Jeremy Nordick had a seemingly simple strategy against Perham in a Section 8AAA quarterfinal game at Meinhover Field on Tuesday, Nov. 17.
The head coach of the Park Rapids football team was looking to get off to a good start and control the clock against Perham’s high-powered offense.
That game plan worked early as a pair of touchdown runs by Sam Reish had this playoff game tied at 12-12 late in the second quarter. That’s when quarterback Colton Hackel took over as the Yellowjackets scored on six straight possessions to spark a 57-12 victory.
Perham’s quick-striking offense needed less than 40 seconds per series to produce the first seven TDs. Three of those scores were on the first play from scrimmage while another took the Yellowjackets only two plays to find the end zone.
“During the week at practice and before the game, we talked about our game plan and what we were going to do to try to keep Perham's offense and Hackel off the field. Offensively, we wanted to control the ball and move the chains. We also wanted to use every second in the play clock. We were hoping if we limited their possessions, we would put ourselves in a good situation to stay in the game,” said Nordick, whose team lost to Perham 40-7 in the season opener. “I thought our guys did a great job with that in the first half, but we still just gave up a few too many big plays from their special athletes to stay with that game plan. Defensively, we wanted to make sure we had multiple bodies on Hackel all night. We just couldn't quite get to him. Credit their offensive line. They did an outstanding job all night giving him time and opening up holes in the run game.”
Park Rapids, the No. 6 seed, was aggressive from the start by opening the game with an on-side kick. However, Perham recovered the ball at the Park Rapids 45.
The No. 3-seeded Yellowjackets weren’t able to capitalize on that field position as Reish intercepted a pass on the second play from scrimmage.
Two carries by Josiah May for 15 yards resulted in a first down, but the Panthers lost possession on downs at the Perham 30.
After forcing the Yellowjackets to punt, Park Rapids marched 78 yards in six plays to open the scoring. Quarterback Noah Morris’ 2-yard run on fourth-and-1 at the Panthers’ 31 set up a 63-yard touchdown sprint by Reish. That gave the Panthers a 6-0 lead with 2:53 to play in the first quarter.
The Panthers tried another on-side kick that Perham recovered at its own 45. On the next play, Hackel hit Josh Peterson on a 55-yard scoring strike. That tied the game at 6-6 at the 2:41 mark.
On the next series, the Panthers threatened to score again with a seven-play drive that covered 63 yards. Morris hit James Hartig on a 60-yard play on third-and-6 as Park Rapids reached the Perham 6. That drive stalled and the Yellowjackets took over at the 6.
Hackel then broke free for a 94-yard TD run on the next play as Perham led 12-6 with 10:46 to play in the first half.
“Obviously any time you get stopped inside the 10 and don't score, it's a bit deflating,” said Nordick. “Our young guys need to understand that those things will happen in the game of football, and you need to show some resiliency and bounce back. I thought we battled back after that run, but we needed to string together a few more first downs to slow the momentum.”
A successful fake punt helped the Panthers tie the game. Park Rapids faced a punting situation at its own 38 when Nick Michaelson faked a kick and hit Reish for a 7-yard gain on fourth-and-7 for a first down. A 15-yard reception by May on fourth-and-9 set up a 28-yard TD run by Reish as the game was tied at 12-12 with 4:33 to go before halftime.
Three touchdowns in the final 4:06 of the half put Perham in control.
A 33-yard kickoff return by Hackel and a facemask penalty gave Perham the ball at the Park Rapids 42. Hackel followed a 12-yard run with a 30-yard TD pass to Peterson. Hackel ran in the conversion to give Perham a 20-12 lead at the 4:06 mark.
An interception by Hackel set up a six-play, 45-yard scoring drive. A 14-yard reception by Gabe Thompson and a 12-yard run by Hackel led to a 17-yard TD run by Hackel. Chas Melvin caught the conversion pass as Perham led 28-12 with 2:33 remaining before the break.
A successful recovery on an on-side kick set up another Perham TD. Hackel followed a 10-yard run with a 25-yard TD throw to Peterson. Melvin’s reception on the conversion made it 36-12 with 2:02 left.
A Park Rapids punt ended the first half.
Perham’s defense forced the Panthers to punt on the opening series of the second half and the Yellowjackets followed with a five-play, 50-yard scoring drive. After an 11-yard run by Hackel, Peterson completed the drive with a 24-yard catch and a 15-yard TD reception. Hackel’s run made it 44-12 with 8:58 to go in the third quarter.
After another Park Rapids punt, Thompson’s 68-yard TD reception on the next play extended the lead to 51-12 with 6:52 to go in the third quarter.
A 17-yard catch by Michaelson helped march the Panthers to the Perham 45 on the next series, but the Yellowjackets’ defense held.
Perham concluded the scoring with a seven-play, 59-yard drive. A 15-yard run by Hackel, a 12-yard run by Melvin and a 12-yard run by Peterson gave the Yellowjackets a first down at the Park Rapids 10. Hackel followed with a 10-yard run, but fumbled near the end zone. That fumble was recovered by Austin Aanenson to make it 57-12 with 10:30 remaining.
The Panthers put together an 11-play drive, starting with a 25-yard kickoff return by Tate Usher. A holding penalty and a penalty for an illegal block were overcome with a 12-yard carry by May and a 15-yard run by May. Two carries by Matt Johanning for 15 yards and two rushes by Kaleb Stearns for 10 yards led the Panthers to the Perham 7. A bad snap that resulted in a 15-yard loss ended that threat as Perham ran out the final 52 seconds to advance.
The Panthers controlled the clock all game, running 61 plays and maintaining possession for 38:01. Reish finished with 136 yards on 17 carries while Morris completed 5 of 13 passes for 92 yards as Park Rapids had 325 yards in offense in closing the season with a 1-6 record.
Hackel (who threw for 277 yards and three TDs in the season opener against Park Rapids) accounted for 435 of the Yellowjackets’ 458 yards in offense by rushing 11 times for 189 yards and completing 10 of 17 passes for 246 yards. Peterson caught five passes for 149 yards and Thompson had 84 yards on three receptions as Perham improved to 4-3 on the season. The efficient Yellowjackets ran only 35 plays and held the ball for only 9:59.
“I was really very proud of our young guys, not just last night but all the way through the season. Last night we were missing a few guys due to injury or COVID and it was very encouraging to see other guys step up in their places,” said Nordick on Wednesday. “After the game, we thanked our seniors for pushing PR Football forward and told them that our future is bright here. We feel that some big seasons are around the corner and we want to make sure that this year's seniors are recognized when we see that success down the road. A lot of starters back on both sides of the ball next year. It's cliche, but we need to get bigger, faster and stronger.”