It definitely wasn't a win, but it kind of felt like one.
After falling behind 33-0 in three quarters of play during its Suburban East Conference game with White Bear Lake, the youthful Park football team outscored the Bears 21-7 in the fourth quarter to make things interesting and inject some excitement into its 40-21 Homecoming game loss on Friday, Sept. 24 at Park High School.
Led by running backs D'Monte Farley and Dylan Smallidge the Wolfpack (0-4; 0-4 SEC) cut the Bears lead 33-21 with 3:16 remaining in the game, before White Bear Lake (2-2; 2-2 SEC) was able to put the game out of reach with a touchdown with 1:35 remaining to make the score 40-21.
"We have played better every week," Park head coach Doug Ekmark said. "Tonight, we just played a very solid football team that took it to us. But, we made it interesting because our kids played hard. The second half was interesting anyway. It was fun."
The duo of Farley and Smallidge combined for 258 yards on the ground -- most of which came in the second half. Farley, a junior and the team's leading rusher on the year, had 111 yards on 16 carries, while Smallidge, a sophomore, ran for a team-best 147 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.
Smallidge's three scores happened in a span of just over four minutes in the fourth quarter and were the second, third and fourth touchdowns by Park this season.
"In the second half we made some different choices," Ekmark said. "We had to keep their offense on the bench. I felt that, in the first half, we would shoot ourselves in the foot. In my opinion, we made some poor choices. In the second half, we kept giving it to our backs and running the ball, because they're our best players. We gave them the opportunity to do something. That was the difference."
After White Bear Lake scored its fifth touchdown in its sixth possession of the game to make the score 33-0 with 2:18 remaining in the third quarter, Park -- led by Farley and Smallidge -- put together a 15-play drive resulting in the Wolfpack's first score of the game, a five-yard touchdown run by Smallidge with 7:49 remaining in the fourth quarter.
On the ensuing possession, with White Bear Lake's backups in, the Wolfpack defense forced the Bears to punt for the first time in the game. Just two plays later -- against the Bears' backup defense -- Park scored its second touchdown to cut the deficit to 33-14 with 5:21 left in the game. Farley started the drive with a 33-yard run and White Bear Lake was flagged for a 15-yard late hit penalty, setting up a 26-yard touchdown run by Smallidge.
After the Bears recovered an onside kick attempt by the Wolfpack, a White Bear Lake fumble was recovered by junior defensive lineman LaVonte Hardie, giving Park a first-and-10 at the White Bear Lake 45-yard line.
Five plays later Park was in the endzone again on a 6-yard run by Smallidge to make the score 33-21 with 3:16 remaining in the game.
However, after another onside kick attempt was recovered by White Bear Lake, the Bears brought their starting offense back in and put the game away on a 34-yard touchdown run by senior running back Matt Glasgow -- his fourth of the night -- to make the score 40-21 with 1:35 remaining.
"They are a very physical football team and they took it to us," Ekmark said. "White Bear has a very skilled quarterback that can run and throw. Our staff was trying to figure it out all week if they were going to open up the passing game on us or if they were going to pound the ball and try to break our face."
Prior to Park's fourth-quarter outburst, White Bear Lake overwhelmed Park on both sides of the football field. After fumbling on their own 48-yard line on their first possession of the game, the Bears offense -- led by Glasgow and junior quarterback Eric Gebeke -- scored five-straight touchdowns, and totaled 422 yards -- 309 rushing and 113 passing -- in the game, while its defense held Park to five punts and an interception in the Wolfpack's first six possessions. This season, Park is attempting to shed its classic veer offense and instill a double-wing attack. In the loss to White Bear Lake, the Wolfpack's revamped offense ran only 22 plays for 80 yards in the first half.
"I really felt in the first half, that we made some poor choices in play selection," Ekmark said. "We had too many instances in the first half where we got too cute. We needed to make first downs and keep their offense off the field."
Ekmark said he felt the Wolfpack's offensive struggles are borne from youth and inexperience at key positions and because the offense still needs time to come together.
For example, White Bear Lake has 34 seniors and 39 juniors on its roster, with no players sophomores or younger, compared to the 19 seniors, 23 juniors, 24 sophomores and two freshman that make up Park's roster.
"We just have to get better every week," Ekmark said. "We're a very young team with a new offense. We're just learning. We need to try and get better and every week we've gotten better. That's all we can hope for right now."
In addition to Farley and Smallidge, running back Tyler Liljedahl ran three times for 19 yards, quarterback Kirby Quebodeaux ran for nine yards and was 2-of-7 passing for 26 yards and kicker Chris Carte' was 3-for-3 on extra points and had two kickoffs travel 114 total yards.
The toughest part of the schedule lies ahead for the Wolfpack. Park next plays host to defending state champion and No. 2-ranked Cretin-Derham Hall (4-0), then travels to East Ridge (3-1) for the Raptors' Homecoming game, followed by an away game at Forest Lake (0-4) and the season finale at Wolfpack Stadium against fourth-ranked Mounds View (4-0).