Jeremy Nordick wanted to send a message in his first game as head coach of the Park Rapids football team.
Led by an opportunistic offense and dominating defense, the Panthers opened the season with a 46-0 win over United North Central Friday night at Menahga.
"We certainly wanted to send a message the first game and that message was that we are going to play hard, physical and intense football for 48 minutes," said Nordick. "We've been working to establish a positive, winning attitude and I felt we took a big step forward."
Park Rapids dominated on the defensive end all game, limiting the Warriors to only one first down. Meanwhile, the Panthers' offense capitalized on ideal field position all game in coasting to the win.
UNC took the opening kickoff and used an offsides penalty, an 8-yard run by Zach Floyd and a 6-yard reception by Brandon Miller to reach the Park Rapids 45. That drive stalled and forced a punt. That would be the only time the Warriors would reach Park Rapids territory all night.
The Panthers then drove 67 yards in seven plays to open the scoring. Tristin Persons rushed six times for 25 yards before Cody Dravis capped off the drive with a 33-yard touchdown run. Dravis ran in the two-point conversion and Park Rapids led 8-0 with 6:37 to play in the first quarter.
UNC was forced to punt again and the Panthers took over at the Warriors' 30 after a 6-yard kick. A 6-yard reception by Nathan David and a 3-yard carry by Dravis on fourth-and-2 set up an 18-yard TD run by Dravis, who also ran in the conversion. That five-play drive extended the Panthers' lead to 16-0 with 2:47 left in the opening quarter.
On Park Rapids' next possession, a holding penalty negated a 12-yard reception by Persons and the Panthers were forced to punt.
Dravis gave the Panthers another short field with an interception at the UNC 21 and 5-yard return to the 16. Dravis' 9-yard run to the 7 set up a 5-yard TD run by quarterback Jens Anderson. That four-play drive gave the Panthers a 22-0 lead with 8:49 to play in the first half.
Another holding penalty wiped out a 37-yard run by Persons to the UNC 2 on the Panthers' next series as Park Rapids had to punt again.
Park Rapids regained possession after UNC's fifth punt of the half and put together a six-play, 37-yard scoring drive. Dravis rushed three times for 25 yards and Persons followed a holding penalty with a 15-yard run to the 7. Persons ended the drive with a 7-yard TD run as the Panthers led 28-0 with 36 seconds left before the break.
The Warriors lost possession on downs at their own 27 and avoided another Park Rapids score when Mason Dailey intercepted an Anderson pass at the 2 to end the half.
David opened the second half by returning the kickoff to the Park Rapids 49, but an interception by Tyce Lee gave UNC possession.
After forcing another UNC punt, the Panthers used an 18-yard run by Dravis to reach the Warriors' 37. A motion penalty and a sack forced Park Rapids to punt.
Park Rapids quickly regained possession when Jerry Engst recovered a fumble on that punt. The Panthers took over at the UNC 20 and used a 12-yard run by Persons to set up a 9-yard TD run by Persons, who also ran in the conversion. That three-play drive pushed the lead to 36-0 with 4:28 to play in the third quarter.
The Panthers stopped UNC on fourth-and-4 at the 37 and converted again as a 23-yard run by Dravis set up a 2-yard TD run by Zach Fritze. Spencer Fritze ran in the conversion as that five-play drive extended the lead to 44-0 with 11:52 to play.
The rest of the game was played with running time and Park Rapids' defense put the finishing touches on the win when Kolby Brandt sacked UNC quarterback Charlie Hodge in the end zone for a safety with 1:36 remaining.
"Field position definitely played a role in the game," said Nordick. "Our defense was lights out all night, flying to the football and giving our offense more opportunities to score. To get the shutout the first game of the year was really special for our kids."
The game was a little strange for Nordick, who served as UNC's head coach the past 11 seasons.
"It was a little awkward being on the Menahga field on the visitors' sideline. However, it was comforting in a way to see friends and familiar faces in the Warrior community," said Nordick. "I knew going into the game that is was going to be very emotional, but I definitely underestimated how emotional it would be. I am very proud of our kids and their efforts. I am also very proud of the Warriors and how they continued to keep battling to the final whistle. I wish them the best of luck the rest of the way."
Dravis rushed 12 times for 141 yards and Persons added 77 yards on 11 carries as the Panthers compiled 293 yards in offense. Anderson completed 2 of 8 passes for 13 yards with David making both receptions.
Defensively, Dravis had five solo tackles and three assists while Hill and Kruchowski made four solo tackles each. Brandt had two sacks.
"I feel really confident about the kids we've got on our football team. The senior leadership has been outstanding and their will to win guided us to our first victory. I cannot say enough about the efforts of our guys throughout the offseason and in fall camp," said Nordick. "I think what impressed me the most about our kids was their enthusiasm and energy they brought all night. It just wasn't the kids on the field, but our kids on the sideline were just as engaged in the football game. It was really special to see the kids supporting each other."
In Friday night's other Section 8AAA games, East Grand Forks defeated Crookston 49-28, Pequot Lakes defeated Staples-Motley 50-26, Perham defeated Frazee 50-8, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton lost to Barnesville 28-8 and Thief River Falls lost to Ottertail Central 46-14. In the other Midwest Red District games, Detroit Lakes defeated Rocori 40-19 and Fergus Falls fell to Willmar 51-6.
The Panthers will make their home debut by hosting Thief River Falls in the Midwest Red District opener Friday night. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m at Vern Weekley Field.
"We are feeling very confident right now, but we also have an understanding that we made some mistakes that need to be fixed," said Nordick. "We will go back to work and get ready for an always tough Prowler squad. It should be a fun home opener."
Park Rapids 16 12 8 10...46
United North Central 0 0 0 0...0
PR-Dravis 35 run (Dravis run)
PR-Dravis 18 run (Dravis run)
PR-Anderson 5 run (pass failed)
PR-Persons 7 run (run failed)
PR-Persons 9 run (Persons run)
PR-Z. Fritze 2 run (S. Fritze run)
PR-Safety: K. Brandt tackled Hodge in end zone
PARK RAPIDS OFFENSIVE STATISTICS
RUSHING: Dravis 12-141, Persons 11-77, May 2-18, Anderson 3-16, Z. Fritze 3-11, S. Fritze 3-7, C. David 1-6, Hill 2-3, Koskela 2-1.
PASSING: Anderson 2-8-2 for 13 yards; S. Fritze 0-1-0 for 0 yards.
RECEIVING: N. David 2-13.
KICKOFF RETURNS: N. David 2-43.
PUNT RETURNS: S. Fritze 2-46.
PARK RAPIDS DEFENSIVE STATISTICS
SOLO TACKLES: Dravis 5, Hill 4, Kruchowski 4, Z. Fritze 3, Persons 2, S. Fritze 2, Clark 2, Hensell 2, Reish 2, N. David 2, Engst 2, Scott 1.
ASSISTED TACKLES: Dravis 3, N. David 3, Engst 3, Hill 2, Persons 2, S. Fritze 1, Clark 1.
QUARTERBACK SACKS: K. Brandt 2.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES: Engst 1.
INTERCEPTIONS: Dravis 1.