A touchdown negated by a penalty and three first-half turnovers that led to two scores were mistakes Walker-Hackensack-Akeley was unable to overcome Friday night as host Pelican Rapids won the season opener 32-18.
The Wolves turned the ball over seven times, including three times on downs in the Vikings’ end. WHA’s defense, which had several missed tackles and gave up some big pass plays, forced four turnovers, but three of them came in the second half after falling behind 32-6.
The Wolves did have a 337 to 262 advantage on offense, but the Vikings out-gained WHA 166 to 155 yards in the first half as they jumped out to a 24-6 lead.
Coach Aaron Pfeiffer didn’t just blame the loss on turnovers, but also on the fundamentals the team has been going over in practice and will continue to do so. There were several missed tackles, poor blocking and lazy route running by the receivers.
“We’re starting to move the ball and we turn it over. We couldn’t come back from that,” the coach said. “We were also not able to do some things [offensively] that we should have by running the ball better.”
Riley Welk still managed to have a nice game by rushing for 129 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown. He completed 6-11 passes for 43 yards, with two of his passes picked off. The first interception was a pass he floated and the second was when the defender took the ball away from a receiver.
Steven Hausken rushed for 41 yards on 16 carries and caught three passes for 22 yards. Gavin Johannsen rushed five times for 18 yards and Kai Ashmore came off the bench in the fourth quarter to carry the ball eight times for 90 yards and a touchdown. Jacob Smith tossed a 13-yard fourth-quarter touchdown to Carson Strosahl.
On the defensive side, Caden Opheim forced two fumbles and recovered one, Josh Kuhlman picked off a pass and Ethan Anderson forced and recovered a fumble.
Welk led with eight solos and one assist, Colton Hein had four solos and six assists, Cole Rasmussen four solos, TJ Smith had three solos, Kuhlman two solos and two assists, Johannsen one solo and five assists, and Tom Hansen and Opheim each recorded a sack.
The Wolves received the opening kick-off and after picking up a first down, Welk floated his first pass and Jayden Rutherford picked it off at the 42 and returned it to the 10. Two plays later quarterback McHale Korf scored on a four-yard run and also ran in the conversion for an 8-0 lead.
WHA’s second possession started at their 40 after a 17-yard return by Hausken. Two first downs and nine plays later Hausken scored on a 20-yard run around the left end, but a holding penalty negated the play. Four plays later the Wolves turned the ball over on downs at the 26.
A 47-yard run by Rutherford on the next play led to a 23-yard pitch and catch from Korf to Logan Fahje on the final play of the opening quarter. Rutherford ran in the conversion for a 16-0 lead.
The ensuing drive ended in another turnover as Korf ripped the ball out of the hands of the receiver and returned to WHA’s 30. A targeting and taunting penalties on the return backed up the Vikings 30 yards, and four plays later they were punting for the first time.
The Wolves marched 87 yards in 10 plays to finally get on the scoreboard with 4:20 left in the half. Welk was flushed out of the pocket and out-sprinted the defense to the corner of the end zone for a 37-yard score. The senior tried to find a receiver open on a roll-out, but no one got open and he came up short on the two point conversion.
WHA’s defense did force a turnover on the Vikings’ next series as Kuhlman picked off a pass that set up the offense at the 24 with about three minutes left on the clock. Three plays later WHA coughed up the ball on a fumble. Two plays after that Johnny Ziebell broke a couple tackles and sprinted 56 yards, and two plays later Korf found Rutherford open in the end zone for the score. Rutherford ran in the conversion for a 24-6 lead at the half.
The Vikings received the ball to start the second half at midfield after a great return by Korf. The Vikings went to the no-huddle and nine plays later, Rutherford ran over a defender and scored on a three-yard run. Rutherford also ran in the conversion for a 26-point lead.
On the ensuing possession, the Wolves turned the ball over on downs at the Vikings’ 38, but the defense did its job and forced a three-and-out.
Each team turned the ball over on their ensuing possessions in the fourth quarter, after which both pulled their offensive starters. A second fumble by the Vikings, forced and recovered by Opheim, set the Wolves at the 34. Seven plays later Smith found a wide open Strosahl in the end zone for the score.
The Wolves got the ball right back as the special teams forced a fumble on the kick-off. Two plays later and with 18 seconds remaining, Ashmore scampered 28 yards for the final score.