Rangers roll, take time to explore running regime

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

FERDINAND — Not long after Forest Park applied the finishing touches to its 42-10 decking of Crawford County on Friday in Ferdinand, one of the Wolfpack coaches approached Rangers Travis Schnell and Ben Braunecker. He offered a compliment and a proposition.

“Anytime you want to come show my boys how to run the football, you come on over,” he said.

Forest Park acknowledges it didn’t write the book on the running game. And Friday, the Rangers’ effort to integrate more runs into the repertoire came with mixed reviews.

Still, the Rangers are aware of this: They possess the speed to make it work and realize the importance of diversifying.

“Our running game needs to get a little jumpstart,” Braunecker said. “We are a passing team ... I think (the coaches) would like it to be a little bit more balanced, and I think all of us would like to be a little bit more balanced. This game, we were going to come out and we were going to run the ball and see if we could get that fire back in the running game.”

Through its first three games, nearly 60 percent of Forest Park’s total yardage came via the air.
Quarterback Miles Leonard still passed for 159 yards Friday, but the Rangers tried just seven passes — none in the second half as the starters trickled out — while pounding the ground for 28 carries and a season-high 189 yards.

No Ranger had slipped loose for a run of more than 26 yards until Friday, when Dakota Geyer dashed for gains of 33 and 30 yards in the opening half and Leonard scampered for a 27-yard touchdown run on a trap play with an air of familiarity, since it’s similar to the one the Rangers loved running last season for Leonard’s predecessor, Grant Welp.

Geyer’s eight carries yielded 90 yards, Schnell toted the ball nine times for 31 yards and Leonard accounted for a pair of TDs, also scoring on a 1-yarder. The Rangers averaged 10 yards per rush in whizzing to a 35-0 halftime lead, but Ranger coach Terry Wagner still applied a critical spin to a facet of his team’s game that appeared stuck on pause.

“We should have had breakaway speed tonight ... and it was like three-quarter speed,” Wagner said. “To me, I didn’t see blazing speed out there from us, which we do have. I see three-quarter speed going up to the line, and then trying to dilly-dally around out there.”

Wagner added better blocking to his wish list, and with more handoffs came more missteps on exchanges and pitches. Forest Park fumbled five times and gave away four, and Schnell said it “seemed like the timing was a little bit off.” Still, the Rangers were able to sprinkle in variety. Barreling toward their fourth touchdown of the night just two minutes into the second quarter, the Rangers dotted their I-formation with Braunecker, who charged forward for a 5-yard score.

It was Braunecker’s first rushing attempt of the season — and may have been just the first act for an effective goal-line blueprint.

“We’ve been working on a formation in practice, and we just wanted to give it a look, see how it went,” Braunecker said.

Granted, the Rangers also realized Crawford County (0-4), which is surrendering 45 ppg, isn’t the truest defensive barometer. They also couldn’t deny the relief of more space to explore.

“We did (better) on opening up holes,” said Schnell, who snagged a pitch and rambled 10 yards for the first Ranger score of the night. “We’ve been looking for some wide spaces to run in. It seems like our quick pitches and flares are one of our strengths when it comes to the running game.”

Of course, with a guy like Braunecker in your corner, it’s OK to branch out, too.

The senior tested the scoring sampler platter with three touchdowns on the 5-yard run, a 61-yard reception and an 85-yard kickoff return in which he was initially penned in near the midfield sideline before veering out of traffic.

Brauncker squeezed four catches worth 136 yards, all coming in the first half as the final two periods became a rest stop for the regulars ahead of next Friday’s home matchup against Pike Central (1-3, 0-2 Pocket Athletic Conference). By then, Wagner wants more acceleration — both from a running game on the rise and in the overall output of a team he said is still bugged by penalties, mistakes and mental lapses.

“We’re making strides, but we make two and take one back,” said Wagner, whose team went without a first down in the second half as Braunecker’s return provided the final Ranger score.
“We can’t have that coming up. It’s going to really hard, it’s going to be bone-shattering games.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.

FOREST PARK RANGERS (3-1, 1-1)
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
Sept. 23 — at North Posey
Sept. 30 — SOUTH SPENCER
Oct. 7 — HERITAGE HILLS
Oct. 14 — at Tell City




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