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Seniors set solid foundation for future of Park Rapids football program

Jeremy Nordick wanted to build a solid foundation for the future success of the Park Rapids football program this fall. Led by a senior-dominated team, the Panthers were able to lay a positive groundwork in Nordick's first season as the Panthers'...

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Seniors Brendan Kruchowski (66), Jack Hensel (68) and Kian Scott (73) solidified the offensive line for quarterback Jens Anderson (7) and the Park Rapids football team this season. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Jeremy Nordick wanted to build a solid foundation for the future success of the Park Rapids football program this fall.

Led by a senior-dominated team, the Panthers were able to lay a positive groundwork in Nordick’s first season as the Panthers’ head coach.

After snapping a 10-game losing streak with back-to-back wins to open the season, the Panthers ended the season with a seven-game losing streak to finish with a 2-7 record. Of those seven losses, three were by a combined 4 points during the regular season while the final one was a 19-14 setback to Pequot Lakes in the Section 8AAA quarterfinals.

“Overall, the goal of the season was to establish a foundation and set the framework for how Panther football is going to look in the future,” said Nordick. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. With the guidance of our seniors, we have set in motion a new attitude and mentality.”

The Panthers relied on Nordick’s philosophy of playing fast and physical on defense with all 11 players converging to the football at all times; controlling the line of scrimmage up front and establishing the run game to control the tempo of the game; and relying on physicality and intensity to produce a winning mentality to put a competitive unit on the field.

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In the season opener, the Panthers rushed for 280 yards and compiled 293 yards in offense in a 46-0 victory over United North Central, which managed only two first downs in the game. Park Rapids led 28-0 at the half.

Park Rapids followed with another dominating defensive effort in a 34-0 victory over Thief River Falls in the section opener. The Panthers, who compiled 364 yards in offense (including 257 on the ground), led 14-0 at the half.

Those two wins gave Park Rapids the No. 10 spot in the state Class AAA poll entering Week 3. East Grand Forks, which was rated No. 13, held the Panthers’ offense to only 197 yards in a 13-12 victory. That gave was tied 6-6 at halftime.

Detroit Lakes, which entered Week 4 rated No. 5 in the state Class AAAA poll, racked up 345 yards in offense in a 42-14 victory. The Panthers led 6-0 before Detroit Lakes claimed a 36-6 lead at the intermission. Park Rapids finished with 208 yards in offense in that game.

Five turnovers proved costly in Week 5 as Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton prevailed 14-12. Park Rapids finished with 294 yards in offense as D-G-F won despite managing only 173 yards in offense. This game was tied 6-6 at the half.

Pequot Lakes returned two fumbles for long touchdowns to spark a 32-20 win over the Panthers in Week 6. The Panthers rushed for 198 yards and finished with 314 yards in offense in that loss. This game was tied 14-14 at the half.

Fergus Falls held Park Rapids to only 147 yards in offense in a 13-12 win in Week 7. The Otters, who forced three turnovers and had 218 yards in offense, rallied from a 12-6 halftime deficit.

In the regular-season finale, Perham compiled 383 yards in offense and capitalized on 15 Park Rapids penalties (including nine personal-foul calls) for a 50-16 victory. The Panthers trailed 14-0 at the half and finished with 255 yards in offense.

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Park Rapids received the No. 5 seed for the Section 8AAA playoffs and opened with a 19-14 loss at No. 4 Pequot Lakes. Pequot Lakes, which forced four turnovers, compiled 262 yards in offense while the Panthers racked up 319 yards on offense. The Patriots led 13-7 at the half.

Detroit Lakes won the Midwest Red District title with a 7-0 record while Perham (5-2), East Grand Forks (4-3), Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (4-3), Fergus Falls (4-3), Pequot Lakes (3-4), Park Rapids (1-6) and Thief River Falls (0-7) followed. Perham won the regular-season title in Section 8AAA with a 5-0 record while East Grand Forks (4-1), D-G-F (3-2), Pequot Lakes (2-3), Park Rapids (1-4) and Thief River Falls (0-5) followed. Perham, the No. 1 seed, defeated No. 2 East Grand Forks 42-28 in the section title game.

