Defeating Pequot Lakes for the first win of the season was especially sweet for the Park Rapids football team.
Not only was the 28-14 victory in front of a homecoming crowd at Vern Weekley Field on Friday, Sept. 24, it snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Patriots. The last time the Panthers defeated Pequot Lakes was a 14-12 decision in 2013. Since then, the Patriots had prevailed in this Midwest Red District rivalry, including winning all five meetings in the Section 8AAA playoffs.
Needless to say, this was an important win for the Panthers as both teams entered this game winless.
“Very big win for our program, especially on homecoming where it means just a little bit more,” said Park Rapids head coach Jeremy Nordick. It’s been since 2013 since we've beaten Pequot Lakes, so eight years of struggles to overcome. I think to our kids and staff it's important to see that we are doing some very good things and we are improving. When you're 0-3, sometimes it's hard to see the positives. Really proud of our kids and coaches for continuing to battle, grind and improve every single day.”
Both offenses were looking to get going after struggling in the first three weeks of the season.
In the first three games of the season, Pequot Lakes was outscored 60-36 in losses to East Grand Forks (27-12), Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (20-18) and Fergus Falls (13-6). Park Rapids also had problems finishing off drives inside the opponents’ red zone, managing only two passing TDs while averaging only 192 yards a game and being outscored 83-15.
The Panthers again struggled offensively in the first half before putting together three straight scoring drives after the break to spark a much needed victory.
After forcing Pequot Lakes to punt on the opening series, a holding penalty resulted in a punt for the Panthers. Park Rapids could have pinned the Patriots deep in their own territory, but allowed the ball to roll into the end zone.
A 10-play drive followed as Pequot Lakes took the lead. A pass interference penalty, a 19-yard run by Riggs Magnuson, an 11-yard completion from Grant Loge to Max Trumpold and a 25-yard reception by Ryan Harmala set up a 1-yard touchdown pass from Loge to Darby Boelter, who also caught the two-point conversion to make it 8-0 with 1:05 to play in the first quarter.
On the ensuing series, the Panthers were stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Pequot Lakes 43. Two plays later, Logan Jackson intercepted a pass and returned it 44 yards for a TD. Tristan Hill ran in the conversion and the game was tied at 8-8 with 10:26 remaining in the first half.
Both teams exchanged turnovers the rest of the half. Isaac Peterson recovered a fumble at the Park Rapids 32, but the Panthers regained possession when Mason Yliniemi recovered a fumble and returned it 13 yards to the Pequot Lakes 42. On the next play, Boelter intercepted a pass at the 38. The Patriots were forced to punt, but recovered a fumble at the Park Rapids 47. Pequot Lakes marched to the Park Rapids 21 before Kaleb Stearns recovered a fumble at the 8 as the game remained tied.
“At half, we knew we were in the ball game, and if we could lose some of the small mistakes and finish off our drives that we'd be in a good position to win,” said Nordick.
That’s what the Panthers did by scoring on their first three possessions to start the second half.
A quick three-play, 50-yard drive on the first series after the break put Park Rapids in the lead. Jackson’s 20-yard kickoff return gave the Panthers possession at midfield. Hill followed a 13-yard run with an 18-yard run to the Pequot Lakes 19, but a holding penalty on that run brought the ball back to the 50. On the next play, Noah Morris hit Jackson for a 50-yard TD as Park Rapids led 14-8 at the 10:40 mark.
After forcing a punt, the Panthers put together a 10-play, 52-yard scoring drive. Nine running plays, including a 15-yard run by Hill on third-and-3, set up a 1-yard TD run by Morris, who kicked the extra point for a 21-8 lead with 3:49 to play in the third quarter.
Pequot Lakes had to punt again and the Panthers proceeded with a seven-play, 45-yard drive. Morris’ 4-yard run on fourth-and-1 kept the drive alive before Hill broke free for a 27-yard TD run. Morris’ kick extended Park Rapids’ advantage to 28-8 with 9:30 to play.
The Patriots concluded the scoring on Loge’s 59-yard TD pass to Boelter with 5:02 remaining. Noah Larson’s interception with 2:14 to go sealed the win.
Park Rapids controlled the ball all game, running 54 plays and possessing the ball for 31:10. The Panthers compiled a season high 258 yards with Hill rushing 26 times for 136 yards and Morris completing 5 of 6 passes for 80 yards, including three throws to Jackson for 70 yards.
“Offensively, we made the commitment to run the football. We had to try some different formations in the second half to spread them out a bit, but I'm very pleased at how our offense executed in the run game the second half,” said Nordick. “It was very satisfying for me to see us finish some drives off. We spend a lot of time in practice in different situations, and one of them is finishing off drives. I think once we got that first score to go up 14-8, our kids started to believe that we could put more points up on that board.”
The defense also played well, limiting Pequot Lakes to only 138 yards, including 24 net rushing yards. Hill had nine tackles, Larson was in on seven tackles (including five solo) and Harley Wellman made seven tackles.
“Defensively, I am really proud of how our kids for the most part limited the big plays,” said Nordick. “We knew they were going to have a couple with the special athletes that they have, but I was excited to see us get off the field and get our offense more opportunities. Some kids really stepped up physically for us.”
The win lifted the Panthers to 1-3 while Pequot Lakes fell to 0-4 in district play. In the other Midwest Red District and Section 8AAA games in Week 4, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton defeated East Grand Forks 22-7, Perham edged Detroit Lakes 30-27, Thief River Falls topped Fergus Falls 10-7 and Roseau fell to Ottertail Central 34-6. D-G-F leads the section standings at 4-0 with Perham and Fergus Falls following at 3-1. East Grand Forks is 2-2 while Thief River Falls joins the Panthers at 1-3. Roseau is 0-4.
Park Rapids hosts D-G-F this Friday night (Oct. 1). Kickoff at Vern Weekley Field is set for 7 p.m.
“We'll need to carry this confidence into next week against a very talented DGF team. They're big, fast and physical. I think our boys are looking forward to the challenge Friday night at home,” said Nordick. “To give us a chance to win, we will need to sustain some longer drives offensively and keep them in front of us on defense. They will keep coming straight at you for four quarters, so we'll need to win our individual battles up front.”