8AAA Football Preview: Park Rapids Area versus Perham
The No. 5-3A top-seeded Perham Yellowjackets (8-1) football team faces the No. 2-seeded Park Rapids Area Panthers (5-5) for the second time this season at Fargodome, Friday, Nov. 2 at 5:30 p.m., for the Section 8-3A championship and a berth in the state quarterfinals in Duluth Saturday, Nov. 10.
Perham defeated Park Rapids 34-12 Sept. 7 in Perham.
The Panthers, however, have proven recently that they can turn a prior loss into a victory.
The Panthers had a record of 3-5 after a 16-6 loss to Roseau in the final regular season game on Oct. 17 in Roseau.
After whitewashing winless Staples-Motley 41-6 to open the playoffs, Park Rapids faced Roseau again, but on home turf in the 8AAA section semifinals.
According to a story from Vance Carlson, of Forum Communications' Park Rapids Enterprise, "In the regular-season finale, a muddy field at Roseau hindered the running game of the Park Rapids football team in a 16-6 loss.
"Footing wasn't a problem for the Panthers in the rematch Saturday afternoon at Vern Weekley Field.
"The Panthers compiled 362 yards, including 184 yards on the ground, in the first half alone in building a 34-6 lead en route to a 41-14 victory in a Section 8AAA semifinal playoff game."
The game was decided early as the Panthers scored on five of their first six possessions.
Perham had a similar semifinal victory over Crookston busting out to a 21-0 halftime lead and cruising to a 35-14 win.
Both Park Rapids and Perham battled mental mistakes, penalties and turnovers in the first half of their early September meeting in week two.
Park Rapids jumped out to a 6-0 lead when Tyler McCollum hit Zach Eystad from 59 yards out for a quick strike to the end zone down the middle of the field with 1:48 remaining in the first quarter.
Jordan Hein scored on a 14-yard touchdown run to tie the score at six with 3:07 remaining in the half.
After the score, a bank of lights in the southeast corner of Ted Meinhover field on the Park Rapids sideline temporarily went out.
It was a sign of things to come for the Panthers.
The Yellowjacket defense handed the ball back to the offense on their own 33 with less than two minutes remaining in the half setting up an eight-play, 67-yard drive to give Perham the lead for good.
Hein connected with Josh Nordick from 37 yards for the go-ahead score. Nordick made an acrobatic catch over Eystad to haul in the pass.
Nick Bahls' kick was good for a 13-7 lead 52 seconds before halftime giving Perham complete charge of momentum.
Hein scored on the Yellowjackets' opening drive of the third quarter on a 19-yard run capping a nine-play, 60-yard drive to bump the score to 20-6.
McCollum kept the Panthers alive passing five yards to Noah MacPherson with 3:24 remaining in the third quarter to keep the game a one-score affair at 20-12, but Park Rapids would get no closer.
After losing their first three games, Park Rapids has won five of seven to reach the section final.
Perham's only blemish is a 36-28 loss at home to then No. 5-4A Detroit Lakes, the eventual Heart O' Lakes Conference Champions.
Park Rapids faced the Lakers in DL Oct. 5, one week prior to Perham. Detroit Lakes won that game 40-22.
The Lakers entered the playoffs ranked No. 3 in Class 4A and have a record of 9-0 heading into their own Section 8AAAA final versus Rocori at Fargodome Thursday, Nov. 1 at 8 p.m.
Both Park Rapids and Perham will benefit from an indoor game at Fargodome showcasing the speed of both offenses.
The crux of this game will come down to defense.
It was the first time the teams met with Perham's defense standing their ground and refusing to let the Panthers take control of a game of turnovers early before holding the Panthers at bay in the second half.
Once Perham got the flags back in the pockets of the referees, Hein and the Perham offense took over to run away from the Panthers.
Park Rapids stuffed Hein inside the 10 on fourth down to stymie the second Yellowjacket drive of the game.
The Panthers will have to do that for four quarters to stick with the Perham quarterback and his arsenal of weapons.
Combine that with the fact that Perham has outscored their opponents 77-35 in the fourth quarter this year to make the Panthers' task more difficult as the game goes along.
Perham has pounded the ball with Payton Jordahl (418 yards rushing) and Hein has used his superb talents to find plenty of open field to the tune of 1,276 yards rushing.
Hein ran for two touchdowns and threw for three against Crookston in Perham's opening playoff game.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior rushed for 216 yards and four touchdowns as Perham beat the East Grand Forks Green Wave 24-6 on the road in the season finale.
There is no question how to defeat Perham. The question is how do you control Hein?
Hein has accounted for 11 of Perham's last dozen touchdowns going back to the Detroit Lakes game.
Hein rushed for 98 yards and three touchdowns to defeat Park Rapids the first time.
If Park Rapids can find a way to contain Hein on the ground, he has proven equally dangerous passing, when needed.
Hein has completed 66 of 114 passes for 893 yards with only two interceptions and 11 touchdowns this season.
Hein is averaging just less than 100 yards per game passing at 99.2.
Combined with a 140.8 yards rushing per game average, Hein accounts for nearly 240 yards per game when he can incorporate his two main targets, Eric Brauch and Nordick, in the passing game.
"Offensively, most teams have been keying on Jordan Hein all year," Perham Head Coach Mike Jordahl said. "The great thing about that is we have other players that know how and when to step up, rely on their blockers, and move the football."
The passing game is not limited to Brauch and Nordick. Hein has hit seven Yellowjackets for passing touchdowns.
Brauch has five touchdown catches.
Nordick, Tyler Glines, CJ Mulcahy, Nick Bahls, Eli Beachy and Austin Erickson have all found the end zone once.
McCollum is no slouch at quarterback for Park Rapids. He completed 54 of 133 for 900 yards. McCollum threw for 11 touchdowns with nine INTs.
McCollum will face a different Perham defense the second go-around.
Perham will be without the services of their second leading tackler, Dan Ingebrand.
Ingebrand will not play for a second consecutive week due to illness.
Ingebrand has 75 tackles, second to Payton Jordahl's 87. Ingebrand leads the team with six tackles for loss.
In ten games, Park Rapids allowed 227 points, while scoring 220.
The Panthers will need an exceptional defensive game against an exceptional offense led by Division I recruit Hein to have any chance to win.
"Park Rapids has made some great gains this year," Coach Jordahl said. "We feel that if we play disciplined defense and follow our reads and keys, we'll be able to slow down their offense enough to get the ball in our hands."
Park Rapids is entering the game with confidence, as well, having hit their stride in the playoffs.
"From day one, our goal was to win two playoff games and get to the Fargodome," said Park Rapids Head Coach Aaron Morris after the win over Roseau. "Now that we're there, we're not content. We can beat Perham if we play a good game. These kids have worked hard and have accomplished a lot. We want to keep it rolling and get to state."
Perham can win this game with a good effort.
Park Rapids will need a great effort to send the Yellowjackets back to Perham and advance to next week's match-up with Esko in Duluth.