Jeremy Nordick was concerned about how to stop the big-play capabilities of Perham’s Colton Hackel, Finn Diggins and Noah Rooney entering the season opener.
The head coach of the Park Rapids football team had plenty of reasons to be worried about containing that trio. Those three helped the Yellowjackets repeat as Section 8AAA champions last season and were back to lead an explosive offense again this fall.
Hackel, Diggins and Rooney showcased their talent before a crowd of 250 fans at Vern Weekley Field by leading Perham to a 40-7 victory over the Panthers on Friday, Oct. 9.
Hackel passed for 277 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 40 yards and another score while Diggins had six receptions for 100 yards and a TD and Rooney caught four passes for 115 yards and two TDs. Josh Peterson added 79 yards rushing and a TD as the Yellowjackets finished with 402 yards in offense.
“Perham was extremely talented across the board. We knew that going in, but we were hoping to give them different looks and keep the pressure on. I thought we did a nice job of that at times, but just not consistent enough to take away their big plays,” said Nordick. “They've got some special players over there and you need to be sharp and consistent for a full four quarters.”
The Yellowjacekts were consistent on both offense and defense in building a 40-0 halftime lead.
On the opening series, the Yellowjackets marched 70 yards in nine plays to open the scoring. Hackel hit Diggins on receptions of 24 and 35 yards before capping off the drive with a 2-yard quarterback keeper as Perham led 6-0 with 8:47 to play in the first quarter.
After pinning the Panthers at their own 4-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, Perham made it 8-0 when Park Rapids quarterback Josiah May was sacked in the end zone by Connor Kostynick for a safety.
Perham quickly increased the lead with a three-play, 51-yard drive. Peterson opened that drive with a pair of carries for 18 yards before Heckel hit Rooney on a 35-yard scoring strike. Rooney caught the conversion for a 16-0 lead at the 7:35 mark.
The Panthers were forced to punt after three plays and a blocked kick gave the Yellowjackets possession at the Park Rapids 13. Perham couldn’t capitalize on that field position as the Panthers regained possession at the 9.
Perham’s defense forced another punt and the Yellowjackets put together another scoring threat when Hackel hit Peterson on back-to-back passes for 28 yards. But again Park Rapids’ defense held and the Panthers took over at the 15.
On the next play, May hit Nick Michaelson on a 65-yard route to give the Panthers their initial first down of the game. However, that drive stalled with four straight incomplete passes as Perham took over at its own 21.
Three plays later, the Yellowjackets extended their lead. Hackel hit Diggins on routes of 12 and 16 yards before connecting with Rooney on a 51-yard scoring play. Hackel’s conversion run made it 24-0 with 11:00 to play in the first half.
After forcing another punt, Perham marched 63 yards in six plays to pad its advantage. The Yellowjackets overcame an offensive pass interference penalty when Heckel hit Rooney for 16 yards and Chaz Melvin on a 24-yard route. A 13-yard reception by Rooney set up a 6-yard TD pass from Heckel to Diggins. Peterson ran in the conversion to give Perham a 32-0 lead at the 7:41 mark.
The Panthers picked up a pair of first downs on their next series behind an 11-yard run by Sam Reish and two carries for 10 yards by Caleb David. That drive stalled and Perham ended the half with a seven-play, 53-yard scoring drive.
Peterson’s 20-yard run offset a holding penalty and a 10-yard run by Peterson set up a 2-yard TD plunge by Peterson. Hackel ran in the conversion as Perham led 40-0 with :55 left in the first half.
“We did some very good things on both sides of the ball. Defensively, I felt that we were right there physically. I don't think any of our kids backed down from a hit. It's a group that loves to fly around and attack,” said Nordick. “We had some big stops inside the red zone in the first half that I thought could've kept us in the game if we had anything going on offensively. Unfortunately, we just couldn't get any drives going. We had a nice big play in the first half to Michaelson, but not finishing off that drive really hurt.”
Neither team scored during running time in the third period as Lane Monaghan recovered a fumble forced by Tristan Hill to stop Perham’s first drive at the Park Rapids 19 and Park Rapids’ defense held at the 11 after Caleb Lang blocked another punt for the Yellowjackets.
Park Rapids capped off the scoring with an impressive 11-play, 89-yard drive that consumed 7:48 off the clock. David kept the drive alive with a 2-yard run on third-and-1 before Noah Morris hit Michaelson for a 12-yard gain and found James Hartig for a 22-yard gain. Morris then scrambled for gains of 12 and 17 yards before hitting Reish on a 15-yard scoring play. Ronaldo De La Cruz Gomez kicked the extra point to end the scoring with 2:58 to play.
“The second half was much better. We were able to get the run game going a little bit more and put together a nice scoring drive that will hopefully give us some positive momentum going into Thursday's game,” said Nordick. “I felt that our guys made progress throughout the game, but the speed of the game was something that they haven't seen yet. For most of them, it was their first varsity experience. In a way, I'm glad we took on the top team in the section right away. I think it was a great learning experience for our young guys.”
The Panthers finished with 197 yards in offense with May completing 3 of 10 passes for 71 yards, Morris completing 5 of 7 passes for 54 yards and rushing five times for 36 yards, David rushing seven times for 27 yards, and Michaelson catching two passes for 77 yards.
Leading the defense were Hill with six solo tackles and three assists, Hartig with six solo tackles, and David with five solo tackles and two assists.
Park Rapids’ home game against Pequot Lakes originally scheduled for Friday (Oct. 16) has been moved to Thursday (Oct. 15). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Vern Weekley Field. Pequot Lakes edged the Panthers 21-20 in last year’s section quarterfinals and opened this season with a 26-20 loss to Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton.
“I expect the game against Pequot to be a battle. We've seen each other plenty the last couple years and I wouldn't be surprised if it was another four-quarter slugfest,” said Nordick. “This week, it'll be important to slow up their quarterback Bode Magnuson, who is a very talented athlete. Offensively, we need to put together some sustainable drives and finish in the red zone. The potential is there. This group loves to play football and the boys are excited about another opportunity to get better on Thursday.”