Perham kicks off with big game at rival Pelican Rapids
The Perham football team will open their season on the road Friday, Aug. 31, at Pelican Rapids attempting to snap a two-game losing streak to the rival Vikings and scratch a seven-year itch in which the Yellowjackets have won only once in seven meetings.
"The Pelican Rapids game is always big for us for two reasons," Perham Head Coach Mike Jordahl said. "One, it is our opener and everyone I know wants to start the season off with a positive outcome. Two, Pelican has given us some extremely tough competition the past few years and we are working hard to prepare for them. It's always a great game."
Pelican Rapids hung on for a tight 21-20 victory in last season's opener in Perham. The Vikings looked to have the game in hand up 21-6 after quarterback Devin Schell scored the third Pelican Rapids touchdown with 6:03 remaining in the game.
Perham quarterback Jordan Hein put the offense on his shoulders and marched the team for two scores in three minutes. Hein scored on a 1-yard run and a 4-yard touchdown run.
A two-point conversion to Gabe Pankonin cut the score to 21-14, before Hein's second touchdown run cut the lead to one point with 1:33 remaining.
The Yellowjackets elected to go for the win and a second point-after pass attempt to Pankonin was knocked down by Casey Bruggeman.
Bruggeman dove in front of Pankonin to get his hands on the ball at the goal line preserving the victory for the Vikings.
Perham was a second away from taking a 6-0 lead into halftime. A Hein 13-yard pass to Pankonin provided the only first half scoring until the final play before the break.
Schell heaved a 25-yard prayer to the front corner pylon and 6-foot-five-inch receiver Tucker Forsgren outstretched two Yellowjackets and came down with a miracle score at the buzzer to tie the game at six.
Perham kicker Jesse Hein's PAT had been blocked. Cris Molina booted his through the uprights sending momentum and a one-point advantage with the Vikings to the locker room at the break up 7-6.
Pelican Rapids won the season opener the year prior in Pelican by a score of 31-7.
Last season, Perham struggled early getting off to a 2-3 start with potential victories in each of the three losses. After a tough 25-14 loss at Pequot Lakes, another game which saw a hail mary completed against them, the Yellowjackets reeled off six consecutive victories, including a 10-3 rematch win over the Patriots at Alerus Center in the Section final.
The streak came to an end against Providence Academy at St. Cloud State, 28-19, in the Class 3A state quarterfinals.
The Yellowjackets have the opportunity to harness big momentum and a confidence boost from a victory. Another loss to such heated rivals gets the season off with a grim taste in the mouth guard.
Although, last year, Perham proved the first game does not mean everything in a season.
Pelican Rapids finished their season 3-6, bounced in a less than polite manner by 2A powerhouse Barnesville, 44-3, in the first round of the playoffs.
Pelican Rapids returns starting seniors Forsgren, who led the team on defense from his linebacker position, and Schell at quarterback. Lineman Ian Johnson and Marshal Ohe will also fill roles they had last season.
"We have some good skill players and with some returning linemen it should give us a good mix of being able to pass and run," Vikings head coach Dave Haugen said.
Perham finished with a record of 8-4 and a trip to the state quarters.
"The key to early success will be our offensive line and how they react to adversity," Jordahl said. "So far, in practice, they have made big strides and we have high expectations of them."
Offensive expectations will surely land on the shoulders of Hein, who proved last season he affects games with his immense talent on both sides of the ball.
Hein single-handedly led a huge charge for a comeback win at 4A Detroit Lakes last season scoring seemingly at will and not just from the offensive side.
"With Jordan's ability at QB, we expect people to pay close attention to him," Jordahl said. "We also have some very good receivers in Josh Nordick, Eric Brauch, Tyler Glines, and others. In addition, our backfield as really showed some promise with Payton Jordahl, Nick Bahls, Austin Erickson, and Josh Still leading the way there. We have nice depth in our backfield, which constantly pushes those on the top of the charts to work even harder."
On defense, the secondary and linebackers return starters. The big question will be on the line.
"Defensively, our backfield and our linebackers are showing some of their last year experience early in practice and have shown solid performances on the practice field. Although our defensive line may not be returning starters, we feel we have five or six players to step in and get the job done.
"The guys have really been working hard and are extremely focused on having another successful season this year. They all get along well, support each other, and compete to make each other better everyday. What really stands out in the locker room and on the field is the cohesiveness they have from the freshmen up to the seniors. They have lots of respect for each other and that is something special. With the success our program has had for the past several years, our tradition is strong, our athletes are smart, and they are very coachable. This creates a great formula for success, we feel as a staff."
The opener will also mark the start of the 40th year for Coach John McEachran on the sidelines for the Yellow Jackets. McEachran came to Perham in the fall of 1973 and has been the offensive line coach from day one. He is a graduate of St. Louis Park High School and Bemidji State where he wrestled and played offensive guard for the Beavers. Ironically, first year coach John Lubitz, a student of the 'McEachran Way,' begins his first year as part of the 'Jacket staff.
Friday's opener at Pelican Rapids will set the tone early for a team looking for momentum to start the quest for a return to the state tournament.
Perham and Pelican Rapids are charter members of the Heart 'O Lakes Conference, meaning these teams have squared off for more than 60 years.
(last seven seasons)
2005-PR 21, PER 12
2006-PR 28, PER 20
2007-PR 14, PER 13
2008-PR 34, PER 6
2009-PER 32, PR 0
2010-PR 31, PER 7
2011-PR 21, PER 20
8/31 7:00 PM @ Pelican Rapids (8AA)
9/7 7:00 PM Park Rapids Area (8AAA)
9/14 7:00 PM D-G-F H.S. (8AAA)
9/21 7:00 PM @ Crookston (8AAA)
9/28 7:00 PM Pequot Lakes (8AAA)
10/12 7:00 PM Detroit Lakes (8AAAA)
10/17 7:00 PM @ East Grand Forks (8AAAA)