Forest Park comes of age with overtime salvo

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Left: Forest Park’s Brandon Luebbehusen, left, Max Rickelman, Cody Flamion, Derek Hoffman, student manager Sam Russell, Blake Altmann, Joel Weyer and Spenser Sermersheim celebrated Saturday’s 2-1 overtime triumph over Heritage Hills that earned the Rangers a second straight Class 1A sectional title. Below: Heritage Hills’ Torrin Madden, right, and Forest Park’s Alex Russell battled to win a ball out of the air. More photos are here.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

LINCOLN CITY — Blake Atlmann had turned aside a host of charges throughout the 94 minutes. But there was no stopping this one.

The Forest Park goalkeeper stood around the midfield line, a beaming grin on his face. And as he became the first Ranger to hoist the sectional trophy, Altmann was finally overcome, as dozens of students engulfed the senior and his teammates.

Following a pressure-cooked 94 minutes of play that featured a goal in the final two minutes of regulation and overtime, a thundering thread of physical play and an equally enthusiasticcrowd, Altmann and company held together against a practically parallel Heritage Hills squad.

The Rangers’ 2-1 overtime escape in Saturday’s Class 1A boys soccer sectional championship in Lincoln City provoked instant emotion of every order — a dichotomy literally divided by a midfield line.

On one half were the Rangers (11-3-3), a fusion of relief and revelry pasted upon each player’s face. Across the center line rested the Patriots (12-5-1), a sorrowful look on some, but many portraying fury from watching a scene unfold that they believed to be unjust.

With a tick under two minutes remaining in the second overtime period, Ranger forward Spenser Sermersheim touched a delicate pass into the penalty area, which teammate Ben Englert reached a split second before Patriot goalkeeper Nick Waninger.

Englert’s one-time tap past the goalkeeper rolled softly into the net, as the midfielder and his team erupted in euphoria. After withstanding the Patriots’ final efforts, the celebration recommenced.

“I don’t even know how to explain it,” an awestruck Englert exclaimed. “It’s awesome.”

Yet Heritage Hills saw the sequence quite differently.

“We should be in penalty kicks right now,” Heritage Hills coach Joe Asbury bluntly said.

After the goal, Asbury and his assistant coach pleaded adamantly with the center referee and his line judge, who kept the offsides flag by his hip as Englert raced toward the Sermersheim pass.

After the game concluded, a heated Asbury marched onto the field to again debate the call with the referees. Meanwhile, one enraged Patriot had to be restrained by a teammate.

“It was an absolutely horrible decision by the (assistant referee),” Asbury later said. “And it’s pretty hard for our kids to take.”

The game’s closeness came as a surprise to few. The Rangers had edged the Pats by the same score in their regular-season skirmish, and Saturday’s clash again screamed of parity. What’s more, the teams’ previous two sectional encounters both ended with Patriot victories in penalty kicks.

“You come into a Heritage Hills game, you know it’s going to be physical, cutthroat, down to the wire,” Ranger coach Brent Sicard said.

“I told the guys at halftime, I said, ”˜If you thought they were going to come in here and lay down, you were wrong.’ They put up a fight and they fought till the end.”

Anchored by senior defensemen Collin Snyder, Drew Grass and Torrin Madden, the Patriots buried almost every attack the Rangers mounted. But with Snyder pinched forward a bit from his center back position midway through the second half, the Rangers slotted a ball upfield to Englert, who surged forward and buried a shot as two Patriot defenders converged on him.

“He’s been our most dangerous player down that right side. Man-marking tonight kind of kept him in check a little bit, but I told him, ”˜Just keep working, just keep working,’” Sicard said of Englert. “And those two opportunities, he put ’em away.”

Correspondingly resolute was Heritage Hills, which dictated play in the match’s opening 15 minutes with a collection of chances. Ten minutes into the match, Sam Scherry diced into the penalty area along the left side and rifled a shot from around the PK spot toward the right side of the net. But there was Altmann, who dove and turned away the bullet with an outstretched left hand, preserving the tie and awakening his teammates.

“That maybe took Heritage Hills’ momentum away, but it also opened our eyes that we had to pick it up,” Englert said of the save. “It kind of got us going.”

In truth, the opening stanza seemed to get both sides energized. The energy rarely subsided. Aggressive tackles, strong aerial challenges and body-banging had both coaches off the bench at several points.

When it appeared as if the Rangers had absorbed every Patriot punch, Yair Mendoza brought Heritage Hills even, cleaning up a misguided clearance by the Ranger defense — perhaps its lone blunder all game — and sending Patriot students into a frenzy with 1:14 left in regulation.

“We knew that the only way we were going to score there was if we kept coming at them, keep going,” Madden said. “We had to keep pushing up.

“We never gave up. … We just never give up until the end.”

Asbury credited his squad’s persistence to his group of 10 seniors, which he stressed was instrumental in the team’s nine-win turnaround from last season.

“On the field, obviously with the win-loss record, you can see that they’ve come a long way. But off the field, too,” Asbury said. “Our kids are … really handling themselves like young men off the field as well. So I couldn’t be more proud of how we’ve matured from last year to this year.”

With his team finding an answer after the Patriots late equalizer, Sicard categorized the Rangers’ second straight sectional crown as a coming-of-age moment.

“That’s the maturity of it. I don’t think last year we would have been able to come back,” Sicard said. “And this year, having been a year in, we took the success of last year — they wanted it again.

“Both teams laid it out on the line. That’s what you want to see. Give the fans a show. Give them something to remember. And these kids will remember this for a long time.”

Including Altmann, who said he’s “still sour from last year,” when Evansville Mater Dei ousted the Rangers 1-0 in the regional championship. And though Forest Park downed the 12th-ranked Wildcats 4-0 on Sept. 26, Thursday presents the chance to exact revenge in the regional semifinals at Gibson Southern, where the Rangers will face Mater Dei in the semifinals at 8 p.m. EDT.

“I’m ready,” Altmann said with strands of net draped over his shoulders. “We said before the season even started that we were going to go farther than we did last year. And now we have the chance to.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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