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Central gallops to glory

Many of the classic running back tandems in football feature one back with power and the other with speed. This rare Grand Forks Central duo, however, is power and power. Central running backs Grant Parks and Jeremy Zahradka combined for 279 yard...

Central-Mandan football
Grand Forks Central's Grant Parks (44) gets a block from teammate Gabe Gorneau (53) in the first half of the Knights' game against Mandan at Cushman Field. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

Many of the classic running back tandems in football feature one back with power and the other with speed.

This rare Grand Forks Central duo, however, is power and power.

Central running backs Grant Parks and Jeremy Zahradka combined for 279 yards rushing and three touchdowns en route to a 43-30 win over Mandan on Friday night at Cushman Field in the home opener for the Knights.

The Knights built a 30-0 halftime lead, but then surrendered 22 fourth-quarter points to keep the score somewhat close.

"We know teams are going to gear up to try to stop us from running the football," Central coach Bill Lorenz said. "But for us to be successful, we have to run the ball. That means we have to get after it."

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The Knights, who improved to 2-1, finished with 321 rushing yards.

"I think our line really stepped up to the challenge," said Parks, who finished with 170 yards on 26 carries. "They were making some great holes."

And when defenses focus on Parks, who has rushed for at least 170 yards in all three games this season, the Knights have other backs to complement.

Central's first three touchdowns, for example, came on fullback dives -- with the defensive attention on Parks. Zahradka scored on a 32-yard run early in the first quarter, David Nelson scored on a 29-yard run late in the first quarter and Zahradka scored again on a 51-yard run in the second quarter.

"Central's a good team; they run the ball hard," Mandan coach Pat O'Brien said. "Both backs run hard. They have a real good one-two punch. When you can gang tackle (Parks), good things can happen. But if you don't, he's too good of a back. You could see that."

Central quarterback Brady Johnson squeezed into the end zone on a 1-yard sneak late in the second quarter to give the Knights a 30-0 halftime edge.

"I was really happy with our focus in the first half," Lorenz said. "Parks draws a lot of attention, especially after the past few weeks and the press he has gotten. That's opened the door for some others. Our other backs showed their worth."

At halftime, it was eerily familiar to Red River's 35-0 drubbing of the Braves last Friday at Cushman Field.

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However, Mandan made the Knights sweat it out a little in the fourth quarter, albeit briefly.

Mandan's passing attack kicked in, led by quarterback Trey Nadeau, who finished with 292 yards passing.

The Braves scored on their first possession of the second half. Nadeau hit Devin Coyle over the middle and Coyle darted past defenders for a 68-yard scoring play. Then in the fourth quarter, the Braves scored on an 8-yard touchdown run by Billy Binstock, a 1-yard run by Nadeau and a 35-yard interception return by Derek Delvalle.

Delvalle's interception of Central backup quarterback Gage Salquist to make it 43-30 with 4 minutes, 12 seconds left silenced the Central crowd.

But the Knights went back to Zahradka and Parks to drain the remaining clock.

Zahradka finished with 109 yards on just eight carries.

"Mandan was keying on me, and those other guys made some great plays," Parks said.

Related Topics: FOOTBALLPREP SPORTS
Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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