Season was substantial for Panthers
Being able to play seven games was crucial to the future of the Park Rapids football program.
It wasn’t an ideal season for the Park Rapids football team, but it was way better than the alternative.
Before the season started, the Minnesota State High School League decided to push the football season back to the spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The MSHSL later reversed that decision, moving football back to the fall with six regular-season games and hopes of having section and state playoffs.
Being able to play seven games this fall was key for this year’s seniors and the future of the Panthers’ program.
“Back in the summer, we were unsure what type of season we were going to have. I remember talking to (seniors) Joe Huber and Lane Monaghan in the weight room. They both said that they understand that things will be different, and possibly cut short. They were hoping to even get any sort of game in. So, as far as having a season, I think it was a success,” said Park Rapids head coach Jeremy Nordick. “We got in seven games, which was great considering where we were back in the summer with so much uncertainty. We had a very young team. For a good portion of the season, we only had 2-4 seniors playing on either side of the ball. So getting that experience for our young guys this season playing seven games was big for our program. We knew going in that we would be very young and inexperienced, so any varsity opportunities our kids could get was a bonus.”
Despite posting a 1-5 record during the regular season, just getting on the field was a success for the Panthers.
Park Rapids opened the season by playing the top teams in Section 8AAA and were outscored 108-19 by Perham, Pequot Lakes and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton.
The Panthers compiled 197 yards in offense while allowing 402 yards in a 40-7 loss to Perham in the season opener. Perham led 40-0 at the half.
In Week 2, Pequot Lakes led 22-6 at the half in a 28-6 victory. Park Rapids had 211 yards in offense and turned the ball over four times while the Patriots finished with 257 yards.
In Week 3, D-G-F compiled 357 yards in offense in a 40-6 victory. The Rebels led 34-0 at the half. Park Rapids finished with 192 yards offensively.
The Panthers used 193 yards in offense to spark a 22-16 victory over Thief River Falls at Bemidji State University in Week 4. Thief River Falls led 8-6 at the break.
Fergus Falls dominated the second half in a 35-0 win over the Panthers in Week 5. The Otters, who led 6-0 at the half, compiled 269 yards in offense while holding Park Rapids to 168 yards.
Park Rapids ended the regular season with a 33-30 loss to East Grand Forks. The Panthers, who led 14-12 at the half, threw for 252 yards and had 312 yards in offense.
During the regular season, the Panthers were outscored 192-70.
For the Section 8AAA playoffs, Park Rapids received the No. 6 seed and had its season end with a 57-12 loss to No. 3 Perham. The Panthers rushed for 226 yards and had 325 yards in offense while Perham compiled 458 yards. This game was tied at 12-12 before Perham took a 36-12 lead into the half by scoring three times in the final 4:06.
D-G-F (4-0) received the No. 1 seed while Pequot Lakes (4-2) was the No. 2 seed for the section playoffs. Following Perham’s 3-3 record were Fergus Falls (2-4) and East Grand Forks (2-3). Thief River Falls (1-4) and Roseau (which didn’t play a section opponent in going 0-6) rounded out the section seeds. The section semifinals and championship game were not held when the season was halted because of COVID-19 issues.
In addition to Huber and Monaghan, 25 players earned letters this season. That group featured seniors James Hartig, Kenton Klein, Kaiden Walsh, Tate Usher, Chaise Persons, Ronaldo De La Cruz Gomez and Caleb David; juniors Nick Michaelson, Kobe Burton, Parker Harmon, Logan Jackson, Jaxson Lund, Kaleb Stearns, Sam Reish, Josiah May and Tristan Hill; sophomores Mason Yliniemi, Ethan Eischens, Luke Hartung, Cory Johnson, Gavin Nisius, Mike White, Harley Wellman and Lucas Kritzeck; and freshman Noah Morris.
Starting on the offensive line were Yliniemi (right tackle), Eischens (right guard), Hill (center), White (left guard) and Nisius (right tackle). David and May were the main running backs with Michaelson and Hartig starting at wide receiver. Jackson was the starting tight end and Morris took over as the starting quarterback. Also playing key roles on offense were Monaghan (wide receiver), Wellman (right tackle) and Walsh (left guard).
David was the Panthers’ leading rusher during the six regular-season games, carrying the ball 60 times for 314 yards. May rushed 50 times for 143 yards, and Morris had 134 yards on 60 carries with three touchdowns.
May started the season at quarterback, completing 11 of 32 passes for 148 yards and one TD before moving to running back. Morris took over at quarterback and completed 30 of 71 passes for 464 yards and five TDs.
Michaelson, who also completed a 71-yard TD strike, was Park Rapids’ main receiver by catching 13 passes for 270 yards and two TDs. Hartig caught 10 passes for 153 yards and three TDs while David (five receptions for 102 yards and a TD), Reish (four receptions for 63 yards and a TD), Jackson (three receptions for 37 yards), May (three receptions for 18 yards) and Usher (two receptions for 18 yards) also aided the passing game.
Morris and Hartig led the team by scoring 18 points each while Michaelson had 14 points and Reish scored 10 points during the regular season. David led the way with 478 all-purpose yards with Hartig (317), Michaelson (270), May (178) and Morris (141) following. Reish rushed 17 times for 136 yards and two TDs in the Panthers’ playoff loss to Perham.
