Confident Yellowjackets steady in victory over Panthers 34-12
PERHAM - The No. 7-ranked Perham Yellowjackets overcame some early failures on offense to turn a tight game into a blowout 34-12 over Park Rapids in Perham's home opener.
The Panthers came into the game concentrating on containing Jordan Hein and Payton Jordahl and the Perham rushing attack.
"They run the ball very well and help and compliment each other," Panthers Head Coach Aaron Morris said in a pregame interview with Lakes 99.5's Mike Peterson.
Jordan Hein rushed for three scores and showed his game-changing talents controlling field position and the ball in a strong Perham second half.
The first half, however, was a game of penalties and turnovers for both teams.
After stalling on the first drive of the game, Josh Nordick intercepted Tyler McCollum on Park Rapids' first play from scrimmage and returned the ball 22 yards to midfield.
Perham drove to the eight-yard line but stalled on fourth and two as Hein was stuffed at the nine.
The Perham defense, which played stellar all game, forced a punt to give Perham the ball with excellent field position inside the Park Rapids 40.
Penalties backed up the Yellowjackets past midfield and another scoring opportunity was squandered.
Park Rapids had yet to attain a first down in an opening quarter where they were on their collective heels.
Momentum changed quickly.
On third and seven, McCollum hit Zach Eystad from 59 yards for a quick strike to the end zone with 01:48 remaining in the first quarter. Eric Brauch blocked Ian Johnson's PAT kick. The Panthers surprisingly led 6-0.
Perham ended the opening frame continuing to battle penalties and a drive that ended in a Payton Jordahl fumble to give Park Rapids a chance to take control.
The Yellowjacket defense showed up again to stymie another Panther drive.
Dan Ingebrand forced a fumble by McCollum that was recovered by Kyle Sonnenberg at the Panther 32.
Facing a fourth and two at the 24, yellow hankies again thwarted Perham's offensive efforts. An illegal motion penalty gave the ball back to Park Rapids.
"Our team can be a lot better from what we've shown so far," Perham Head Coach Mike Jordahl said. "It's very clear what we need to work on and a lot of it is mental - being disciplined and minimizing those penalties."
The Panther crowd and sideline were boisterous. While the game was close on the scoreboard, thoughts of an upset were creeping in based solely on the lack of execution by the Perham offense.
However, the popular axiom of defense wins championships was on the backs of a Perham defensive core that would not allow the game to get out of hand.
"I don't think anyone really panicked," Jordahl said. "I think it was more frustration than panic. The kids believe in each other and we believe in the kids as a staff and that's pretty obvious the way they came out in the second half. They're calm, cool and collected and just an awesome group of seniors and juniors and younger kids who are great leaders out there."
Park Rapids mounted a drive seemingly taking control of the ballgame until Brady Sazama picked off McCollum on the Perham 34 to stop a 13-play Panther drive.
Three plays later, Jesse Wunderlich was brought out to punt as Perham failed to capitalize on a third turnover.
The defense trotted out to the field to take matters into their own hands again refusing to let Park Rapids take command.
On third and 13, Nordick hauled in his second interception at midfield and returned the ball to the Park Rapids 37.
This time, quarterback Jordan Hein and the Perham offense would not be denied.
Eric Brauch hauled in one of his four catches of the game and Payton Jordahl rushed for 18 yards on two attempts leading to a 14-yard touchdown run from Hein to knot the score at six with 3:07 remaining. The PAT kick was wide left.
After the score, a bank of lights in the southeast corner of the 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 under two minutes remaining setting up an eight-play, 67-yard drive to give Perham the lead for good.
Hein connected with 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.
Nordick had four receptions on the night for 77 yards to go with his two interceptions and returns for 37 yards in a big night on both sides of the line of scrimmage for the Perham senior.
Perham seized control in the second half and coasted to victory in the fourth quarter.
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.
Hein and Eli Beachy ran in touchdowns from a yard out and 15-yards out, respectively, for the only scores in the fourth quarter to turn a game of miscues into a comfortable 34-12 win.
The Perham defense allowed six points in each half in a game they were tested in and passed with flying colors.
Ingebrand led Perham for the second straight game with nine tackles, three solo and a forced fumble following up an 18-tackle performance in the opener over Pelican Rapids.
"I don't think we lost any confidence," Ingebrand said. "We know they're going to score on us, but we just buckled down in the second half. The second half is our half."
Payton Jordahl also had nine tackles, five solo.
The Perham defense held Park Rapids to only 10 first downs and 226 total yards.
By way of comparison, Perham had 22 first downs and 426 total yards of offense, 243 yards on the ground led by Hein's 98.
As a team, Park Rapids was held to just 77 yards rushing.
Perham was 4-6 in the red zone after the two early miscues.
After two games, the Yellowjackets are brimming with confidence.
The first two games have provided plenty of obstacles to overcome and the team, on both sides of the ball, has stepped up to those challenges.
As they improve, a future opponent is going to see four solid quarters of football from this team and should be wary.
"We can do some damage," said Ingebrand.