Detroit Lakes has had a tough stretch of road games leading to Friday's final chance to get a win away from Mollberg Field in the regular season. While the Lakers' big-play offense shined in recent weeks, it was the defense that stood on its head to spoil Park Rapids' senior night.
The Lakers (4-3) hung on to beat the Panthers (1-6) 20-14. However, Park Rapids had its chances to take the lead in Detroit Lakes' territory three separate times in the fourth quarter.
Trailing by six and facing a fourth down inside the Lakers' 10-yard line, quarterback Noah Morris had his favorite target, Logan Jackson, in single coverage toward the end zone. Detroit Lakes junior Tyson Ullyott broke up the jump ball to force a turnover on downs.
Big time stop for DL inside the 10 yard line. Tyson Ullyott makes the play of the game to keep DL’s 20-14 lead pic.twitter.com/5UTUeXPGif— Jared Rubado (@DLtribSports) October 16, 2021
"We were playing man-coverage, so I was taught to look at the guy and not the ball," Ullyott said. When I saw the ball go into his hands, I punched it out. The size of the dog in the fight doesn't matter when the fight in the dog is bigger."
After a Detroit Lakes punt, it was Ullyott again coming up with a big defensive play. On third-and-long in Laker territory, Ullyott picked off Morris to set his offense up at its three-yard line.
"Their quarterback and (Jackson) had a pretty good connection," Ullyott said. "We were in a coverage where all I had to do was look at the quarterback. I saw him roll out and point at his guy to drag him across. I decided to stay with that guy. He threw that ball, and it fell right in my lap."
Detroit Lakes chewed time off the clock by running and throwing the ball in the final six minutes of the game. Senior quarterback Bradly Swiers showed how dynamic his game is by beating Panther defenders in many different ways late in the game.
"It's great to have that trust from your coaches," Swiers said. "They know we have guys that can make plays. It worked really well. We grinded it out tonight. Nobody got down when we were pinned deep."
On third down with two minutes left, the Lakers went back to the "Philly Special," where senior running back Christian Solberg received a pitch before finding an open receiver downfield. Chuck Kalina came down with what was thought to be a game-clinching first down before the gain was called back on an ineligible player downfield penalty.
The Lakers punted the ball back to the Panthers with 1:41 remaining. Park Rapids' final drive of the game lasted just four plays as the Detroit Lakes defense swarmed each ball carrier to close out the fourth win of the season. Gavin Smith recorded a sack on second-and-long to put the Panthers' hopes in dire straits before the defense clutched up the final two plays.
"I think our defense has really good chemistry," Ullyott said. "We all trust each other to make the plays that we need to make. We knew we had to go out there and get a stop for this team."
Swiers got the offense out on the right foot on its first drive of the game with a six-yard touchdown run. Despite a banged-up unit, the offensive line gave Swiers time to successfully run and throw the ball on Friday.
TOUCHDOWN: Swiers runs in a six-yard touchdown run. Pretty fluent drive for the Lakers to start this game. PAT snap goes over the head of Swiers, the holder. Lakers lead 6-0, 8:22 1Q pic.twitter.com/mitJwpouao— Jared Rubado (@DLtribSports) October 16, 2021
"They've been amazing," Swiers said of his offensive line. "I've been knocked down a couple of times, but I stay pretty clean during games for the most part. It helps me deliver good balls to receivers, and that all starts with them."
Morris threw interceptions on back-to-back drives to start the game offensively for Park Rapids, but the Panthers didn't go down quietly. Morris found Jackson on a 24-yard strike to take a 7-6 lead late in the second quarter.
"They did a really good job of getting their playmakers in spots to be successful," Detroit Lakes head coach Reed Hefta said. "It makes things very difficult. They're a heck of a team, and much better than their record says. Whether it's one year or four years, whenever they get it going, they're going to be dangerous."
It didn't take long for the Lakers to respond with another six-yard rushing touchdown. This time, Ethan Carrier gave Detroit Lakes a 14-7 lead with under two minutes left in the first half. Carrier was one of several Detroit Lakes skill players to succeed on the ground and through the air.
TOUCHDOWN: Ethan Carrier with a six-yard scamper to take a 12-5 lead. Swiers found Solberg for the conversion. Lakers lead 14-7, 1:50 2Q pic.twitter.com/q5iJQDEyI4— Jared Rubado (@DLtribSports) October 16, 2021
"It's crazy how many offensive weapons this team has, and it's hard to stop," I trust each and every single person to catch that ball when I throw it or to pick up a first down if we run it."
Park Rapids found another spark when Kaleb Stearns returned the opening kickoff inside the Lakers' 20-yard line. After a pass interference call kept the short drive alive, Tristin Hill ran in the game-tying touchdown from six yards out.
TOUCHDOWN: Park Rapids ties the game on a six-yard TD run from Tristin Hill. Walen’s Pat is good. Kaleb Stearns returned the opening kick inside the red zone. A PI call have the Panthers life at the goal line. 14-14, 10:53 3Q pic.twitter.com/DIMSRvTV4O— Jared Rubado (@DLtribSports) October 16, 2021
Despite only having one win on the season, Park Rapids gave Detroit Lakes all it could handle. But after the Hill touchdown, the defense played one of its strongest halves of the season.
"When you play in an emotional game like this against a team that hasn't beaten us in a while, and it's their senior night, you know they're going to come at you," Hefta said. This was a chance for us to build our identity on defense. We put hats on the football today, and that sprung some plays for us. We want to get to a standard where it's an expectation that our defense plays like this."
Sophomore Mason Carrier scores what would be the game-winning touchdown midway through the third quarter. Despite a missed two-point conversion attempt, the Lakers held on to pick up a big win.
Hefta was impressed with the way his team dug deep to hold off a hungry Panthers team to avoid slipping below .500.
"Our boys really stepped up today," Hefta said. "The word I would use is 'resiliency.' Just look at how they battled tonight. Tyson (Ullyott) gets beat on a deep ball and has a pass interference penalty. Then he makes the two biggest plays of the year for him. That speaks to how these kids bounce back."
DETROIT LAKES 6 8 6 0 - 20
PARK RAPIDS 0 7 7 0 - 14
SCORING- FIRST QUARTER- DETROIT LAKES- Bradley Swiers 6-yard TD run, PAT no good, 6-0, 3:38; SECOND QUARTER- PARK RAPIDS- Noah Morris 24-yard TD pass to Logan Jackson, Jaydon Walden PAT good, 7-6, 8:40; DETROIT LAKES- Ethan Carrier 6-yard TD run, Swiers conversion pass to Christian Solberg, 14-7, 10:10; THIRD QUARTER- PARK RAPIDS- Tristin Hill 6-yard run, Walen PAT good, 14-14, 1:07; DETROIT LAKES- Mason Carrier 2-yard TD run, conversion no good, 20-14, 4:34