The backfield duo of quarterback Sam Votava and running back Carter Vasek produced big plays in East Grand Forks’ 33-29 win over Park Rapids in a snowy and windy regular-season football finale at East Grand Forks on Wednesday, Nov. 11.
Park Rapids used three long passing plays to claim a 21-12 lead with 8:21 left in the third quarter before Votava gave the Green Wave the lead for good by following a 25-yard TD run with a 22-yard TD scamper. Vasek’s 41-yard TD run gave EGF a 33-21 advantage with 4:41 to play.
The Panthers marched 60 yards in eight plays with Noah Morris hitting Nick Michaelson on a 25-yard route and Logan Jackson on a 12-yard play on fourth-and-7 before finding James Hartig on a 12-yard TD connection. Jackson caught the conversion as Park Rapids trailed 33-29 with 1:36 remaining.
After forcing EGF to punt, the Panthers regained possession at their own 25-yard line with 1:00 to go. A sack and a pair of incomplete passes ended the game.
“It was a good football game between two very evenly matched teams. I am extremely proud of all our guys. I think everyone knows this already, but we are a very young team. We start four sophomores and a junior on our offensive line and a 9th grade quarterback behind them. Same thing on the defensive side of the ball. We have many sophomores and juniors all over the place. To see them make the plays they did is very promising for the future of our program,” said Park Rapids head coach Jeremy Nordick. “Most of the teams we play have 15 to 20 experienced seniors. These aren't excuses. It's just the reality of the situation. I also couldn't be prouder of our seniors that have been leading and mentoring these young guys the whole season. They have been working hard to keep us in games to have a chance to win.”
Both teams entered this Section 8AAA game struggling on the offensive end. Park Rapids had scored only 41 points in its first five games while EGF had scored 41 points in four games this fall. Neither team had a problem moving the ball effectively in the final regular season game.
Both teams used long scoring plays early as this game was tied at 6-6 after the first quarter.
Josiah May caught a 15-yard pass to open the game, but the Panthers were forced to punt.
EGF scored on its opening series when Votava hit Tanner Campos on a 55-yard scoring play at the 6:11 mark. The Green Wave covered 59 yards in only three plays.
The Panthers countered with a 49-yard TD strike from Morris to Michaelson at the 2:34 mark. A roughing-the-passer penalty on EGF negated an interception by Campos while a penalty for running into Michaelson on a punt gave Park Rapids a fourth-and-4 at the EGF 49. The Panthers took advantage of those two penalties when Nordick elected to go for the first down and Morris hit Michaelson on the next play to tie the game. That drive took nine plays and covered 80 yards.
Both teams exchanged punts before the Green Wave capitalized on a penalty for running into the punter. Vasek capped that drive with a 39-yard TD run. That nine-play, 68-yard drive gave EGF a 12-6 lead with 6:53 to play in the first half.
On the ensuing series, the Panthers used some trickery to take the lead. On the second play from scrimmage, Michaelson took a handoff on a reverse and hit a wide-open Hartig for a 71-yard scoring play. Sam Reish caught the conversion as Park Rapids led 14-12 with 5:50 remaining before intermission.
After recovering a fumble at the EGF 41, the Panthers marched to the EGF 22 when Eric Trebil intercepted a screen pass and returned it to the Park Rapids 21. Caleb David tripped up Trebil to prevent a score as an incomplete pass ended the half and preserved the Panthers’ lead.
Morris’ 23-yard TD pass to Hartig and Ronaldo De La Cruz Gomez’s extra-point kick gave Park Rapids a 21-12 advantage midway through the third quarter. The Panthers recovered a May fumble that resulted in a 12-yard gain and David had a 16-yard run to aid that six-play, 48-yard scoring drive on the Panthers’ opening possession of the second half.
EGF scored on three of its next four possessions while forcing a turnover and two punts by the Panthers to take the lead.
A 30-yard reception by Jeremiah Haavig set up Votava’s 25-yard TD run as EGF cut the gap to 21-19 at the 6:30 mark of the third quarter with a four-play, 64-yard drive.
Park Rapids used a personal-foul penalty, a 6-yard run by David on third-and-4 and a 5-yard carry by Morris on third-and-4 to advance to the EGF 33. Campos ended that threat with an interception at the 5.
EGF was forced to punt, but a muffed catch and scramble for the loose ball gave Park Rapids possession at its own 10. EGF’s defense held and the Green Wave took the lead on Votava’s 22-yard TD run. That short 34-yard drive took only three plays and EGF led 27-21 with 6:18 to play.
EGF forced another punt and Vasek followed a 19-yard run with a 41-yard run as that quick three-play drive covered 65 yards. That gave the Green Wave a 33-21 advantage with 4:11 remaining.
The Panthers marched down the field to conclude the scoring as Morris completed 5 of 7 passes for 66 yards. EGF recovered the ensuing onside kick and was able to hold on for the win.
Park Rapids finished with a season high 312 yards in offense, including 252 through the air. Morris completed 12 of 26 passes for 181 yards with Michaelson (five catches for 92 yards) and Hartig (four receptions for 108 yards) being the primary receivers. David carried the ball 10 times for 34 yards as the Panthers were held to 70 yards rushing.
Tate Usher led the defense with six solo tackles while Hartig had five solo tackles and David and Lucas Kritzeck tallied four solo tackles each. May had two tackles behind the line of scrimmage as the Panthers fell to 1-5.
Vasek rushed 11 times for 137 yards while Votava completed 8 of 14 passes for 131 yards as EGF improved to 2-3 on the season.
“We had a couple of big plays that were fun. Our quarterback and receivers are playing with more and more confidence every time they step on the field. We wish we had a couple of plays back, but we were aggressive and going after the win. We have the same mentality on the defensive side of the ball. We are aggressive with stunts and blitzes. Sometimes we will give up a big play, but we want our kids on the attack,” said Nordick. “Fun part is that we are minimizing our mistakes and learning from them. My staff has been frantically working to get our kids up to speed at the varsity level. We took a big step forward.”
In the other regular-season finales involving Section 8AAA teams, Pequot Lakes was edged by Detroit Lakes 14-12, Perham defeated Fergus Falls 34-8 and Roseau fell to Pillager 14-0. Thief River Falls had to cancel its regular-season finale against D-G-F and will not participate in the playoffs.
The Section 8AAA playoffs begin on Tuesday (Nov. 17) with Park Rapids receiving the No. 6 seed and traveling to No. 3 Perham. No. 1 D-G-F will receive a bye while No. 2 Pequot Lakes hosts No. 7 Roseau and No. 4 Fergus Falls hosts No. 5 East Grand Forks.