Despite losses, Forest Park impressive in the trenchesSeptember 12, 2019
By TRAVIS DAVID
FERDINAND — In its two losses on the season, Forest Park has given up a total of 98 points, albeit against a pair of Class 3A Top 10 teams in Gibson Southern (No. 2) and Southridge (No. 9).
But those teams lighting up the scoreboard was not due to a lack of effort from the Rangers’ defensive line.
Anchored by defensive end Gavin Knust, the Forest Park hogs in the trenches have been a bright spot for the 1-2 team.
They proved just how good they can be in the first series Friday against Southridge.
After the Raiders broke off a 41-yard gain down to the Forest Park 2 yard line, it was almost a given they would finish the drive in the end zone.
It was only a question of who would pound it in and how many plays it would take.
Except, it didn’t happen.
Two tackles in the backfield, a forced fumbled snap and a swarming defensive stop on a swing pass on fourth down turned the ball over to Forest Park on downs.
“That was a huge goal-line stand for our defense,” Rangers coach Ross Fuhs said. “It was really our defensive line all doing their jobs.”
Although Southridge went on to win the game, 42-7, the Rangers continued to bring the pressure up front and forced the Raiders to take to the air.
“They are just some really big strong kids, and they had a good game plan,” Southridge coach Scott Buening said of the Rangers' defense. “They did a good job of taking away the things which we were successful at last week (241 rushing yards against Jasper), and they really just made life tough for us up front.”
Knust, who has 16 total tackles and a team-high three quarterback sacks on the season, has started at defensive end since his sophomore season. Although he garners most of the attention from the line, he mentioned it’s all about a collective effort.
“It’s not all about me,” he said. “My job is to focus on keeping everything inside for my interior linemen and linebackers. It’s all about helping them make plays and making the team look good.”
Some of the other main cogs up front for the Rangers include 6-foot-1, 280-pound Dylan Bays; 5-11, 275 Caleb Moya; and 6-0, 210 Reese Verkamp.
“Both Dylan and Caleb are big strong guys who can plug holes and often draw double teams, which frees up linebackers on their side,” Fuhs said. “And Reese is not as big as those guys, but he brings quickness, and when guards pull, he is able to get out and make plays in the backfield.”
One highlight for Verkamp this season was sacking Gibson Southern quarterback Brady Allen — a highly recruited Division I player.
“That felt great,” the senior said. “I just shot between the center and the guard and made the sack.”
He also mentioned playing alongside Knust and Cole Mohr is a great feeling.
“Those two guys are always the first to pat you on the back and tell you ‘great job’ after making a play,” Verkamp said.
The way the team gels together is another reason why the Rangers linemen are creating havoc for rushing attacks, according to Knust.
“We are always talking to one another,” the senior said. “Guys like Cole (Mohr) and Corbin Bell, I know I can go to them and ask them a question about this and that, and they all do the same with me.”
As for the rest of the season, both Verkamp and Knust mentioned the team just wants to win.
The Rangers have not finished with a winning record since an 8-3 campaign in 2010, athough they finished at 5-5 in 2015.
“We want to finish the season above .500,” Verkamp stated.
Added Knust, “Beating North Knox a couple years ago in the sectional was probably the highlight of my career here. Now I want to win a sectional championship.”
Playing against bigger and formidable opponents like Gibson Southern and Southridge could help the Rangers achieve their goal.
“Playing against those teams, they have over 50 players and we have like 30-something on our team,” he said. “And most of us play both ways, but those games only make us tougher. When we face teams later in the year with the same size of us, we will be better prepared because of those games.”
Forest Park plays host to Class 1A Tecumseh (1-2) Friday night.
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