Football: Future of Park Rapids program looks promising
After 0-9 season, the Panthers look to find success in the near future.
Giving up big plays, facing early deficits and failing to finish off drives resulted in a winless season for the Park Rapids football team.
In their nine games, the Panthers faced double-digit deficits at halftime seven times while being held scoreless in the first half in six of those games. The opposition relied on big plays, including 12 scoring plays of at least 50 yards, as Park Rapids finished the season with a 0-9 record.
Despite not winning a game, head coach Jeremy Nordick feels the experience gained by the underclassmen will lead to success in the near future.
“Going into the season, I thought we had enough to compete with a good portion of the teams in our section. We were close to getting over the hump, but it just wasn’t our time yet. That was the frustrating thing,” said Nordick. “The positives for the program as a whole are there. I’m really excited about what is coming up. We just need the kids to have a little bit of success and build confidence. When we get that, this program is going to take off.”
In the season opener, five turnovers proved costly in a 22-0 loss to Perham. Park Rapids, which trailed 15-0 at the half, finished with 149 yards offensively while allowing 227 yards and forcing five turnovers. A 62-yard touchdown sparked Perham to the win.
Park Rapids compiled a season high 413 yards in offense in a 17-14 loss to Fergus Falls in Week 2. That game was tied 14-14 at the half before the Otters kicked the game-winning field goal with :03 remaining. Fergus Falls, which had a 64-yard TD and a 58-yard run that set up another score, finished with 304 yards offensively as both teams had one turnover.
“That was a tough loss,” said Nordick. “That was one of the more disappointing losses of the season. I thought we were the better team and should have won that ball game. If we win that game, it could have changed the direction of the season.”
East Grand Forks used TD plays of 60 yards and 94 yards to jump out to a 34-0 halftime lead in a 34-7 victory in Week 3. Park Rapids had 163 yards offensively in that loss.
In Week 4, Pequot Lakes held the Panthers to only 43 yards offensively in a 50-0 victory. The Patriots, who finished with 300 yards and forced five Park Rapids turnovers, led 36-0 at the break.
Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, which was rated No. 5 in the state Class AAA poll at the time, racked up 386 yards offensively to spark a 48-6 win in Week 5. The Rebels (who had scoring plays of 40, 39, 33 and 25 yards) led 28-0 at the half while holding Park Rapids’ offense to 176 yards.
Pelican Rapids produced 414 yards offensively in a 30-13 win in Week 6. The Vikings used scoring plays of 66, 63, 55 and 33 yards for the win. The Panthers, who trailed 12-0 at the half, finished with 259 yards.
Despite allowing 401 yards to Detroit Lakes in Week 7, the Panthers had chances to pull off the win. The Lakers (who had scoring plays of 66, 59, 35 and 25 yards) led 20-14 at the half before prevailing 26-14. Park Rapids finished with 230 yards offensively as each team had three turnovers.
Park Rapids failed to capitalize on scoring chances in a 38-21 loss to Thief River Falls in the regular season finale. The Prowlers, who compiled 431 yards offensively and scored on an 80-yard play, led 24-14 at the half. The Panthers had 363 yards, but failed to finish off three drives in the red zone.
D-G-F won the section title with a 5-0 record. Perham went 4-1, EGF finished 3-2, TRF went 2-3, Fergus Falls finished 1-4, Roseau was 0-1 and Park Rapids posted a 0-5 record. D-G-F also won the district title at 7-0 with Pequot Lakes (5-2), Detroit Lakes (5-2), Perham (4-3), EGF (3-4), TRF (3-4), Fergus Falls (1-6) and Park Rapids (0-7) following.
For the Section 8AAA tournament, Park Rapids received the No. 7 seed and saw its season end with a 34-7 loss to No. 2 Perham in the quarterfinals. The Panthers finished with 232 yards, but gave up scoring plays of 82, 60 and 42 yards as Perham had 267 yards.
For the season, the Panthers were outscored 299-82 while passing for 1,196 yards and being held to 832 rushing yards. Park Rapids also turned the ball over 18 times.
