Looking deeper, Rangers find success

Photos By Olivia Corya/The Herald
Forest Park’s Lance Buechler, center, tackled North Posey’s Wes Harness on Friday night at Ranger Field. The Class 2A No. 6 Vikings stayed unbeaten by downing the Rangers 48-0 in the Pocket Athletic Conference matchup. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

FERDINAND — This year’s season of Forest Park football is judged like few others around the state.

With a new guy in charge and without the services of Division I athlete and 2012 graduate Ben Braunecker, the Rangers are altering what they do.

Coach Ross Fuhs isn’t just trying to win games. Fuhs, the first-year coach and former lineman who beamed with pride when discussing how the Rangers won an offseason weightlifting challenge, wants opponents to know what to expect from his team. Hard. Physical. Football. 

He didn’t walk off Ranger Field on Friday night thinking his program was in neutral. Or even worse, going in reverse.

It’s not that Fuhs didn’t notice the 48-0 defeat that Class 2A No. 6 North Posey pinned on Forest Park.

He did. All that meant was Fuhs needed to comb through every second of action to identify how his guys are improving.

Look deeper. The signs are there, Fuhs said.

Forest Park senior Dylan Popplewell was one of a handful of Rangers who sat out the game because of an injury. Many Rangers played new positions Friday to offset the absence of six two-way starters.

“We’ve gotten better defensively, at least being in position to make plays, understanding the roles on defense a little bit better,” Fuhs said. “I think success is just getting better every week and feeling like they played the best they can do. If they do that, then you don’t really have much to complain about or be mad about.”

In addition to Travis Schnell, who began his three-game suspension for violation of team policy, Forest Park (1-5, 0-4 Pocket Athletic Conference) also played without five other two-way starters.

North Posey (6-0, 5-0) took advantage.

The Vikings struck for a pair of scores in each of the first two quarters. Colton Martin, who was ejected in the third quarter for throwing a punch at Forest Park’s Alec Hassfurther — a sequence that began and finished quickly and didn’t include any noticeable reaction from Hassfurther — and Wes Harness each provided a 1-yard run in the first quarter. In the next period, Viking quarterback Alec Werry hooked up with Martin and Nick Neidig on scoring tosses of nine and 20 yards, respectively.

Between those scores, Fuhs saw plenty to salvage.

Senior linebacker Francis Bohnenkamper jumped an out route in the first quarter on Werry’s second attempt of the night, intercepting his first career varsity pass and returning it about 15 yards to the Vikings’ 46-yard line.

“I just watched the quarterback; he was facing my way,” said Bohnenkamper, who also forced a third-quarter fumble, which the Rangers recovered. “That’s a good indicator of what the team can do, it’s just guys were banged up.”

The Rangers’ ensuing drive after the interception eventually stalled on fourth down, but not before Forest Park drove to the 24-yard line. It appeared the possession was going to end sooner, but Trent Bayer found Hassfurther on a crossing route for a gain of 24 yards on third-and-18.

Hassfurther said he was able to cut across the field as teammate Lance Buechler ran behind him.

“I was just wide open and Trent saw, got the ball to me, our line did a great job of blocking, giving us the time to do it,” Hassfurther said. “The play worked the way it was supposed to because everybody executed.

“I think we’re finding out what plays work and what we can do to move the ball. In the end, hopefully about sectional time, we can put things together and get going.”

North Posey tallied two more touchdowns in the third quarter as Harness added scores from 8 and 13 yards. Lance Inkenbrandt added the Vikings’ final score with a 2-yard run late in the fourth quarter.

“We had a tough time matching their physicality,” Fuhs said. “We had a lot of positives we can take out of the game tonight, but we were just kind of overmatched.”

Both Fuhs and Hassfurther lionized guys for their ability to adapt, with Fuhs saying every lineman needs to know how to play every position on the line. Likewise, backs and receivers need to be interchangeable. Friday night, they were. Nathan Libbert, who usually plays offensive tackle, slid over to guard. Hassfurther moved over from the wing to play fullback.

Hassfurther, a junior who also plays linebacker, was impressively thoughtful when relaying how Fuhs’ message at practice transfers over to games. Despite the Rangers’ record, there’s an upbeat tempo throughout the week. Guys aren’t goofing off, but they enjoy being on the field. Fuhs said getting better every week defines success for his team. His guys are happy to continue proving him right.

Monday can’t get here soon enough.

“You go to practice, everybody loves the game, gets after it,” Hassfurther said. "We do what we need to do, but everybody is happy. The environment — it’s a fun environment.”

Contact John Patishnock at jpatishnock@dcherald.com.

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