off with a 10-yard TD pass to Nick Michaelson, for the Panthers to end the scoring.
“What a great atmosphere in Park Rapids. It was awesome to see the stands packed,” said Park Rapids head coach Jeremey Nordick. “We had some good things, but again, just not consistent enough to win in this tough football district.”
Both teams opened the game by exchanging punts before a penalty for intentional grounding forced the Panthers to punt from their own 17-yard line. A short punt into the wind gave Fergus Falls possession at the Park Rapids 19 and two plays later, Olson hit Kotschevar for a 15-yard touchdown. Andrew Starzi kicked the extra point and the Otters led 7-0 with 6:23 to play in the first quarter.
Defense dominated the rest of the first half.
After forcing another punt, Fergus Falls used a 17-yard pass to Norgren to advance to the Park Rapids 38. That drive stalled at the 39.
The Panthers responded with an eight-play drive when an 11-yard pass from Jeff Haas to James Hartig and a 22-yard throw to Caleb David led to a first down at the Fergus Falls 26. The Otters’ defense stopped David on fourth-and-1 and Fergus Falls took over at the 17.
Park Rapids’ defense forced a punt and the Panthers put together another threat when Haas’ 4-yard gain on third-and-3 and David’s 6-yard carry led to a first down at the Fergus Falls 25. That drive stalled as the Otters carried a 7-0 lead into the half.
Fergus Falls opened the second half with a nine-play drive as Olson connected with Norgren for 20 yards and Abel Aho for 12 yards as the Otters reached the Park Rapids 26. The Panthers held and took over at the 26.
Two plays later, Jacobs intercepted a pass and returned it 24 yards for a TD. Starzi’s kick gave Fergus Falls a 14-0 lead with 7:59 to play in the third quarter.
Another short punt gave the Otters possession at the Park Rapids 37. Four plays later, Olson hit Norgren for a 26-yard TD and Starzi kicked the extra point as Fergus Falls held a 21-0 lead at the 3:44 mark.
The Otters threatened again on their next possession as two carries for 14 yards by Logan Schake and a 17-yard reception by Norgren led to a first down at the Park Rapids 17. But Gabe Arola sacked Olson and forced a fumble, which David recovered at the 35.
David followed with a 14-yard run as the Panthers marched to the Fergus Falls 46, but that drive was stopped.
Fergus Falls regained possession at the Park Rapids 27 following another short punt, but the Panthers’ defense held with 3:37 to play.
May orchestrated a late 10-play scoring drive with a pair of 17-yard carries and a 29-yard run to set up a 10-yard TD throw to Michaelson with :11 remaining in the game.
Haas, who filled in at quarterback for the injured Jens Anderson, completed 5 of 13 passes for 47 yards with Hartig making four catches for 25 yards. May rushed six times for 73 yards while David added 59 yards on 22 attempts as the Panthers finished with 199 yards in offense (with 72 of that coming on the last scoring drive).
“Our practices went well this week. With all the festivities this week, I still felt our guys stayed focused on football, which is a good sign of our growth this year. Without our starting quarterback, I was really impressed with how our team rallied around Jeff this week. I was very proud of his leadership, stepping into a tough situation,” said Nordick. “Offensively, we had two key drives in the first half where we didn't score. Two fourth downs that we didn't convert on just really cost us down the stretch of the game. I was excited to see our young guys drive the field against their JV at the end of the game to put a score in. Two sophomores with bright futures connecting on a TD I felt was very encouraging.”
Joe Klein’s seven solo tackles, David’s four solo tackles and five assists, Joey Stachowski’s five solo tackles and three assists, and Max Crist’s five solo tackles led the defense, which held the Otters to 32 yards rushing.
Olson completed 11 of 19 passes for 134 yards with Norgren making six receptions for 93 yards to lead the Otters.
“Defensively, we played very well all night. On that side of the ball we have really improved from week to week,” said Nordick. “We really didn't give up many big plays and I thought our run defense was very solid. Credit to the Otters for taking advantage of a short field with a couple of great throws from their talented quarterback.”
In the other Week 6 section and district games, Detroit Lakes edged Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 20-14, Perham outlasted East Grand Forks 60-44, Pequot Lakes blanked Thief River Falls 18-0 and Roseau lost to Crookston 16-8. Detroit Lakes (5-0) tops the district standings with D-G-F (4-1), Perham (4-1), Pequot Lakes (3-2), Fergus Falls (3-2), East Grand Forks (1-4), Park Rapids (0-5) and Thief River Falls (0-5) following. D-G-F and Perham lead the section standings at 5-1 with Pequot Lakes (4-2), Fergus Falls (3-3), East Grand Forks (2-4), Roseau (2-4), Park Rapids (0-6) and Thief River Falls (0-6) following.
The Panthers will host D-G-F in their final home game of the season this Friday night (Oct. 11) with a 7 p.m. kickoff at Vern Weekley Field.
“Overall, we will continue to work on executing on third and fourth down. I've said this before, but when we get inside the red zone, we have to find that toughness and attitude to finish the drive,” said Nordick. “DGF will bring a very good football team to Vern Weekly Field this week. They bring a very physical style on both sides of the ball, so if we can match that physicality, it will be a good football game. We are very excited about another opportunity to play at home in front of our Panther fans. Our guys continue to battle hard. We know what our record is, but we still work to get better every day.”