Panthers rewarded with first win

Noah Morris accounted for three touchdowns in leading the Park Rapids football team to a 22-16 victory over Thief River Falls at Bemidji State University.

Park Rapids' defense swarmed to the ball for a tackle behind the line of scrimmage against Thief River Falls at Bemidji State University's Chet Anderson Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 31. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

What could have developed into a discouraging defeat resulted in a rewarding win for the Park Rapids football team.

The Panthers overcame 13 penalties, including one that negated a touchdown and another that set up Thief River Falls’ first score, to earn their first victory of the season in a Section 8AAA battle on the campus of Bemidji State University on Saturday, Oct. 31.

Noah Morris threw for a touchdown and rushed for a pair of scores on the artificial turf at Chet Anderson Stadium in sparking Park Rapids’ 22-16 victory over the Prowlers during a rare afternoon game. The temperature at kickoff was 40 degrees, but there were wind gusts up to 28 miles per hour throughout the game that had an impact on both offenses.

“Playing at BSU was really special for our guys. You could feel the energy on the field in pre-game. I thought our guys were pretty locked in. That wind was something, but it's Northern Minnesota,” said Park Rapids head coach Jeremy Nordick. “This was a huge win for our team. I'm excited for our kids, especially our seniors, who just continue to come to work and improve every day. Winning in this district is not easy. So for our guys to put it together with an overload of adversity just makes it mean so much more. We had guys playing in different positions that they've never played before. It says a lot about those individuals that were willing to sacrifice and put their team first.”

Both offenses struggled at the start before the Panthers threatened to open the scoring late in the first quarter. A 15-yard run by Caleb David produced a first down near midfield before Morris connected with David on a 47-yard screen pass. David scampered into the end zone, but a penalty for a block in the back wiped out that score and resulted in a first down at the Thief River Falls 25. A fumble following a holding penalty ended that threat as the Prowlers took over at their own 28.


After foring Thief River Falls to punt, the Panthers regained possession at their own 10 after another penalty for a block in the back. An 8-yard reception by Nick Michaelson produced a first down, but a sack forced Park Rapids to punt. The punt into the wind drifted toward the end zone and gave Thief River Falls possession at the Park Rapids 1.

Park Rapids’ defense held as a sack forced the Prowlers to attempt a 27-yard field goal. That kick was missed, but the Panthers were called for a roughing-the-kicker penalty. Thief River Falls took over at the 5 and on the next play Kaden Bakken rushed in for a 5-yard TD. Bakken ran in the conversion and the Prowlers led 8-0 with 3:57 to play in the first half.

The Panthers countered with a seven-play, 64-yard scoring drive to end the half. A personal-foul penalty on the Prowlers and a 6-yard run by Morris on fourth-and-1 set up a 39-yard TD by David, who caught a screen pass and scampered untouched into the end zone. A penalty for delay of game led to a failed attempt on the conversion as the Panthers trailed 8-6 with 30 seconds left before intermission.

Two TDs in the third quarter were key to the Panthers’ first win of the season.

Morris opened the second half with a 15-yard run to the Thief River Falls 35, but that drive stalled and the Panthers were forced to punt.

Park Rapids quickly regained possession when an interception by Sam Reish gave the Panthers the ball at the TRF 20. A 14-yard run by Morris set up a 4-yard TD run by Morris, who hit Reish on the conversion for a 14-8 lead with 6:05 to play in the third quarter.

TRF was forced to punt on the ensuing series and a bad snap resulted in a blocked kick by Michael White as the Panthers took over at the 8. Park Rapids couldn’t capitalize on that break as the Prowlers regained possession at the 5.

Three plays later, Tristan Hill recovered a fumble at the 4 and the Panthers capitalized when Morris scored on a 4-yard run on the next play. Morris hit Michaelson on the conversion and Park Rapids led 22-8 with 1:12 left in the third quarter.


A 13-yard run by Bakken along with a personal-foul penalty, an offsides penalty on the Panthers on fourth-and-1, and a 10-yard run by Carter Pribyl drove TRF to the Park Rapids 35. Reish ended that threat with an interception at the 20.

Four plays later, the Prowlers recovered a fumble at the Park Rapids 25. After Colin Bruggeman was sacked, Bruggeman hit Blake Biermaier on a 31-yard TD pass. Jack Manning caught the conversion as TRF cut the gap to 22-16 with 5:13 remaining.

