Park Rapids had plenty of chances to pull off an upset in the first round of the Section 8AAA football playoffs at Pequot Lakes on Tuesday, Oct. 22.

The Panthers blocked three punts that turned into two touchdowns, forced two turnovers with a fumble recovery and an interception, and held Pequot Lakes to 243 yards in offense. However, losing four fumbles, being stopped at the Pequot Lakes 10-yard line to end the first half and failing to convert on two extra points proved costly as the Patriots escaped with a 21-20 victory.

“It was a heartbreaker to say the least. Our kids left it all out there and I couldn't be prouder of this group,” said Park Rapids head coach Jeremy Nordick. “They could have packed it in a long time ago, but they didn't and saved their best game for last.”

Pequot Lakes, the No. 2 seed and a 35-14 winner over the Panthers on Sept. 27, was forced to punt on its opening series. That punt was blocked and the Panthers recovered the loose ball at the Pequot Lakes 45.

Ten plays later, Jens Anderson hit Jeff Haas on a 16-yard scoring pass on fourth-and-10 and Anderson ran in the conversion to give the No. 7-seeded Panthers an 8-0 lead with 6:38 to play in the first quarter. Anderson opened the drive with a pair of 6-yard runs and hit Haas on a 17-yard pass on third-and-10 to set up the game’s opening score.

Park Rapids’ defense forced another punt and the Panthers regained possession at their own 30. Anderson hit Haas on a 17-yard route as Park Rapids reached the Patriots’ 48, but a fumble ended that drive.

The Patriots capitalized on the turnover with an 11-play, 71-yard scoring drive. Zach Jorgens’ 2-yard gain on fourth-and-1 at the Pequot Lakes 48, a 32-yard reception by Hunter Nybakken and a 3-yard run by Jorgens on third-and-2 set up a 6-yard TD pass from Cale Wolf to Dalton Ackerman, Jorgens ran in the conversion as the game was tied at 8-8 with 10:13 to play in the first half.

The muddy field conditions forced four consecutive turnovers as neither team was able to score during the rest of the half.

Pequot Lakes recovered a fumble at the Park Rapids 26, but Panthers regained possession with a fumble recovery at the 17. Two plays later, the Panthers fumbled again as Pequot Lakes took over at the Park Rapids 30.

A 9-yard run by Jorgens on fourth-and-1 and a pass interference call gave the Patriots a first down at the Park Rapids 14, but Tristan Hill ended that threat with an interception and return to the Park Rapids 35.

Anderson rushed four times for 17 yards and the Patriots were called for pass interference as Park Rapids advanced to the Pequot Lakes 24. A 10-yard completion on fourth-and-1 kept the drive alive before a delay-of-game penalty and an incomplete pass on the last play of the half ended that 13-play drive.

“One of the main things we focused on this week in practice was to make sure we all believed we could win the ball game. I think we showed that with how we started (Tuesday) night,” said Nordick. “It was big to get that first score because it set the tone for the rest of the way that we were not going out without a fight. We had a load of confidence after that score. Credit to Pequot's kids for playing opportunistic football and taking advantage of a couple turnovers to even up the game at half. The drive at the end of the half was tough because I felt we took the momentum back in the game. With a score there we would've been in great shape at halftime with a lead. Unfortunately, we just were not able to get it in the endzone.”

The Patriots scored on their first two series of the second half to claim a 21-8 lead.

After forcing the Panthers to punt, Pequot Lakes drove 40 yards in 10 plays to take the lead. Wolf hit Magnuson on a 13-yard route and found Erik Larson for a 16-yard gain before Magnuson capped off the drive with a 2-yard TD run on fourth-and-goal. Ackerman kicked the extra point to give Pequot Lakes a 15-8 lead with 7:07 left in the third quarter.

Park Rapids was forced to punt again and the Patriots marched 54 yards in only three plays to pad their lead. Wolf hit Magnuson on a 47-yard scoring play to give Pequot Lakes a 21-8 lead at the 4:55 mark.

Park Rapids responded on the ensuing series when a 33-yard run by Anderson, a personal-foul penalty and a 9-yard catch by Haas led the Panthers to the Pequot Lakes 26. That drive stalled and the Patriots took over at the 27.

That’s when the Panthers began their comeback.

Pequot Lakes lost yardage on back-to-back plays and was forced to punt and the Panthers followed with a six-play, 34-yard drive. James Hartig’s 12-yard punt return, a penalty for roughing-the-passer and an 11-yard catch by Nick Michaelson set up a 4-yard TD run by Anderson. The conversion failed, but Park Rapids had sliced the deficit to 21-14 with 7:38 to play.

Park Rapids’ defense held and forced another punt, which was blocked and recovered at the Pequot Lakes 25. Anderson ran it in on the next play, but again the conversion failed. That made it 21-20 with 5:51 remaining.

The Patriots recovered an onside kick at their own 48, but a holding penalty and a sack resulted in another punt. Again the kick was blocked and Park Rapids had the ball at the Pequot Lakes 42 with 3:51 to play.

On the next play, the Patriots recovered a fumble and used a 42-yard run by Magnuson to reach the Park Rapids 14. The Panthers held and took over at the 11 with 2:43 to go. Anderson broke free for a 19-yard run to the 30, but Pequot Lakes regained possession when Anderson was stopped on a 9-yard run on fourth-and-10.

Pequot Lakes ran out the clock to advance.

“A win is still a win. We’re happy about that,” said former Park Rapids football player and Pequot Lakes head coach Bill Magnuson. “We tip our hat to Park Rapids because they were ready to play and they played hard. We came out and played really well in the third quarter and got the lead, then had some bad breaks - a couple of blocked punts, and those will kill you. I don’t think we are satisfied after that, but we get to play another game.”

“I knew that Pequot would have some explosive plays with the talent that they've got. They certainly did show that in the third quarter, but I still give our kids a ton of credit for not giving up. We just kept right on fighting,” said Nordick. “I think the two big blocked punts to set up our fourth quarter touchdowns were obviously a huge momentum swing for us as well. Our defense stepped up when they had to and gave our offense a few more chances, which is all you can ask for. It was very tough and heartbreaking for the staff and kids to leave that field a point short.”

In the other Section 8AAA quarterfinal games, No. 1 Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton defeated No. 8 Thief River Falls 33-7, No. 3 Perham defeated No. 6 Roseau 60-18 and No. 4 Fergus Falls edged No. 5 East Grand Forks 25-20.

Park Rapids 8 0 0 12...20
Pequot Lakes 0 8 13 0...21
PR-Haas 16 pass from Anderson (Anderson run)
PL-Ackerman 6 pass from Wolf (Jorgens run)
PL-Magnuson 2 run (Ackerman kick)
PL-Magnuson 47 pass from Wolf (kick failed)
PR-Anderson 4 run (run failed)
PR-Anderson 25 run (run failed)