Defense delivers in Panthers' 34-0 win over Thief River Falls


It hasn’t taken long for the Park Rapids football team to learn Jeremy Nordick’s defensive scheme.

For the second time in as many games, the Panthers held the opposition scoreless as a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery sparked a 34-0 Section 8AAA and Midwest Red District victory over Thief River Falls in the home opener Friday night at Vern Weekley Field.

The Panthers, who shut out United North Central 46-0 in the season opener, are the only Class AAA team in the state that hasn’t allowed a point so far this season.

“Thief had a couple of really solid, tough players. Our defensive staff did a great job of prepping our kids this week and I’m really proud of how the kids responded,” said Nordick, who’s in his first season as the Panthers’ head coach. “We’ve been playing with outstanding energy and enthusiasm and we have had 11 guys flying to the football consistently. Those are really the keys to our defensive philosophy. We haven’t had anyone play scared or on their heels either, so we are doing a lot of good things.”

The good things started on the first series when Park Rapids’ defense forced the Prowlers to punt. The Panthers’ offense followed with an 11-play, 72-yard drive to open the scoring.

A 19-yard reception from Jens Anderson to Cameron Hoyt, an 11-yard run by Tristin Persons, a 21-yard gain by Persons, a 7-yard catch by Nathan David and a 3-yard run by Anderson on fourth-and-2 set up a 1-yard TD run by Payton Hill. That gave the Panthers a 6-0 lead with 4:11 to play in the first quarter.

Thief River Falls put together a drive on the ensuing series when a 9-yard reception by Aaron Bruggeman and a 12-yard run by Brenan Peralta led to a first down at the Park Rapids 40. David forced a fumble on the next play, which Hill recovered.

Both teams exchanged punts before the Panthers extended their lead with an 11-play, 72-yard drive. A 12-yard catch by Persons, an 8-yard run by Anderson, a 3-yard gain by Cody Dravis on third-and-1, and a 16-yard catch by Hoyt led to an 8-yard TD run by Hill. Persons ran in the conversion and Park Rapids held a 14-0 lead with 5:00 to play in the first half.

A 26-yard catch by Bruggeman gave Thief River Falls a first down at the Park Rapids 40, but that threat ended when Persons intercepted a pass at the 17.

The Panthers used a 12-yard run by Dravis to march the Park Rapids 43 before an interception by Bruggeman at the Thief River Falls 35 ended the half.

“I think it’s always important for some positives to happen early, especially for our group. They’ve been through so much the last couple of years, so to get early scores on the board does nothing but ignite the confidence,” said Nordick. “Thief River was much bigger than we were and for our guys not to come out intimidated says a lot about how we have grown mentally.”

Park Rapids took the opening kickoff of the second half and used a 21-yard catch by Persons to march to the TRF 47. However, a sack forced the Panthers to punt.

The Panthers delivered another key defensive play by stopping Storm Manning on fourth-and-3 and taking over at the TRF 41. Three plays later, Dravis scored from 13 yards out and ran in the conversion to give Park Rapids a 22-0 advantage with 4:33 left in the third quarter. A 17-yard run by Dravis and facemask penalty on TRF helped set up that TD.

Another big defensive play set up the Panthers’ next touchdown. Persons intercepted a pass at the TRF 33 and followed with a 20-yard TD reception to extend the lead to 28-0 at the 2:02 mark.

After forcing the Prowlers to punt, the Panthers drove 74 yards in only six plays to conclude the scoring. Zach Fritze followed a 13-yard run with a 27-yard carry and Dravis added a 14-yard run as the Panthers reached the TRF 25. Three plays later, Dravis ran in from 12 yards out to make it 34-0 with 10:07 to play.

On the next series, TRF used two penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct to advance to midfield before the Panthers’ defense forced another punt with 6:46 remaining.

Spencer Fritze returned the kick to the TRF 45 while a 6-yard run by Zach Fritze on fourth-and-2 and a 15-yard carry by Josiah May led to a first down at the TRF 16 as the Panthers ran out the clock.

Park Rapids finished with 364 yards in offense with Dravis rushing 13 times for 102 yards, Zach Fritze gaining 51 yards on four carries and Persons rushing 11 times for 49 yards. Anderson completed 8 of 14 passes for 107 yards with Persons (three catches for 53 yards) and Hoyt (three catches for 40 yards) being the primary receivers.

Defensively, Dravis made seven solo tackles, David had six solo tackles and Zach Fritze made five solo stops. Rylley Clark and Brendan Kruchowski had three solo tackles each.

That win kept the Panthers tied atop the section standings. East Grand Forks (which edged Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 40-34) and Pequot Lakes (which defeated Fergus Falls 27-14) are also 2-0. Perham, which lost to Detroit Lakes 36-30, fell to 1-1 while D-G-F joined Thief River Falls at 0-2. In the district standings, Detroit Lakes, East Grand Forks and Pequot Lakes join the Panthers at 1-0 while Perham is 0-1 in the district and 1-1 overall. D-G-F, Fergus Falls and Thief River Falls are 0-1 in district games and 0-2 overall.

The Panthers host another key section and district opponent when East Grand Forks invades Vern Weekley Field for Parents Night this coming Friday night. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

“EGF is a very balanced team. They run and throw it well. Defensively they don’t make a lot of mistakes. We will have to be razor sharp on both sides of the ball. We’ll get a look at their film and make a few adjustments as to their personnel,” said Nordick about EGF, which has scored 89 points in the first two games. “The guys have been playing with a ton of confidence the last couple of weeks. They are becoming more and more comfortable with our offensive and defensive structure. I feel like we’ve only just started to see what these guys can do. They are getting better and better every day and are hungry to learn more every time they step on the field.”

Thief River Falls   0 0 0 0...0 Park Rapids   6 8 14 6...34 SCORING PR--P. Hill 1 run (pass failed) PR--Hill 8 run (Persons run) PR--Dravis 13 run (Dravis run) PR--Persons 20 pass from Anderson (run failed) PR--Dravis 12 run (kick failed) PARK RAPIDS OFFENSIVE STATISTICS RUSHING: Dravis 13-102, Z. Fritze 4-51, Persons 11-49, May 2-16, C. David 3-14, Hill 3-10, Anderson 5-7, S. Fritze 1-6, Koskela 1-2. PASSING: Anderson 8-14-1 for 107 yards. RECEIVING: Persons 3-53, Hoyt 3-40, Engst 1-7, N. David 1-7. PARK RAPIDS DEFENSIVE STATISTICS SOLO TACKLES: Dravis 7, N. David 6, Z. Fritze 5, Clark 3, Engst 3, Kruchowski 3, Scott 2, P. Hill 2, Haas 2, S. Fritze 2, Ohm 1, Persons 1, C. David 1. ASSISTED TACKLES: Hensel 4, P. Hill 4, Scott 3, Kruchowski 3, Clark 1, S. Fritze 1. QUARTERBACK SACKS: Z. Fritze 1. FORCED FUMBLES: N. David 1. RECOVERED FUMBLES: P. Hill 1. INTERCEPTIONS: Persons 2.