Despite falling to 1-6 this season, Park Rapids head coach Jeremy Nordick found plenty of positives to take away from a 20-14 Midwest Red District football loss to Detroit Lakes on Friday, Oct. 15.
The Panthers put together an 84-yard scoring drive to take a 7-6 lead, used a 74-yard kickoff return to set up another touchdown to tie the game at 14-14 and stopped a Detroit Lakes drive inside the red zone and two other potential scoring drives with a pair of interceptions.
On the negative side, the Panthers had a potential go-ahead scoring drive stall at the Detroit Lakes 10-yard line late in the third quarter while turning the ball over three times.
Those defensive plays enabled the Lakers to once again prevail in this rivalry and prevented Park Rapids from celebrating Senior Night and earning a victory in its final home game of the season at Vern Weekley Field.
“Definitely a tough one to swallow. We had our chances to win, which makes it the most difficult part,” said Nordick. “I am pleased with the effort from a lot of our guys. They came ready to win. There are positives that we can take from (Friday) night. The 84-yard drive to respond to their score was probably one of the better drives of the season for us. Also with our defense creating a turnover and then a stop inside the red zone was just as encouraging. It shows that there is still plenty of fight in our guys to win.”
Detroit Lakes, which last lost to the Panthers in 1986, took the opening kickoff and marched 58 yards in nine plays. Quarterback Bradly Swiers hit Christian Solberg on an 18-yard route, found Solberg and Brandton Marsh on 7-yard receptions, and hit Mason Carrier for a 10-yard gain. Ethan Carrier’s 6-yard run set up a 5-yard TD run by Swiers. That gave the Lakers a 6-0 lead with 8:22 to play in the first quarter.
The Panthers lost a fumble on their third play from scrimmage as Detroit Lakes took over at the Park Rapids 30. Ty Jones’ 18-yard reception led to a first down at the 12, but a sack and Noah Larson’s interception and 18-yard return gave Park Rapids possession at its own 45.
Detroit Lakes regained possession when Caeden Yliniemi intercepted a pass at the Lakers’ 19.
A 12-play drive followed as an 11-yard reception by Jones, two carries for 25 yards by Solberg, a 12-yard run by Ethan Carrier and a 10-yard catch by Yliniemi marched the Lakers to the Park Rapids 20. The Panthers’ defense held and took over at the 16.
Park Rapids countered with a 12-play scoring drive to take the lead. Tristan Hill rushed five times for 35 yards and Logan Jackson caught two passes for 13 yards to set up a 27-yard scoring play from Noah Morris to Jackson. Jaydon Walen kicked the extra point as the Panthers led 7-6 with 3:20 to play in the first half.
The Lakers regained the lead by following with a six-play, 78-yard drive. A 15-yard reception by Solberg, a roughing-the-passer penalty, a 27-yard catch by Solberg and a 13-yard run by Ethan Carrier set up a 7-yard TD run by Ethan Carrier. Solberg caught the conversion pass to give Detroit Lakes a 14-7 lead with 1:50 remaining in the first half.
Kaleb Stearns provided a spark to open the second half by returning the kickoff 74 yards to the Detroit Lakes 15. After a pass interference penalty, Hill scored on an 8-yard run and Walen kicked the extra point to tie the game at 14-14 with 10:53 to play in the third quarter.
An eight-play, 70-yard scoring drive put the Lakers back in front. Ethan Carrier gained 47 yards on four straight carries before a 13-yard carry by Mason Carrier and a 7-yard gain by Solberg led to a 1-yard TD run by Mason Carrier. With 7:26 to play in the third quarter, the Lakers led 20-14.
“At halftime we just talked about a few adjustments on both sides of the ball and how we needed to get off to a good start in the second half. We certainly got that from our kickoff return team. To score there and make it a tie game was huge,” said Nordick. “You have to give DL some credit after that. Their kids responded with a touchdown drive right after that when it seemed like we had all the momentum. That's what traditionally strong football teams do. They do the things that they need to do to win.”