“Our kids had a goal to earn respect from each and every opponent and not be their ‘easy win.’ I think they achieved that goal. In talking to area coaches, we received comments as to how impressed they were with how hard our kids played on every down and how physical we were each game,” said Nordick. “I am glad we are in the district and section that we are. We are among some of the best teams in the state in this area, so it says a lot about our program when we can go give these teams a battle on any given game night. No matter what the score, we continued to battle as hard as we could, right up to the very last down in Pequot Lakes. I couldn’t be prouder of this group and how far they progressed.”

Leading the Panthers this season were the 17 seniors: Cody Dravis, Brendan Kruchowski, Tristin Persons, Spencer Fritze, Zach Fritze, Jack Hensel, Kian Scott, Jeremiah Engst, Cameron Hoyt, Jake Reish, Jacob Stewart, Nathan David, Payton Hill, Chris Day, Rylley Clark, Ty Karger and Kole Gieseke. Also earning letters this season were juniors Jens Anderson, Jeff Haas, Joseph Stachowski, Shawn Ohm, Tanner Hensel, Max Crist, Joe Klein, Brian Karkinen, Hunter Brandt, Kolby Brandt, Hunter Carnell, Gabe Arola, Austin Hodgden and Keeton Koskela; and sophomore Caleb David.

Dravis received the Gary Rehn Award as the Panthers’ MVP, Kruchowski received the Mike McClelland Award as the team’s Defense MVP and Persons was named Park Rapids’ Offensive MVP. Dravis received Midwest Red District honors while Kruchowski and Persons were all-district honorable mention players. Other team awards went to Hill (Kip Gauldin Leadership Award), Engst (Most Improved Player), Stachowski (Most Improved Player), Zach Fritze (Leadership Award and Versatile Award), Spencer Fritze (Special Teams Award and Versatile Award), Kruchowski (Special Teams Award), Anderson (Big Play Award), Karger (Newcomer Award), Clark (Most Inspirational), Stewart (Most Inspirational), Scott (Top Lineman Award), Hensel (Top Lineman Award and Teammate Award) and Nathan David (Kamikaze Award). Receiving Stalk Block Awards were Hoyt, Reish and Nathan David while Scott and Hill received Weight Room Panther Power Awards.

Anderson and Spencer Fritze started at quarterback with Anderson completing 43 of 93 passes for 458 yards and five touchdowns with six interceptions before being injured while Fritze completed 9 of 24 passes for 70 yards and four interceptions. Park Rapids averaged 59.8 yards passing per game.

In the backfield, Dravis led the Panthers by rushing 125 times for 762 yards and 10 TDs and Persons rushed 98 times for 573 yards and four TDs. Anderson gained 210 yards on 56 attempts with three TDs, Zach Fritze rushed 20 times for 112 yards and one TD, Spencer Fritze gained 51 yards on 22 carries, Caleb David rushed seven times for 48 yards and Hill gained 47 yards on 15 attempts with two TDs. The Panthers averaged 205.4 yards rushing a game with Dravis (68 points), Persons (56 points) and Anderson (18 points) accounting for the majority of the team’s 180 points.

The Panthers’ top receivers were Persons (14 catches for 193 yards and four TDs), Engst (11 catches for 134 yards and one TD), Hoyt (eight receptions for 98 yards), Nathan David (eight catches for 53 yards). Spencer Fritze (two catches for 17 yards) and Haas (three catches for 16 yards).

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Leading the offensive line were Hensel at center, Kruchowski at right guard, Scott at left guard, Karger at right tackle and Stachowski at left tackle.

