Pinched Rangers look for spark

Jake May/The Herald
Forest Park quarterback Miles Leonard eluded the pass rush of Perry Central’s Devin Thomas during the Rangers’ 31-12 victory in late August. Leonard is one of a handful of Rangers who are bouncing back from injuries and hopeful of making an impact Friday night.

Herald Sports Writer

Some part of Terry Wagner wishes he had a couple of delinquents on his football team.

The Forest Park coach doesn’t want anyone to cause any real harm, just enough to rile some mischief and jumpstart a revival. Right now, the Rangers are wearing thin on misdemeanors.

Wagner’s got a group of stand-up, albeit bruised and battered, young men. Some might consider it a blessing. But where the down-and-out Rangers (4-5) have missed key players because of injury — wide receiver/safety Ben Braunecker, quarterback/linebacker Miles Leonard and running back Rhashaun Hurt — Wagner says they could use some of those hooligans to spark a fire.

“That’s been a worry,” Wagner said. “We were hoping we would (see someone step up), but this is a real quiet group of kids; they’re good kids. I always say you need a couple convicts on the team to get things going and we just don’t have those.”

Forest Park is running thin in nearly every area as the Rangers prepare for a sectional rematch with South Spencer (5-4) at 7:30 p.m. EDT Friday in Reo. Fortunately, Leonard, who was unavailable defensively last week because of a sprained ankle, and Hurt, who broke his ankle in the preseason, are both working back into practices. Braunecker suffered a severe ankle sprain in the Heritage Hills game, and the Ranger didn’t know his status by presstime today.

Add in that Forest Park is missing kicking coach Derek Phillips and defensive backs coach Marcus Williamson, both of whom left to pursue job opportunities, and the Rangers appear less than robust.

“Everyone’s just getting banged up and stuff, so we’re just trying to get everyone healthy and ready to go and see if we can’t light a little spark under us and get ready for sectional,” senior offensive tackle Lynk Kordes said. “(Without them), we’re just mixing other guys in, switching up our defense and our offense around just to cope with who we’re missing and how it’s going to affect us.”

Wagner is relying on the prospect it won’t have to affect them all that much, but of all the missing pieces, he’s hoping to find that Braunecker is healthy by Friday. Braunecker’s play-making ability has been what Wagner called the “mental cog” that has hinged the Rangers together through a tough season. Without him, Forest Park finds it hard to stack up.

Braunecker leads the team in scoring (12 touchdowns), receiving (24 yards-per-catch), punt returns (37 yards-per return, one touchdown) and kick off returns (34 yards-per-return, two touchdowns) and is tied with Leonard for the team lead in interceptions (three).

“It hurts us on offense and hurts us on defense, too,” Wagner said. “We’ve got some kids that are playing spots that they aren’t really equipped to play them. ...  A lot of teams can see that and they pick on that.”

But the Rangers’ troubles have come with Braunecker on the field as well as off it. Forest Park has lost its last four games, including  at Tell City (2-7) in the final game of the regular season. And it’s not that the Rangers have been outmatched. Mental mistakes — turnovers, avoidable penalties — have crept in to interrupt second halves.

It’s what happened the last time Forest Park met South Spencer. The two played an even first half in that game and headed to the locker room knotted at 21. But the Rebels put up 21 unanswered points and “just beat us down in the second half,” Kordes said.

“We play really well the first half, think we’re going to glide through and before you know it, we’re in so deep a hole we can’t dig ourselves out,” Wagner added.

That’s why Forest Park is taking a more relaxed approach in practice this week. The hope is that an easier atmosphere will get the Rangers out of their heads a little and make room for, as Wagner called it, “some of our own mojo, our own magic, our own luck,” against a team they have yet to defeat in program history.

“There’s definitely an amount of emotions going into it,” Kordes said. “We watched a bunch of film on it to see what they’re doing and hopefully we can stay on them.”

“If we’re all healthy, we would love to play them again because I think we’ll play a better game,” Wagner added. “We’re trying to keep things a little loose this week, try to reorganize and try to help each other play more as a team.”

Contact Joanne Norell at

More on