Playing the majority of the minutes for the Panthers were seniors Ethan Eischens, Nicholas Graham, Hunter Harrison, Luke Hartung, Cory Johnson, Lucas Kritzeck, Malachi Martin and Mason Ylliniemi; juniors Matt Johanning, Noah Larson, Blake Morris, Noah Morris, Bryant Tesch and Anthony Tyge; sophomores Ryan Carroll, Gannon Hrdlicka, D’Andre Johnson, Aiden Maanum, Mason Nisius, Kale Ravnaas, Landon Strasburg and Kaleb Weaver; and freshmen Wrigley Clark, Carter Hirt, Brayden Hoffman, Parker Hunter and Jaydon Walen.
Starting at various times on offense for the Panthers were Noah Morris at quarterback; Johanning, Walen and Hrdlicka at running back; Hartung, Blake Morris, Johanning, Carroll and Larson at wide receiver; Tyge at tight end; Weaver at center; and Martin, Eischens, Kritzeck, Yliniemi, Graham, Harrison, Nisius, D’Andre Johnson and Hunter at tackle and guard. Hirt was the back-up quarterback.
Noah Morris completed 106 of 189 passes for 1,144 yards and three touchdowns while leading the Panthers in rushing with 374 yards on 141 carries and six TDs. Morris also kicked five extra points for 41 points. Walen led the team in rushing with 287 yards on 43 carries and had one TD before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 4. Walen kicked three extra points and scored 9 points. Johanning chipped in 53 yards on 25 attempts and Hrdlicka had 40 yards on 12 carries. Park Rapids’ top receivers were Johanning (33 catches for 425 yards), Hartung (38 receptions for 333 yards and a TD), Blake Morris (13 catches for 195 yards) and Carroll (13 receptions for 138 yards and a TD).
“The most frustrating part was we were able to put together some big plays and drives, but we weren’t able to execute once we made it inside the red zone,” said Nordick. “We had too many mental breakdowns once we got inside the 20.”
Leading the defense were Carroll, Martin, Yliniemi, D’Andre Johnson, Hunter, Hoffman, Nisius and Graham up front; Kritzeck, Larson, Cory Johnson and Clark at linebacker; and Hartung, Johanning, Maanum, Blake Morris and Ravnaas in the secondary.
The leading tacklers during the regular season were Larson (43 tackles), Cory Johnson (39 tackles), Kritzeck (33), Martin (30), Yliniemi (29), Ravnaas (28), D’Andre Johnson (22), Johanning (19), Hartung (19), Carroll (19), Nisius (16), Blake Morris (11) and Clark (10). Larson forced two fumbles while Blake Morris and Johanning intercepted two passes apiece. Kritzeck returned an interception for a TD.
“One of the things I told the kids going into the season was we needed to stop the big plays and keep things in front of us,” said Nordick. “Unfortunately, teams had explosive kids that we couldn’t close down. We preach having 11 guys fly to the football. We had spurts of that, but we weren’t consistent enough.”
Kritzeck was named to the Midwest Red District team while Noah Morris received the team’s Gary Rehn Award as the team MVP and earned district honorable mention honors. Yliniemi received the Mike McClelland Award as the Panthers’ Defensive MVP while Johanning was named the team’s Offensive MVP. Eischens received the Kip Gauldin Leadership Award.
Other team awards went to Hartung (Teammate Award and Versatility Award), Martin (Top Defensive Lineman), Eischens (Top Lineman), Graham and Harrison (Most Inspirational), D’Andre Johnson and Ravnaas (Most Improved Players), Hrdlicka (Kamikaze Award), and Carroll and Clark (Newcomer Award),
The Panthers will have to replace the contributions of the eight seniors, but Nordick is counting on the returning players to step up and put a very competitive team on the field next fall.
“I’m proud of the seniors. They’re great kids who had great attitudes and did everything right. We’re going to miss them,” said Nordick. “The kids coming back are excited for next year and I have high expectations for them. I really believe in my staff. They are football guys who love coaching and hate losing. They have the drive to get us to the next level. Going into every season I have the expectation of playing for the section championship. That’s my mentality every season. We need the kids to buy into that mentality. If they do, we’re going to be a really, really good football team. We have a lot of potential coming up. The challenge is out there for these kids to get bigger, faster and stronger. If they choose to do the work, we’re going to have some fun Friday nights next year.”