Big plays cost Park Rapids football team in loss to Fergus Falls

The Otters use two long touchdowns to spark a 28-9 victory in the Panthers' home opener.

Parker Harmon (17) tackled Fergus Falls' Cole Zierden during Park Rapids' home opener on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. Vance Carlson / Park Rapids Enterprise

The first defensive and offensive series against Fergus Falls in the home opener for the Park Rapids football team on Friday, Sept. 10, showed the potential head coach Jeremy Nordick has been seeing in practice.

Unfortunately, the Panthers couldn’t maintain that momentum the rest of the game as Fergus Falls prevailed 28-9 at Vern Weekley Field.

After forcing Fergus Falls to punt on the opening series, the Panthers marched 90 yards in 12 plays to take the lead. Failing to finish off three other drives in the Otters’ red zone and allowing two big scoring plays on third down proved pivotal as Fergus Falls prevailed in this Midwest Red District and Section 8AAA game.

Park Rapids’ defense forced a three-and-out on the Otters’ first possession and took over at the 10. Ten running plays drove the Panthers to the Fergus Falls 35 with Noah Morris gaining 2 yards on third-and-1 and 4 yards on third-and-2 to keep the drive alive and Josiah May following with a 17-yard run. On fourth-and-11, Morris hit Logan Jackson on a 36-yard scoring pass and Jaydon Walen kicked the extra point to give Park Rapids a 7-0 lead with 4:27 to play in the first quarter. That scoring drive took 6:12 off the clock.

“Great start to the game,” said Nordick. “Pregame had a good vibe to it and I knew our guys were focused and ready. That 90-yard drive just gives people a taste of what we’re really capable of.”


On the ensuing series, the Panthers forced Fergus Falls into a third-and-7 when Carter Thielke hit Cole Zierden on a 72-yard TD pass. With 3:22 to play in the first quarter, Park Rapids led 7-6.

A 10-play drive followed as the Panthers marched to the Fergus Falls 15. Morris hit Kaleb Stearns on a 33-yard route on third-and-7 and Jackson hauled in a 23-yard reception on fourth-and-4 before a sack and Thielke’s interception in the end zone ended that threat.

Fergus Falls marched 80 yards in eight plays as a 23-yard run by Thielke, a personal foul penalty for a late hit and a 13-yard run by Andrew Johnson set up a 1-yard TD run by Landon Thacker. That gave the Otters a 12-7 lead with 7:42 to play in the first half.

A bad snap resulted in a fumble that Fergus Falls recovered at the Park Rapids 10. However, the defense held and the Panthers regained possession at the 7.

The Otters increased their lead to 14-7 when Hayden Dondoneau tackled Morris in the end zone for a safety with 3:35 to go in the opening half.

On the ensuing possession, Fergus Falls reached the Park Rapids 12 thanks to a pass interference penalty, but Parker Harmon recovered a fumble at the 16 with :57 remaining in the first half.

A 47-yard reception by Jackson and a facemask penalty drove the Panthers to the Fergus Falls 11 to open the second half, but that drive stalled at the 7.

Five plays later, the Otters were forced to punt and a bad snap resulted in a safety when Kobe Burton tackled Thielke in the end zone. That made it 14-9 with 5:43 to play in the third quarter.


Park Rapids was forced to punt and the Otters padded their lead with a quick four-play, 33-yard drive. After Griffin Babolian was tackled for a 6-yard loss, Thielke hit Sam Sorum on a 35-yard route before Babolian scored on a 2-yard run. Jaydon Manteuful’s kick gave Fergus Falls a 21-9 lead with 1:59 left in the third quarter.

The Panthers responded with another scoring threat as a 5-yard reception by Jaxson Lund on fourth-and-4, a pass interference call, a 12-yard reception by Jackson and a 9-yard run by Morris led to a first down at the 10. That nine-play drive ended when Cole Wentworth intercepted a pass at the 7.

Fergus Falls sealed the win with a four-play, 93-yard scoring drive with Thielke following a 23-yard gain with a 60-yard TD scamper. Manteufel kicked the extra point to conclude the scoring with 6:14 remaining.

“We were moving the ball consistently, but we needed to tighten things up in the red zone. Can’t have penalties, turnovers and mental mistakes in the red zone,” said Nordick, whose team fell to 0-2. “Our defense also showed what we are capable of doing with a goal line stand and also making Fergus earn every yard. Unfortunately, we just had a couple mental errors that gave up a few key big plays.”

Morris completed 14 of 24 passes for 184 yards with Jackson hauling in six passes for 125 yards. The Panthers were held to only 61 yards rushing and 245 yards in the game with Stearns gaining 27 yards on six carries.

Defensively, Tristan Hill was in on nine tackles, Burton was in on seven tackles and Noah Larson contributed on six tackles.

Thielke threw for 116 yards and rushed 11 times for 121 yards as Fergus Falls compiled 305 yards in offense to improve to 2-0 on the season.

“We've got our program as a whole right where we need it to be. For our program to take one more step forward and compete with the best in the section and state, our varsity football team needs to put some wins in the win column. We are close, but we are not quite there yet,” said Nordick. “Programs are built from special moments and big wins. We've had special moments, but they haven't been consistent enough to convert into a big win.”


In the other Week 2 Midwest Red District and Section 8AAA games, Perham edged Thief River Falls 13-7, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton topped Pequot Lakes 20-18, Detroit Lakes defeated East Grand Forks 27-7 and Roseau lost to Underwood 38-18.

The Panthers will look to enter the win column with a game at East Grand Forks on Friday, Sept. 17. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.

“(The loss to Fergus Falls) was tough one to swallow. We had our chances. We need to let this one go and go back to work,” said Nordick. “We have another opportunity this week at East Grand. I believe we'll have our chances in that game too. I believe in this football team. I believe in our coaches, players and all that goes into it. We’ll come back to work next week and get ready for a four-quarter battle against the Green Wave.”

Fergus Falls 6 8 7 7...28
Park Rapids 7 0 2 0...9
PR-Jackson 36 pass from Morris (Walen kick)
FF-Zierden 72 pass from Thielke (pass failed)
FF-Thacker 1 run (run failed)
FF-Safety: Dondoneau tackled Morris in end zone
PR-Safety: Burton tackled Thielke in end zone
FF-Babolian 2 run run (Manteufel kick)
FF-Thielke 60 run (Manteufel kick)
RUSHING. Fergus Falls: Thielke 11-121. Park Rapids: Stearns 6-27, May 8-18, Morris 13-16.
PASSING. Fergus Falls: Thielke 4-8-0 for 116 yards. Park Rapids: Morris 14-24-2 for 184 yards.
RECEIVING. Fergus Falls: Zierden 2-74, Sorum 2-42. Park Rapids: Jackson 6-125, Lund 2-15, Stearns 1-33, Michaelson 1-7, May 1-2, Harmon 1-2.
KICKOFF RETURNS: Park Rapids: May 2-41, Stearns 2-25.
SOLO TACKLES: Hill 6, Burton 5, Lund 3, Johnson 3, Larson 3, May 2, Harmon 2, Michaelson 2, Yliniemi 2, Morris 1, Hartung 1.
ASSISTED TACKLES: Harmon 3, Larson 3, Hill 3, Morris 2, Burton 2, Michaelson 2, Johnson 2, May 1, Hartung 1.
TACKLES FOR LOSS: Hill 2, May 1, Burton 1, Larson 1.

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
1982 Dawson-Boyd High School graduate
1987 Moorhead State University graduate
Sports reporter for Park Rapids Enterprise since 1987
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