Failing to finish off two scoring drives deep in the red zone in the first half and allowing three touchdowns in the third quarter resulted in the fourth loss of the season for the Park Rapids football team.
Fergus Falls’ defense limited the Panthers to only 168 yards in offense while forcing four turnovers in a 35-0 Section 8AAA victory at Otter Stadium on Friday, Nov. 6.
The host Otters opened the scoring on the game’s first drive by marching 48 yards in 10 plays. Cole Zierden’s 34-yard kickoff return and quarterback Andrew Johnson’s 14-yard run on fourth-and-3 set up a 17-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Kaden Hartwell on second-and-17 as Fergus Falls led 6-0 with 8:36 to play in the first quarter.
That would prove to be the only scoring in the first half as both teams combined for six punts and four turnovers over the next 12 possessions.
The Panthers punted on their first two possessions while a fumble and an interception ended Fergus Falls’ next two drives. Park Rapids couldn’t take advantage of those two turnovers.
Noah Morris recovered a fumble at the Park Rapids 22 on the Otters’ next series and intercepted a pass at the Park Rapids 6 to stop another Fergus Falls scoring threat.
Caleb David busted loose for an 84-yard run to the Fergus Falls 10 following Morris’ interception. That drive stalled at the 8.
The Panthers had another drive into Fergus Falls territory when a penalty for pass interference, an 8-yard catch by Sam Reish, a 7-yard carry by Morris and a 6-yard carry by David led to a first down at the Otters’ 42. An interception by Abel Aho at the Fergus Falls 4 ended that threat.
Afte forcing Fergus Falls to punt, the Panthers took over at the Fergus Falls 37 and used a 32-yard reception by Reish for a first-and-goal at the 5. Three plays later, Zierden intercepted a pass at the 1 and returned it 99 yards for an apparent TD. However, a penalty for an illegal block on the return negated the score as Fergus Falls carried a 6-0 lead into the half.
“I thought it was a great high school football game in the first half,” said Park Rapids head coach Jeremy Nordick. “If we punch one of those drives in, it's a totally different ball game.”
Three touchdowns in the third quarter put the Otters in control.
After forcing Park Rapids to punt on the opening series of the second half, the Otters marched 65 yards in eight plays to extend the lead. A 13-yard run by Aho, a 23-yard run by Zierden and a 17-yard run by Hartwell set up a 1-yard TD run by Hartwell. Aho’s conversion made it 14-0 with 6:16 to play in the third quarter.
An interception and 21-yard return by Luke Newman on the ensuing series led to a 25-yard TD run by Zierden as Fergus Falls led 21-0 at the 5:04 mark.
After an interception by Zierden ended the Panthers’ next series, Park Rapids was forced to punt on its next possession and Zierden returned that kick 77 yards to push the Otters’ advantage to 28-0 with 1:42 to go in the third quarter.
Another interception by Newman set up an eight-play, 47-yard scoring drive that ended the scoring. Hartwell followed a 22-yard run with a 2-yard TD run for a 35-0 lead with 5:35 to play.
May had a 19-yard run, but the Panthers were forced to punt for the seventh time in the game.
Logan Schake’s 34-yard run helped run out the clock as the Panthers were shut out for the first time this season.
“It was a tough one. Too many missed opportunities offensively in the first half. When you get chances inside the red zone and can't punch it in, it is tough for a young team to recover mentally and emotionally,” said Nordick. “We are working extremely hard on teaching our kids it is a four-quarter game. We are improving. Unfortunately things got away from us in the second half.”
The Otters rushed 37 times for 225 yards with Zierden (five carries for 62 yards), Hartwell (eight carries for 55 yards) and Schake (five carries for 48 yards) leading the way. The win lifted Fergus Falls’ record to 2-3.
David finished with 112 yards on 12 carries while Reish had two receptions for 40 yards to lead the Panthers’ offense. David also led the defense with seven solo tackles while James Hartig had six solo tackles as Park Rapids fell to 1-4 on the season.
In the other Section 8AAA games in Week 5, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton edged Detroit Lakes 16-8, Pequot Lakes defeated Thief River Falls 45-7, Perham defeated East Grand Forks 42-7 and Roseau lost to Staples-Motley 20-6. D-G-F leads the section standings at 4-0 with Pequot Lakes (4-1), Fergus Falls (2-3), Perham (2-3), East Grand Forks (1-3), Park Rapids (1-4), Thief River Falls (1-4) and Roseau (0-5) following.
Park Rapids will end the regular season with a road game at East Grand Forks on Wednesday (Nov. 11). Kickoff is set for 4 p.m.
“I know our kids were pretty disappointed and angry after the game,” said Nordick. “We will regroup and give our best effort at East Grand Forks.”