Defensively, the Panthers allowed 183 points with Kruchowski (47 solo tackles, 14 assisted tackles, three quarterback sacks and two forced fumbles), Dravis (45 solo tackles, 14 assisted tackles), Hill (40 solo tackles, 11 assisted tackles, two sacks, one fumble recovery), Nathan David (31 solo tackles, eight assisted tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble), Zach Fritze (26 solo tackles, six assists, one sack, one recovered fumble) and Engst (20 solo tackles, 10 assists, two sacks, one interception, one fumble recovery, one forced fumble) leading the way at the linebacker spots. Spencer Fritze (35 solo tackles, five assists, two interceptions) was the starting free safety while Persons (19 solo tackles, four assists, four interceptions), Haas (18 solo tackles), Clark (11 solo tackles, two assists) and Reish (six solo tackles) started in the backfield. Up front were Scott (24 solo tackles, nine assists, one sack), Hensel (18 solo tackles, 11 assists, five sacks), Stachowski (seven solo tackles, three assists, one sack) and Stewart (six solo tackles, three assists, one sack).

Even though the Panthers graduate 16 seniors, Nordick is looking for the Panthers to continue to improve and put another competitive team on the field next fall.

“We graduate a load of seniors with a lot of experience. To say that I am proud of this group of seniors would be an understatement. They made a choice back in July to turn this program around and set a foundation for the future. I feel that they have done that. They were just outstanding all year long. Every practice and every game day they brought their best effort. I certainly wish I had more years to work with them. Their leadership has meant everything to moving this program in the right direction. Our young kids all through the program can take note as to how hard you need to work every day just to have a chance at a win in this section,” said Nordick. “Looking ahead to 2019, we will return a quality number of seniors along with a good group of young guys that will be pushing to start on both sides of the ball. I think the work in the offseason will tell the tale as to who will be the front runners in certain positions. Our young guys will need to keep the positive momentum going into the offseason. Nothing is ever handed to you. There is a lot to work on and I think we’ll have a solid offseason of workouts and training to get ready for next season.”

PARK RAPIDS OFFENSIVE STATISTICSRUSHING: Dravis 125-762 (10 TDs), Persons 98-573 (4 TDs), Anderson 56-210 (3 TDs), Z. Fritze 20-112 (1 TD), S. Fritze 22-51, C. David 7-48, Hill 15-47 (2 TDs), May 5-37, N. David 2-6, Koskela 3-3.PASSING: Anderson 43-93-6 for 458 yards (five TDs), S. Fritze 9-24-4 for 70 yards; May 1-2-0 for 10 yards, N. David 0-1-0 for 0 yards.RECEIVING: Persons 14-193 (four TDs), Engst 11-134 (one TD), Hoyt 8-98, N. David 8-53, Haas 3-16, S. Fritze 2-17, Crist 1-10, Clark 1-5, Dravis 1-(-1).KICKOFF RETURNS: N. David 8-165, Z. Fritze 6-88, S. Fritze 2-27, Day 1-9.PUNT RETURNS: S. Fritze 10-121. PARK RAPIDS DEFENSIVE STATISTICSSOLO TACKLES: Kruchowski 47, Dravis 45, Hill 40, S. Fritze 35, N. David 31, Z. Fritze 26, Scott 24, Engst 20, Persons 19, Haas 18, Hensel 18, Clark 11, Stachowski 7, Reish 6, Stewart 6, Day 5, Arola 4, C. David 3, Hoyt 2, Klein 2, Crist 2, K. Brandt 2, Ohm 2.ASSISTED TACKLES: Dravis 14, Kruchowski 14, Hill 11, Hensel 11, Engst 10, Scott 9, N. David 8, Z. Fritze 6, S. Fritze 5, Persons 4, Stewart 3, Stachowski 3, Clark 2, Day 2, Haas 1.TACKLES FOR LOSS: Z. Fritze 4, S. Fritze 2, Hensel 2, Scott 2, Haas 1, Reish 1, Engst 1, Day 1, Dravis 1, Hill 1, Arola 1, Stewart 1, Stachowski 1, Kruchowski 1.QUARTERBACK SACKS: Hensel 5, Kruchowski 3, Engst 2, N. David 2, Hill 2, K. Brandt 2, Day 1, Z. Fritze 1, Stewart 1, Ohm 1, Stachowski 1, Scott 1.INTERCEPTIONS: Persons 4, S. Fritze 2 (1 TD), Engst 1.FUMBLE RECOVERIES: Engst 1, Z. Fritze 1, Hill 1, Stachowski 1.FORCED FUMBLES: Kruchowski 2, Engst 1, N. David 1.

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