New Ranger leader ahead of the game

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Forest Park senior Ben Braunecker, left, stiff-armed Pike Central’s Kegan Aldridge en route to a 6-yard rushing touchdown Friday night, the first of his two scores in a 41-14 Ranger rout of Pike Central in Ferdinand. More photo can be found here.

 

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

FERDINAND — As far as Terry Wagner is concerned, the label “first-year quarterback” applies to Miles Leonard in name only.

When it comes to presence, toughness and football chops, Wagner sees his senior signal-caller as a savvy veteran. Not a kid who’s been on the job for just five games. But Leonard continues to impress his coach who’s always judicious with his praise. And in the process, the quarterback has the Rangers riding an upswing as they approach the teeth of a back-loaded schedule.

Forest Park quarterback Miles Leonard dropped back to pass during Friday night's game against Pike Central in Ferdinand.

Leonard piloted Forest Park to a 41-14 leveling of Pike Central on Friday at Ranger Field, and even as the Rangers have attempted a modest 17 passes in the last two games, Wagner is sold a little bit more each week about Leonard’s grip on leadership.

“He’s getting better and better,” Wagner said. “He looks like he’s been playing for two or three years. He’s really adapting to the position really well, and he’s a tough kid. He barely comes off the field.”

Leonard picked off a first-quarter pass, threw for 120 yards and lunged for a 1-yard keeper touchdown, and just as valuable were a pair of third-down completions that kept the first two Ranger scoring drives humming.

On the latter of those possessions, Leonard pinpointed Lance Buechler for a 50-yard gain after overshooting his target by about 5 yards two plays earlier. When Pike Central pulled within 14-7, Leonard located Buechler again on a play-action strike that gained 29 yards to the Charger 14 and set up Dakota Geyer for the first of his two rushing touchdowns.

“I’ve just been more calm, the game’s slowed down for me, I’m more comfortable, more confident in my throwing ability and my reads,” said Leonard, who completed 5-of-10 passes. “I just spend a lot of time reading film and really reading the defense.”

Leonard also had a measure of reassurance before ever taking a snap.

Wagner stressed to Leonard there was zero pressure to be another Grant Welp, the dual threat who led the Rangers in rushing a year ago while passing for nearly 165 yards per game. Still, Wagner told Leonard his trajectory was similar to Welp’s at similar stages in their careers.

“He kind of told me I was about in between Grant his junior and senior year, he said I don’t need to play toward him, he said I just need to be my own guy back there,” Leonard said. “He didn’t expect me to do all the things that Grant did, but I’ve been trying to do my best and please him, at least.”

Leonard conceded the offense was “a little one-dimensional” and pass-tilted (24 pass attempts, 17 rushes) in Forest Park’s lone setback to Southridge two weeks ago. Friday, the Chargers (1-4, 0-3) heaped the playmaking responsibility on their quarterback, too, as J.J. Howald (11-of-25) passed for 146 yards and kept the ball on 13 of Pike Central’s 21 rushing plays as the lone Charger to gain more than 3 yards on the ground.

Leonard, meanwhile, had co-stars who chewed up season-highs of 241 yards on 45 carries.

Geyer ran for 72 yards, Travis Schnell rumbled for most of his 79 yards after halftime and Josh Voegerl’s 47 yards included a 2-yard score for the sophomore’s first career touchdown. The night included the obligatory Braunecker highlight, too, on a play that originated in a bit of chaos.

Braunecker pursued a Pike Central punt that rolled inside the 10-yard line, and initially wasn’t going to field it but placed a hand on it instead. Once he touched it he had to retrieve it, but even as the Chargers converged, Braunecker weaved 91 yards for a score in the final minute of the first half to shoot the Rangers (4-1, 2-1) ahead 28-6.

The big-play ability has become a staple for a Ranger team that’s busted seven touchdowns on plays of 27 or more yards in the last four weeks. Still, Wagner’s waiting to see more fire to accompany the ability. And that includes his guy under center, who’s “not totally” talkative by nature as Leonard admits himself.

“He’s very quiet, very laid-back,” Wagner said. “That’s the problem with the senior class, is they’re all real laid-back kids. There’s no real leader in there, and that scares us sometimes that they’re all quiet kids. They’re nontypical football players.”

Still, they’re football players who’ve accumulated momentum ahead of the impending gamut of North Posey, South Spencer and Heritage Hills. That inspired a postgame promise Friday from Wagner to his players: physicality and bruises await, so be ready to operate at a higher latitude.

“Obviously, we want to be undefeated right now, but last two games we’re not totally pleased with, but we know we can go way up from here,” Leonard said. “We’re confident going into next week’s game that we’re going to get the win, keep our season going. We still have PAC to play for, sectional still to play for. There’s still a lot left in our season.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.

 

FOREST PARK RANGERS (4-1, 2-1)
Aug. 19 — at Gibson Southern W 21-16
Aug. 26 — PERRY CENTRAL W 31-12
Sept. 2 — at Southridge L 14-21
Sept. 9 — CRAWFORD COUNTY W 42-10
Sept. 16 — PIKE CENTRAL W 41-14
Sept. 23 — at North Posey
Sept. 30 — SOUTH SPENCER
Oct. 7 — HERITAGE HILLS
Oct. 14 — at Tell City




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