Merkel tricks Jeeps to win

Jacob Wiegand/The Herald
From left, Northeast Dubois’ Lucas Gutgsell (99), Blake Ziegler, Brandon Merkel and Chase Reckelhoff celebrated Saturday after the Jeeps defeated Forest Park in a Class 1A boys soccer sectional championship game in Dubois. Merkel tallied a hat trick in his team’s 3-0 win. For more photos from the match, click here.


DUBOIS — Chippy play, swirling winds and the threat of rain showers. Those were the elements Class 1A No. 8 Northeast Dubois had to overcome in a 3-0 victory over Forest Park on Saturday to claim a 1A sectional championship.

The first half was marked by physicality on both sides. The Rangers (4-13) were playing the Jeeps (16-2-1) tight and made them fight for position on every pass and shot. Forest Park kept the opening period scoreless with this strategy.

“We played exactly the way we wanted to,” Forest Park coach Mike Foerster said.

But the Rangers’ hard-nosed containment strategy was unable to hold senior Brandon Merkel in the second half. He was able to weave through Forest Park’s defense en route to notching a hat trick, single-handedly sealing the deal for Northeast Dubois.

“Both teams came out playing very hard,” he said. “In the second half, everything started falling for me. As a senior, I just figured I need to do something and ended up scoring three (goals).

“Scoring in sectional, there’s nothing like it. I had a good pass on one (goal). I was able to finish on two other ones. The best feeling is scoring in sectional.”

After the game, the Jeeps gathered in the middle of their field to hoist the championship trophy high over their heads as they were baptized in the rain. It marked the second sectional title for Northeast Dubois, which won its first in 2014.

Jeep coach Clive Williams, who led the last championship team, gave his boys a “nine out of 10” rating for how they responded to Forest Park’s pressure in the second half. He added that his second time in the winner’s circle has its own distinct feel.

“(This is) different than the last time,” he said. “The last time it was the first. This is the second one. Those seniors, they were freshmen the last time we won it.”

Williams acknowledged the Rangers’ rugged style had an effect on his team in the early stages of the game. But he was able to settle down the Jeeps, reminding them during halftime to remain true to the style of play that got them to the championship game.

“The physicality of the other team really knocked the wind out of our guys in the first half,” he said. “They withstood it. They stood strong and played their game in the end.”

Foerster said the Rangers dealt with their share of challenges throughout the season, and that those lessons brought them to the point of competing for a sectional title.

“We had a really tough first six games of the season. The boys battled through some big losses,” he said. “But we’ve been preparing very hard these last couple of weeks, and it showed here.”

Foerster said his team will get a well-deserved break with its season over. But even though the Rangers did not get the result they desired, he encouraged his boys to leave the field with their heads held high, knowing they left it all on the line.

“I told the boys I’m not ashamed at all with the way they played today,” he said. “I’ve been tough on them, but I think they appreciate that now.”

As Forest Park heads into the offseason, Foerster believes the sting of this loss will linger and serve as motivation for the next team he fields.

“Last year, I think the lowerclassmen took it to heart when they saw how upset the seniors were during the sectional loss (against South Spencer),” he said. “They’re seeing it again today. They don’t want that feeling next year.”

Meanwhile, Williams said he saw a few things the Jeeps can work on as they look forward to the Providence Regional, in which they’ll face the host Pioneers (10-6-3) on Saturday. But Merkel is not anticipating dramatic changes.

The senior believes Northeast Dubois’ identity and style are firmly entrenched, and if a little wind, rain and physical jostling could not hold them back, then nothing will if they remain true to themselves.

“We’re just going to work on playing hard the whole game,” Merkel said. “(We’re) staying with what we’re doing. It’s working so far. If we keep doing what we’re doing, we should be fine.”

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