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Park senior quarterback Sam Domeier was 25 of 37 passing, for 265 yards and a touchdown in the Wolfpack's season-opening loss to Stillwater on Thursday night. (Submitted photo by Scott Briggs)

Park football: Wolfpack sharp early, fades in 26-7 loss to Stillwater

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Park’s new-look offense took the field by storm Thursday in its season opener against Stillwater in Cottage Grove, but the Wolfpack couldn’t sustain its early success in a 26-7 loss.

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Park (0-1, 0-1 SEC) drove 65 yards in nine plays to grab a 7-0 lead on a drive that took 2 minutes, 10 seconds as it unleashed a no huddle offense highlighted with quick, precision passes. The Wolfpack finished with 265 yards passing with senior quarterback Sam Domeier going 25 of 37 passing, but couldn’t finish off drives when it needed to inside the red zone.

Three times Park failed to score points inside the Ponies’ 20-yard line and it took its toll early. The Wolfpack missed a 26-yard field goal near the end of the first quarter and when Stillwater took possession, the Ponies (1-0, 1-0 SEC) marched 80 yards in six plays to make it a 7-6 game.

“That was just a heartbreaker,” Park head coach Darin Glazier said. “It was one of those things where you feel like we could be up 10-0 and all of a sudden, boom, a couple of big plays … 7-6. It just felt like the momentum shifted in that second quarter and it was unfortunate.”

Stillwater quarterback Trevor Tillett hit DJ Skie for a 40-yard pass on the first play of the drive and six plays later running back Zach Knox scored the first of his four touchdowns from 2 yards out. The Ponies finished with 334 yards of total offense with 239 of those coming on the ground.

The Wolfpack went three-and-out on its next possession and shanked a punt that gave Stillwater the ball at Park’s 22-yard line. Two plays later Knox scored from 18 yards out to make it 12-6 after a 2-point conversion failed.

After another three-and-out the Ponies took over at the Wolfpack 34-yard line. Eight plays and three minutes later Stillwater took an 18-7 lead with another 2-yard touchdown run from Knox.

The Ponies started three possessions in Wolfpack territory and all three times the Ponies scored. Glazier said field possession crushed his team in the second quarter.

“You can’t give a team like that a short field, especially twice in a row,” Glazier said. “It’s unfortunate because I feel like we should have been in striking distance at halftime.”

Still, the Wolfpack had a chance near the end of the half to get back in the game, but had a drive stall at Stillwater’s 20-yard line on a fourth-and-8. Park started the drive at its own 20-yard line.

“We have to really focus on finishing,” said Domeier, who went 9 of 12 passing with a touchdown in the team’s first two drives. “We can drive the ball and we know that. We just have to keep putting pressure on them.”

Domeier found junior running back Brandyn Tulloch for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 4:40left in the first quarter and spotted a variety of targets the entire game. Senior Elias Arlington, who saw his first action on a football field since his freshman year, caught six passes for 64 yards and junior wide receiver Jeb Melson hauled in four passes for 76 yards. Tulloch finished with 32 yards rushing on six carries and four receptions for 28 yards.

The Wolfpack had opportunities in the second half with the Ponies leading 19-6 in the third quarter. Park engineered an eight-play drive from its own 3-yard line down to Stillwater’s 41-yard line before a failed trick play on third-and-1 cost the Wolfpack a shot at sustaining the drive. Park punted on fourth down after a 12-yard loss on third down.

That drive came on the heels of one of two goal line stands from the Wolfpack. Park held off the Ponies from the 3-yard line in the third quarter and then again from the 4-yard line in the fourth quarter.  

“Once it gets inside that 20 we don’t want to let them in,” senior linebacker Kahlen Boich said. “That’s our pride right there – that goal line defense with that D-line we have.”

Boich has noticed a difference with this year’s defensive unit already.

“It’s such an improvement from last year,” Boich said. “In all honesty, last year if we played them it still could have been 7, but it may have been 7 to 56. Just the defense this year is so much more improved than it was last year.”

Glazier didn’t believe the scoreboard indicated how the team performed as well.

“I told them before the game I see a confidence in their eyes this year that sometimes we’ve been lacking in,” Glazier said. “I think we’re confident because they’ve worked together quite a bit. We can take a lot of good out of this game.”

After facing co-defending conference champion Stillwater, the Wolfpack faces the other co-defending conference champion, Mounds View, Friday in Mounds View.  

- Nick Gerhardt

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