The Prowlers regained possession on an interception by Jaxon Brouse at the Park Rapids 37, but a personal-foul penalty after the turnover pushed TRF back to its own 48. The Panthers’ defense delivered as TRF lost possession at midfield.

David rushed three times for 14 yards for a first down at the TRF 36, but a penalty for a false start resulted in a loss of downs at the Prowlers’ 34 with 1:01 to play.

Bruggeman connected with Ben Nelson for a 27-yard gain to the Park Rapids 39, but Hill pressured Bruggeman into a penalty for intentional grounding that pushed the ball back to the Thief River Falls 46. Bruggeman hit Biermaier on a 27-yard gain as the Prowlers reached the Park Rapids 27. However, four incomplete passes ended the game as the Panthers hung on for the victory.

“The score before half was big because we felt we could put together some drives just like it if we could cut out the penalties. So that certainly gave us a boost going into half,” said Nordick. “The message at half was simple: keep doing what we were doing on defense. Attack, create a couple more turnovers and shut them out. For the most part we did that. They had a nice play in the fourth that we just missed. Offensively, we knew we were going to get our opportunities, so we just needed to finish, and we did a nice job of that in the third quarter.”

The Panthers, who overcame 100 yards in penalties, improved to 1-3. Morris completed 4 of 9 passes for 72 yards with David having three receptions for 64 yards. Morris also led the running attack with 22 carries for 63 yards. David added 48 yards on 15 attempts as the Panthers finished with 193 yards in offense.

Leading the defense were Hill with 12 tackles (including six solo tackles) and David with 11 tackles (including eight solo stops). Josiah May had three tackles for loss and joined Joe Huber, David and Hill with a quarterback sack as the Prowlers managed only eight first downs in the game.


Thief River Falls, which snapped a 27-game losing streak with a 7-6 win over Fergus Falls in Week 2, fell to 1-3 on the season.

“A couple of those penalties that we had were obviously tough and swung the momentum their way. However, most of the penalties we had were aggressive penalties. Our guys were just trying to make plays. We encourage our guys to go after it and make big plays. We'll need to take a look at a couple of our holding penalities, but I think those will be easy to fix after we watch the film,” said Nordick. “A lot of credit to the kids and staff of TRF. That is a much improved team over there. They are playing with a lot of confidence, especially after beating Fergus Falls and giving East Grand Forks all they could handle (in a 15-14 loss). So, it was a very big win.”

Park Rapids will travel to Fergus Falls for a 6 p.m. kickoff on Friday (Nov. 6). Fergus Falls will enter that game with a 1-3 record, including a 14-12 win over East Grand Forks in the season opener and losses to Detroit Lakes (24-0) and Pequot Lakes (18-7).

Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, which had to cancel two games because of COVID-19 protocol, tops the Section 8AAA standings with a 3-0 record while Pequot Lakes is 3-1. East Grand Forks is 1-2 while Park Rapids, TRF and Fergus Falls join Perham at 1-3. Roseau sits at 0-5.

“I look for another four-quarter battle over in Fergus,” said Nordick. “They are very solid defensively and have some explosive players on offense. Should be a great game Friday night.”

Thief River Falls 0 8 0 8...16
Park Rapids 0 6 16 0...22
TRF-Bakken 5 run (Bakken run)
PR-David 39 pass from Morris (pass failed)
PR-Morris 4 run (Reish pass from Morris)
PR-Morris 4 run (Michaelson pass from Morris)
TRF-Biermaier 31 pass from Bruggeman (Manning pass from Bruggeman)
RUSHING: Morris 22-63, David 15-48, May 8-10.
PASSING: Morris 4-9-2 for 72 yards.
RECEIVING: David 3-64, Michaelson 1-8.
KICKOFF RETURNS: May 1-17, Stearns 1-12, Monaghan 1-2.
PUNT RETURNS: Morris 1-4.
SOLO TACKLES: David 8, Hill 6, Reish 5, May 4, Burton 4, Persons 4, Usher 2, Huber 2, Michaelson 2, White 2, Morris 1, Walsh 1.
ASSISTED TACKLES: Hill 6, May 3, Michaelson 3, David 3, White 3, Huber 2, Burton 2, Persons 2, Usher 1, Morris 1.
TACKLES FOR LOSS: May 3, David 1, Hill 1.
QUARTERBACK SACKS: Huber 1, May 1, David 1, Hill 1.

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