The Panthers turned the ball over 14 times during the regular season, including 11 interceptions and three lost fumbles.
Leading the defense up front were Michaelson (end), Kritzeck (tackle) and May (nose guard). The linebackers were David, Hill, Usher, Huber and Burton while Hartig, Hartung and Reish started in the secondary. Also playing key minutes defensively were Klein (nose guard), Wellman (linebacker), Persons (linebacker) and Monaghan (defensive back).
David led the defense with 53 tackles, including 42 solo tackles. Hill had 42 tackles (including 26 solo), Michaelson had 28 tackles (including 15 solo), Burton had 24 tackles (including 16 solo), Hartig had 20 solo tackles, Usher had 16 tackles (including 15 solo), White had 16 tackles (including 10 solo), Reish had 16 tackles (including 13 solo), May had 15 solo tackles, Huber had 12 tackles, Kritzeck had 12 tackles (including 10 solo), Monaghan was in on 10 tackles and Wellman was in on 10 tackles.
Hill forced three fumbles and recovered two fumbles while David had three tackles for loss and two quarterback sacks. May led the team with six tackles for loss while Reish had two interceptions. Park Rapids’ defense forced eight turnovers during the regular season.
Michaelson handled the kickoff and punting duties while Hartig and Morris were the primary kickoff and punt returners. De La Cruz Gomez kicked two extra points.
The leadership provided by the seniors was key to setting the tone for next season.
“This senior group was very special to the growth process of Park Rapids Football. All of them were great leaders on and off the field. I wish things would've been different for them throughout the years. There were some that decided to come out for their senior year that hadn't played since 8th or 9th grade. I am glad they were able to regain their passion for the sport and create some fun memories for the future,” said Nordick. “I am certainly going to miss all of them very much, and wish I had more time with all of them. Our captains (David, Hartig, Huber and Monaghan) all did such an outstanding job in showing our young guys the attitude we want to have moving forward and also making a lot of highlights on the field to go with it. Every senior group is special, however, I really enjoyed working with these kids because they are all great guys to be around. They understood when it was time to work and when it was time to loosen things up with some humor.”
Although the Panthers will have to replace the contributions of the senior class, Nordick is looking forward to a successful season in 2021.
“I couldn't be more proud of this football team for staying positive and working as hard as they did all season. I've said it before that all these young guys absolutely love football. It showed every day out on the field. They are anxious to improve, want to learn the game and want to push this program forward,” said Nordick. “Expectations for next fall are simple. We have a lot of young guys back. We played with a lot of confidence in that first half against Perham. We need to build off of that and hit the ground running next fall. If we can get bigger, faster and stronger, we'll be very competitive in Section 8AAA. If our young guys can put together a solid off season and gain some mass in the weight room, we should be very tough to beat.”
PARK RAPIDS OFFENSIVE STATISTICS
(Six regular-season games)
RUSHING: David 60-314, May 50-143, Morris 60-134 (3 TDs), Reish 8-14.
PASSING: Morris 39-71-8 for 464 yards (5 TDs), May 11-32-3 for 148 yards (1 TD), Michaelson 1-3-0 for 71 yards (1 TD).
RECEIVING: Michaelson 13-270 (2 TDs), Hartig 10-153 (3 TDs), David 5-102 (1 TD), Reish 4-63 (1 TD), Jackson 3-37, May 3-18, Usher 2-18, Monaghan 2-8, Stearns 1-3.
KICKOFF RETURNS: Hartig 8-144, Monaghan 8-53, David 4-62, May 1-17, Stearns 1-12.
PUNT RETURNS: Hartig 3-20, Morris 1-4.
PARK RAPIDS DEFENSIVE STATISTICS
(Six regular-season games)
SOLO TACKLES: David 42, Hill 26, Hartig 20, K. Burton 16, Michaelson 15, Usher 15, Reish 13, Kritzeck 10, White 10, Persons 10, May 9, Huber 7, Klein 6, Jackson 5, Monaghan 5, Wellman 5, Morris 4, Harmon 3, Nisius 3, Lund 2, Hartung 2, Arola 2, Stearns 1, Walsh 1, Yliniemi 1, Eischens 1.
ASSISTED TACKLES: Hill 16, Michaelson 13, David 11, K. Burton 8, May 6, White 6, Huber 5, Monaghan 5 Wellman 5, Persons 4, Jackson 3, Reish 3, Nisius 3, Kritzeck 2, Lund 1, Usher 1, Morris 1 Harmon 1, Klein 1, Arola 1, Eischens 1.
TACKLES FOR LOSS: May 6, David 3, Hill 2, Usher 1, Michealson 1.
QUARTERBACK SACKS: David 2, Huber 1, May 1, Hill 1.
INTERCEPTIONS: Reish 2, Morris 1.
FUMBLE RECOVERIES: Hill 2, Morris 1, Monaghan 1, Michaelson 1.
FORCED FUMBLES: Hill 3, Reish 1, David 1.
BLOCKED PUNT: White 1.