After both teams exchanged punts, the Panthers threatened with a nine-play drive. Jackson hit Nick Michaelson on a 37-yard route as Park Rapids marched to the Detroit Lakes 10. The Lakers didn’t allow another yard, regaining possession at the 10.
Park Rapids’ defense forced a punt as the offense took over at the Detroit Lakes 37. Two plays later, Tyson Ullyott intercepted a pass and the Lakers took over at their own 3. After a pair of 12-yard receptions by Marsh and Jones, Detroit Lakes was forced to punt.
The Panthers took over at their own 45, but Morris was sacked to set up a third-and-22. Michaelson rushed for 15 yards, but a 3-yard pass to Jaxson Lund on fourth-and-7 resulted in a loss of downs as Detroit Lakes ran out the clock for the win.
“I was proud of our guys battling back, getting stops that we needed on defense and the offense putting together a scoring opportunity inside the red zone,” said Nordick. “I know it's disappointing for all my staff and players, but to see the growth and improvement throughout this year has been outstanding. Some of these teams that we're battling to the wire have manhandled Park Rapids for a very long time. We are right there. We need a few more stops on D and need a few more sustained drives on O and I think we'll be able to turn that corner.”
The Panthers finished with 195 yards offensively with Morris completing 10 of 19 passes for 64 yards and Hill rushing 17 times for 68 yards. Jackson had five receptions for 48 yards and Michaelson caught four passes for 53 yards.
Defensively, Hill was in on 11 tackles (including seven solo), Larson was in on 10 tackles (including eight solo), Kobe Burton had nine tackles (including seven solo), Jackson made eight tackles (including six solo), Michaelson had seven solo tackles and Josiah May made seven tackles (including two behind the line of scrimmage).
Swiers completed 12 of 20 passes for 145 yards with Solberg catching four passes for 67 yards and Jones making four receptions for 45 yards. Ethan Carrier led the rushing attack with 139 yards on 21 carries.
"When you play in an emotional game like this against a team that hasn't beaten us in a while, and it's their Senior Night, you know they're going to come at you,” said Detroit Lakes head coach Reed Hefta. “They did a really good job of getting their playmakers in spots to be successful. It makes things very difficult. They're a heck of a team, and much better than their record says. Whether it's one year or four years, whenever they get it going, they're going to be dangerous."
The win lifted Detroit Lakes to 4-2 in district games and 4-3 overall while the Panthers fell to 1-5 in the district and 1-6 overall.
In the other Midwest Red District games in Week 7, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton edged Fergus Falls 13-7, Thief River Falls topped Pequot Lakes 10-7 and East Grand Forks shut out Perham 14-0. D-G-F tops the district standings at 6-0 while East Grand Forks and Fergus Falls join DL at 4-2. Perham is 3-3, Thief River Falls is 2-4 and Pequot Lakes is 0-6.
Roseau was shut out by Pelican Rapids 44-0 to fall to 0-7 in the Section 8AAA standings. D-G-F leads the section with a 7-0 record with Fergus Falls (5-2), East Grand Forks (5-2), Perham (4-3) and Thief River Falls (3-4) following.
The Panthers close out the regular season by travelling to Thief River Falls on Wednesday (Oct. 20). Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
“I know what our record is. However, we have no reason to give up on this season. We've earned the respect of many teams that we've played, and whoever we play come tourney time will need to gear it up and play well to beat us,” said Nordick. “Wednesday night we play a much improved Thief River Falls team. Their staff and kids have put in a lot of time and energy to change their football culture. Our programs are similar in a lot of ways. It should make for a great matchup. Plus, with a short week, there isn't a whole lot of time to dwell on what happened (Friday) night. I think the quick turnaround will be good for our kids, especially with the energy we had in practice last week and in (Friday) night's game.”