Rangers rally, then flounder to gloomy finish

Krista Scinagl/The Herald
Forest Park quarterback Miles Leonard stiff-armed South Spencer’s Kalob Salkill in the third quarter Friday night in Ferdinand. The Rangers overcame a two-touchdown deficit to tie the game in the first half but faded in the final two quarters of a 42-21 defeat. For more photos, click here.


Herald Sports Writer

FERDINAND — There were no words to express just how deflated Forest Park felt leaving Ranger Field on Friday.

Ranger coach Terry Wagner wouldn’t talk about it. Various Rangers flung cleats to the ground after removing them; they grunted and shrugged and stared at the ground.

It was just that kind of night.

Forest Park fell flat in the second half of what began as a ping-pong match with Pocket Athletic Conference rival South Spencer. The Rebels tacked three unanswered touchdowns on the board in the final 24 minutes, handing the Rangers a 42-21 loss.

The Ranger charge started promisingly enough. Forest Park (4-3, 2-3) struck first on the opening play of the game when senior Ben Braunecker sped 95 yards to return the opening kick for a touchdown.

The momentum kept falling Forest Park’s way.

South Spencer’s Jared Lauer appeared to have answered Braunecker’s return with an 80-yard dash of his own, but it was called back to the Rangers’ 43-yard line on a block-in-the-back penalty. The Rebels lost 11 yards on the next three plays but quarterback Walker Franklin connected with Lauer on a 17-yard bullet and Jake Burden ran ahead 3 yards on fourth down to give the Rebels new life. Four plays later, Franklin found the end zone on a 10-yard jaunt to even the score.

On the ensuing kickoff — and all but one after it — South Spencer (4-3, 4-2) employed a squib kick to avoid Braunecker. It proved advantageous as the Rangers muffed four returns and lost two of them. But that was just the start of Forest Park’s trouble holding onto the ball.

Senior quarterback Miles Leonard threw an interception deep in his own territory with 5:24 left in the first that Burden ran in from 5 yards on the next play. Then, the Rangers bobbled the kick off and Lauer connected on a 48-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Kempf on a halfback pass to give the Rebels a 21-7 cushion 10 seconds later.

The Rangers swung the momentum back their way to start the second quarter, spurred by Travis Schnell in the run game. Schnell opened the stanza with a 55-yard run on first down to set the Rangers up at the Rebels’ 17, and Dakota Geyer finished the drive a play later, bobbing and weaving up the middle to pull Forest Park within a touchdown.

Schnell picked up runs totaling 33 yards three possessions later and Leonard found tight end Austin Egloff for an 18-yard gain up the middle. That put the ball at the 1-yard line for Josh Voegerl to punch in to even the score with 12 seconds left in the half.

“I think (the turnovers that they scored on) motivated us in the first half to come back in the second quarter and score a couple touchdowns,” Ranger senior linebacker Casey Abell said.

The Rangers rushed for 176 yards and threw for 45 in the first half while limiting the Rebels to a modest 63 yards on the ground and 74 through the air.

Those roles flipped in the second half. And the night’s gradual slide left Wagner too exasperated to comment.

South Spencer melted four minutes off the clock in orchestrating its first score of the second half, then zapped the air out of Forest Park when the Rebel defense stripped Schnell after an 8-yard run. Robbed of any sense of rhythm, the Rangers couldn’t mount a charge against a Rebel team they’ve still never beaten in five tries.

“We just came out in the second half flat and never got into it,” said Abell, whose team will host Class 3A No. 8 Heritage Hills (6-1, 4-1) next Friday. “When they got a couple scores ahead of us our offense and defense just shut down.”

Forest Park lost 9 yards rushing and netted just 11 all-purpose yards in the second half. Schnell picked up 91 yards on five carries and Leonard rushed for 51 to go along with 67 passing yards on eight completions.

Contact Joanne Norell at jnorell@dcherald.com.

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 L 33-34
Sept. 30 — SOUTH SPENCER L 21-42
Oct. 14 — at Tell City

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