Fourth-quarter Charger surge dazes Rangers

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor


PETERSBURG — Nathan Libbert stood outside the Forest Park locker room Friday night and brushed his fingers together. Just in a snap, as Libbert motioned, the Rangers’ night unraveled.

Gripping a 13-point lead with 9 1/2 minutes to play, and with running backs Josh Voegerl and Travis Schnell combining for the best two-pronged rushing attack in program history, Forest Park sensed security. In the span of a few minutes and a series of miscues, it vanished. Pike Central rumbled for two fourth-quarter touchdowns, including the go-ahead score and two-point conversion with 2:49 left, to send the Rangers tumbling to a 21-20 loss at Weathers Field in Petersburg.

Libbert and Ranger coach Ross Fuhs both appeared a tad dazed, struggling to explain what went wrong. The silence that shrouded the Ranger locker room may have explained it best: This one was painful.

“It hurts a lot. It hurts the coaches, hurts the players,” Fuhs said. “We’re up 20-7 and in a real good position, and obviously turnovers just killed us. We’ve got to make better decisions, we’ve got to hold on to the football. We’ve got to keep matching (opponents’) intensity. We were still ahead, but (Pike Central) had a little intensity.

There was nothing else we could do, and that’s the sad part. We lined up and we were playing a goal-line defense, and they just kept running it.”

And that led Fuhs in to his primary takeaway from Friday.

“Obviously, we’re going to have to get a lot more physical, and that’ll start on Monday.”

Raw numbers indicated it shouldn’t have been a moribund mood for the Rangers (1-4, 0-3 Pocket Athletic Conference).

Forest Park (393) more than doubled Pike Central (168) in rushing yardage. Voegerl (18 carries, 151 yards) and Schnell (26 carries, 189 yards) gave the Rangers two backs exceeding 100 yards for the first time in program history. But much of the progress was undone with self-inflicted hangups.

Forest Park’s three fourth-quarter possessions ended in a lost fumble, a shanked punt that the Chargers returned to the Rangers’ 32-yard line, and an interception in the final 30 seconds. In between, Pike Central scored on a pair of 1-yard runs, compensating for the missed extra point on the first with a two-point conversion on the go-ahead sequence.

Initially, the Chargers (2-3, 1-2) lined up to kick the game-tying PAT. Pike Central coach Dustin Powell burned a timeout and one-upped the plan. Powell saw a pattern worthy of exploiting: On the three plays prior to Kegan Aldridge’s 1-yard score, Aldridge broke off runs of 11, 16 and 4 yards. On Pike Central’s first scoring sequence of the fourth quarter, Aldridge toted the ball six times — and all were worth at least 3 yards, the same distance the Chargers needed for the go-ahead conversion.

“We just felt like we were pushing them a little bit,” Powell said.

The Rangers struggled for resistance.

“We had six guys on the line, five guys in the middle on the goal line, and they just pushed us over. It was plain and simple,” Fuhs said.

Aldridge stretched past the goal line, capping his solo act on a night the Chargers lost starting quarterback Dustin Meny to an ankle injury early in the second quarter. After Meny left, Pike Central attempted just four passes for the remainder. But Aldridge — one of only two Chargers who carried the ball — assumed the load with 32 of the team’s 36 rushes for 164 yards.

Pike Central closed with the headway Forest Park began with, as Voegerl and Schnell regualarly churned through trios of tacklers and accrued plenty of second-effort yardage. To boot, Fuhs called it “the best game our line’s probably had blocking.”

Voegerl scored on a pair of 3-yard runs, and sandwiched in between, Ranger lineman Jason Brier stumbled upon a six-point prize, pouncing on a fumble in the end zone after Schnell had the ball stripped at the goal line.

“We had pretty good momentum going on,” said Libbert, who recovered a Charger fumble that preceded Brier’s touchdown. “It’s tough for all of us. We hate to see a loss like that, but we’ve got to come back strong next week and be ready for what’s to come.”

That’s a visit next Friday from Class 2A No. 7 North Posey (5-0, 4-0), which engineered a getaway of its own Friday night with three fourth-quarter touchdowns to topple Heritage Hills 34-27. Fuhs knows what’s ahead of the Rangers in the next three weeks with North Posey, South Spencer and Heritage Hills — teams the Rangers are a combined 1-13 against. But if there were ever a time the Rangers had to dredge up belief, Fuhs said, this is it.

“They’ve just got to keep staying positive, they can’t let something like this affect them and be negative,” Fuhs said. “We’ve got to go back to the grind on Monday and find some positives from this game and work on the negatives and keep it rolling, because there’s no breaks on the schedule.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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