Rangers vow to get bigger, better after final loss

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Forest Park senior Josh Voegerl and the rest of the Rangers watched from the sidelines Friday night at Enlow Field as their season faded in the first round of the Class 2A sectional. Top-ranked Evansville Mater Dei pounced for a five-touchdown lead at halftime and won 49-7. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

EVANSVILLE — Forest Park did not have any illusions about the challenge awaiting in Evansville on Friday night in its sectional opener.

The Rangers were taking on Class 2A No. 1 Evansville Mater Dei, the owner of four consecutive sectional championships, in a contest they’d be outmanned and outgunned at almost every position. A win always seemed like too steep an aspiration; the Rangers just wanted to compete with the grit and determination that has defined them in the latter half of the season.

And while the score may not reflect it, the Rangers didn’t go down without a fight against the top-ranked Wildcats in a 49-7 loss, their fourth first-round playoff exit in the program’s six-year lifespan.

The Ranger coaching staff gathered the team after the game and explained how proud they were and instructed the players to walk out of the stadium with their heads high for maintaining intensity and effort in a season marred by lopsided losses. After dismissing all the underclassmen, coach Ross Fuhs held on to his seniors one last time to address a group he said displayed genuine leadership.

“I told them I appreciated the effort and positive attitude they’ve had, especially these last two years,” Fuhs said. “There’s been adversity. No one likes to lose, but I told them, ”˜Remember the good memories and all the good things they did for the program and all the good times that they had playing with their teammates and the big wins they had. … Life is going to go on. Football is a great sport. It’s a great team sport. It’s a great time to build friendships for the rest of your life and I told them if they need anything, I would do anything for any of them. Hopefully they’d do the same for me.”

After one quarter, Forest Park (2-8) trailed by just 14, but a 9-yard touchdown run by Julian Weidner in the beginning of the second, and a Luke Neitzke interception return for a touchdown four plays later, put the Wildcats up 28-0 with more than eight minutes remaining in the first half. Weidner led all rushers with eight carries and 109 of Mater Dei’s 271 rushing yards. Even the sheer roster size of the Wildcats posed a problem as they were able to cycle in running backs, receivers and defensive linemen all game.

As usual, Forest Park flashed moments of  potential, especially on defense. The Rangers sacked quarterback Chase Hoehn on two consecutive plays to force a fourth down in the second quarter, and senior Alec Hassfurther and company tackled Weidner and a host of other Wildcat running backs for losses multiple times.

But, in an area that has struggled all season, the Ranger offensive and defensive lines simply couldn’t compete with a large, athletic Wildcat front. Forest Park ran for 119 yards on the ground, led by 51 and 47 from Josh Voegerl and Hassfurther, respectively, but quarterback Trent Bayer found himself surrounded by Wildcat linemen within seconds of every drop-back and competed zero passes on nine attempts with two interceptions.

“The big thing for us this offseason has got be the weight room,” Fuhs said. “I felt like there were some games we were in, but I thought we got physically worn down by bigger, stronger teams.”
The sophomore class — 14 in all — was one of the takeaways in a gloomy season. Eight of those sophomores are linemen, and a good portion received significant time this year. Growth seems likely after a year in the trenches.

There’s also running back and defensive back Josh Franchville, who led the team in rushing this season, filling in for an injured Voegerl in several games, and scored the Rangers’ only touchdown on an 8-yard scamper in the fourth quarter. Franchville, a speedy, slippery back, also displayed some potential on defense, tackling Weidner for a 4-yard loss on a sweep.

“Hopefully we come back stronger next year,” Franchville said. “We have a good chance at being better next year and we need to hit the weight room hard.”

For nine Ranger seniors, though, the promises of next year no longer apply. The group was despondent after Friday’s loss but displayed some of the resilience Fuhs saw in his players.

“We’re a unique bunch of seniors because we never gave up and we knew coming into the game that Mater Dei is No. 1 in the state,” Bryce Bettag said. “They’re stronger, they’re faster, but all we had to do was have fun and have a lot of intensity and enthusiasm the whole game and just do the little things and it’d be all right.”

 Fuhs, as has been the case all season, applauded his team for staying upbeat all year. The offseason may have come early in Ferdinand, but Fuhs is already thinking about his team next season.

“I’m proud of them,” he said. “I thought they played hard. (The seniors) kept these guys positive all night. ... The result is not exactly what you’re looking for, but they had a good attitude and they had great character tonight and you can’t ask for much more than that.

“I think (the underclassmen) learned to stay positive and keep playing. When things are down, things aren’t going how you want them, you’ve still got to stay positive. Because you’ve still got another play, you’ve still got another quarter and you’ve still got another game.”

Contact Joseph Fanelli at jfanelli@dcherald.com

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