Colton Hackel was the focus for Park Rapids’ defense in the season opener against Perham at Ted Meinhover Field on Friday, Sept. 3.
In the previous three games between these two Section 8AAA and District Midwest Red football rivals, Hackel rushed for 333 yards and six touchdowns and threw for 637 yards and 10 scores as Perham prevailed by scores of 40-7, 57-12 and 44-12.
Compared to those numbers, the Panthers’ defense held Hackel in check by limiting the senior quarterback to only 141 yards. However, Perham’s defense forced two early turnovers that led to touchdowns and sparked a 28-6 victory.
“I’m really excited about this football team. We are loaded with potential. We've only just begun to see what we can be,” said Park Rapids head coach Jeremy Nordick. “We had a lot of great things and learning moments. This is a group of kids that is still learning how to win. Learning how to execute in tough situations. A lot of that comes with confidence and believing in themselves; knowing that we will win rather than hopefully we can win. We made progress, even though it's tough to see that when you get beat on the scoreboard. I’m extremely proud of our kids. We could've folded, but we did not. We continued to grind and battle all the way through. That's what it's going to take every Friday night in this district.”
After both teams exchanged punts to open the game, Braylon Rach’s 16-yard interception return and Hackel’s kick gave Perham a 7-0 lead with 9:27 to play in the first quarter.
On the Panthers’ second play on the ensuing series, Jaxon Vetsch recovered a fumbled snap at the Park Rapids 37. On the next play, Hackel broke free for a 37-yard TD run and converted the kick to give the Yellowjackets a 14-0 advantage at the 7:49 mark.
Perham pinned the Panthers at their own 7 to start the next series and a sack by Carter Seedorf pushed the ball back to the 1. Noah Morris hit Nick Michaelson for a 21-yard gain and Logan Jackson on a 16-yard route before a facemask penalty marched Park Rapids to the Perham 48. That drive stalled when Chas Melvin intercepted a Michaelson pass at the 17.
An interception and 7-yard return by Kaleb Stearns gave the Panthers possession at the Perham 24. Morris rushed twice for 9 yards as Park Rapids reached the 7, but three incomplete passes ended that drive.
Both teams exchanged punts before the Yellowjackets put together a seven-play, 47-yard drive to pad their lead. Levi Richter’s 22-yard punt return was followed by a 27-yard pass from Hackel to Josh Peterson and an 8-yard run by Rach. Hackel capped off the drive with a 3-yard TD run on third down. Hackel ran in the two-point conversion as Perham led 22-0 with 4:27 to play in the first half.
Sam Reish’s 33-yard kickoff return started a 10-play drive for the Panthers, which featured a 4-yard reception by Jackson on third-and-3 and a 13-yard run by Morris. After a 10-yard pass to Josiah May was negated by a holding penalty, Michaelson hauled in a 20-yard pass at the Perham 32. That drive stalled as Perham carried a 22-0 lead into the half.
The Yellowjackets extended their lead on the first series of the second half when Hackel hit Peterson on a 60-yard scoring route on the second play from scrimmage. That gave Perham a 28-0 lead with 11:23 to play in the third quarter.
Park Rapids responded with a 13-play drive as Morris hit Jackson on an 11-yard pass and found Michaelson on a 21-yard route and an 8-yard connection. Morris rushed three times for 16 yards, but Perham’s defense held and took over at the 18.
Perham was forced to punt and Stearns’ 12-yard return gave the Panthers possession at the Perham 42. May’s 5-yard run, Michaelson’s 7-yard reception and a roughing-the-passer penalty moved the ball to the 13. After Karter Kosowski sacked Morris for a 5-yard loss, Morris hit Jackson over the middle for a 17-yard TD strike on fourth down. That closed the gap to 28-6 with :45 remaining in the third quarter.
Hudson Hackel rushed for 12 yards as the Yellowjackets reached midfield on the ensuing series, but that drive stalled and resulted in a punt. Jackson had an 11-yard reception on Park Rapids’ next series, but the Panthers were also forced to punt.
After forcing another Perham punt, the Panthers took over at their own 28. Morris found Jackson on an 11-yard route and hit Michaelson for a 14-yard gain, but Richter forced a fumble that Kosowski recovered at the 44 with 4:48 to play.
Perham was forced to punt, but an interception by Aiden Kennedy at the Yellowjackets’ 28 with 1:51 to go sealed the win.
Park Rapids was held to only 50 yards rushing, but Morris threw for 165 yards by completing 14 of 31 passes. Michaelson hauled in seven passes for 91 yards and Jackson had six receptions for 70 yards. The Panthers had 14 first downs, but turned the ball over five times. Park Rapids held the ball for 27:16. Tristan Hill made 10 tackles and Noah Larson was in on nine tackles defensively.
The Yellowjackets managed only 176 total yards with Hackel rushing six times for 52 yards and completing 4 of 10 passes for 89 yards. Peterson caught three of those passes for 88 yards. The Yellowjackets managed only six first downs.
“We ran into a very athletic group of Perham kids to start the season. I think Hackel, Peterson and Rach are about as talented as it gets in the area. We knew going in that we needed to keep those guys in check to have a chance to win, and we also needed to take advantage of the scoring opportunities that we had. Unfortunately, we just were not able to do that consistently,” said Nordick. “We certainly had our share of big plays, but we needed a few more in the red zone. I think a big key to the game was the turnovers in the first quarter. I think if you take those away, along with clearing up some little things the rest of the way, that's a different football game. However, that's football, and we need to learn to overcome some of that adversity.”
“They (Park Rapids) are a big, tough and physical football team. You can tell that they returned a lot of experience this year,” said Perham head coach Aron Velde. “The pressure they kept sending defensively gave us some trouble and that was something we had to adjust to. I think our defense did a heck of a job. Any time you force five turnovers in a game, that takes a ton of pressure off your offense. So that was great. Special teams and defense won this one for us, without a doubt.”
In the other Section 8AAA and District Midwest Red games, Fergus Falls defeated Detroit Lakes 29-15, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton shut out Thief River Falls 16-0, East Grand Forks defeated Pequot Lakes 27-12 and Roseau was shut out by Warroad 22-0.
Park Rapids will host Fergus Falls in the home opener on Friday, Sept. 10. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Vern Weekley Field.