Pats cruise after Rangers’ cruel twistOctober 8, 2011
By JOHN PATISHNOCK
Herald Sports Writer
FERDINAND — In a game overflowing with highlight catches, unlikely fourth-down conversions and enough offensive yards to cover the field six times over, the decisive momentum-shifting moment came on a rush that netted 3 yards.
Coach Bob Clayton was adamant no one player was going to beat his Heritage Hills football team this week. Ben Braunecker wasn’t listening.
Turned out it didn’t matter as Class 3A No. 7 Heritage Hills scored four second-half touchdowns in a closely-contested-turned-comfortable 38-18 victory over Forest Park on Friday night at Ranger Field.
Braunecker, the do-it-all Forest Park senior, hauled in two touchdowns, including a 57-yarder, blocked an extra point, caused a Heritage Hills penalty when he was held — which jumpstarted a scoring drive — plus he caught four passes for 115 yards.
All in the first half.
The outburst helped furnish Forest Park (4-4, 2-4 Pocket Athletic Conference) with an 18-12 halftime lead.
But with a little more than eight minutes to go in the third quarter, everything changed.
Heritage Hills quarterback Damon Wahl scampered for 3 yards, and Braunecker didn’t get up afterward. He remained on the ground, clutching his helmet. After staying on the ground for a few minutes, he was helped off the field and spent the rest of the game on the sideline. At the end, Braunecker was holding himself up with crutches and had his left ankle wrapped.
Forest Park coach Terry Wagner said Braunecker will undergo X-rays sometime in the next few days, and until then, nothing certain is known.
“You got to say, I think if he doesn’t go out, we’re beat,” Clayton acknowledged.
But that doesn’t mean the Patriots (7-1, 5-1) celebrated Braunecker’s exit, either.
Both Clayton and running back Ben Smith lamented seeing Braunecker leave, as Clayton said, “We don’t want to see that. That’s not what we want to see.”
Not coincidentally, Wagner said he was pleased with how his team played outside of the last 12 minutes.
With No. 2 wide receiver Lance Buechler not playing because of injury, Braunecker’s absence was even more noticeable. And will continue to be as Wagner juggles his lineup as he waits for Buechler and senior running back Rhashaun Hurt, who’s been out all season with an injury, to get healthy.
“It’s going to take a lot of work,” Wagner said. “We’re very thin and we’re going to put people in positions that they’re not used to playing. So it could be a hard, long week of practice.”
Prior to Braunecker leaving, Forest Park and Heritage Hills scored three touchdowns in the final 2:33 before halftime. The back-and-forth explosion followed Ranger senior Austin Weyer’s school- record 41-yard field goal that opened the scoring early in the first quarter.
It served as a preamble for a contest where the teams combined for 625 offensive yards.
The Pats quickly made up for a scoreless first quarter.
Zach Lubbehusen, who picked up 14 yards on a botched snap for a first down on fourth-and-12 in the third quarter with the Patriots trailing 18-12, gave Heritage Hills its first lead with a 17-yard touchdown run with 9:32 remaining in the second. Then Braunecker sandwiched two electrifying touchdown grabs from Miles Leonard around a Miles Kline 10-yard run for the Patriots. First, Braunecker and Leonard connected on a 57-yard strike and then again from 23 yards with less than a minute before intermission. Each time, Leonard lofted a jump ball, allowing Braunecker to rip it away from a defender.
“We’re upset with our kids not being able to defend him any better than we did,” Clayton said. “Other schools have defended him better than we have. ... We were not aggressive. We were very soft, I thought in our secondary.”
Fortunately for the Patriots, they’re strong elsewhere. Specifically, the backfield.
Heritage Hills scored the final 26 points as Kline (142 rushing yards) and Tre Williams (93 yards) each scored on the ground in the second half before Smith (110 yards) added two rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Smith’s first score came on a sweep that covered 52 yards after he got to the sideline and outran the Rangers.
“My mindset is I’m not going down,” Smith said. “If there’s somebody smaller than me, even if they’re the same size or bigger, I’m not going down. They can try to tackle me, but I’m just going to try to juke as much as I can.”
Clayton, too, talked of the importance of getting healthy. Ben Hawkins and Trent Simpson each missed Friday night with their own injuries, and Clayton said quarterback Damon Wahl needs more time to acclimate after missing the previous two weeks with a concussion.
Until then, the Patriots will rely on Kline, Smith, Williams and Co. to buff out any dents in the offense.
“We got a strong backfield, that’s our strength this year,” Clayton said. “The backs are big, they’re strong and they’re pretty fast. They’re hard for high school kids to handle.
“We just said we got to be patient. Keep pounding that ball, keep pounding that ball, you know, eventually they’ll wear down.”
Contact John Patishnock at email@example.com.
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