Second-half rally gives Rangers 2nd triumph

By JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com 

BICKNELL — Anything is possible on a Friday night under the lights.

Fleck

That’s the lesson Forest Park learned in its sectional quarterfinal game against North Knox, as the Rangers mounted a second-half comeback to defeat the Warriors 27-14 on the latter’s home field for their second-ever sectional-game victory.

Forest Park (4-6) trailed 8-0 at halftime before scoring on three straight offensive drives in the second half, as seniors Noah Fleck and Sam Englert connected three times to lead the Rangers to their first postseason triumph since the 2010 season, when Forest Park defeated Tell City 42-27 in another sectional opener. 

“It feels really amazing,” said Fleck, who finished the game 10-of-16 passing for 187 yards and three touchdowns. “Especially (with) how up and down this year has been, and how special this team is to me. It’s just really special.”

“That doesn’t happen much for our program,” Englert added. “It feels good to be the second team to ever do it.”

Englert

The first half was a defensive struggle, as Forest Park looked to contain a North Knox running game that averaged almost 295 yards on the ground this regular season.

The Ranger defense did a good job containing the Warrior duo of Gavyn Doane and Colten Foster while holding the North Knox offense in check on its first three drives.

But with less than a minute left in the second quarter, Doane was able to get behind the Ranger secondary and caught a 26-yard pass from Keagan Thomas in the back of the end zone as the Warriors (4-6) went ahead.

Fleck tried to set up a hail mary heave before the intermission, but was sacked as the game clock marked the end of the first half.

Forest Park coach Ross Fuhs then gathered his team and implored the players to keep their heads up by reminding them of their 40-36 comeback victory against Tell City to close the regular season.

“Last week we were down at half 22-12, and we didn’t hit the panic button,” he said. “We came out (in the second half Friday) and played our game.”

In addition to encouraging his team to get more physical on the line of scrimmage, Fuhs also decided to tweak the offense a bit to take advantage of the soft coverages of North Knox’s defensive backs.

“We felt like there were some things open that we didn’t do a real good job of (exploiting) in the first half,” Fuhs said. ”Throwing the ball out in the flats, getting Sam (Englert) and Braydon (Voegerl) the ball in space and letting them make some plays. That’s what they did, and they executed well.”

And quickly, too.

At the start of the third quarter, Fleck began his team’s opening drive by completing a pass to Englert for 24 yards. On the next play, Fleck hit Englert again as the 6-foot-4 receiver was able to elude defenders while taking the pass 30 yards into the end zone for the first Ranger score.

“We knew we had to come out (strong),” Englert said. “We ran shorter routes in second half, and we were able to make a few moves, get into the open field and score.”

Ranger defensive lineman Andrew Schuler was able to force a fumble during the Warriors’ next possession to set up Forest Park’s next score. Fleck hooked up with Voegerl a couple of times to move the chains before linking with Englert again for a 41-yard score, with the ensuing two-point conversion putting the Rangers ahead 14-8.

Fleck took responsibility for missing Englert early in the game, but said it was easy to find the wideout once Fleck was able to settle down.

“First half, I didn’t do well at all. My mind was going faster than I was playing, and I was thinking too much,” Fleck said. “I relaxed a little bit in the second half, stayed in the pocket and hit Sam whenever he did a comeback. He did the rest of the work from there.”

North Knox responded on its next drive with a 24-yard scoring scamper from Doane to tie the game at 14.

But Fleck found Englert again from 28 yards out to create a 20-14 advantage, and this time the Rangers didn’t look back. Drew Day added an insurance touchdown in the fourth quarter with a 16-yard rumble to cap the scoring.

“We came out and we wanted it more,” Day said. “We worked hard in practice all week, and it paid off for us.”

Englert finished with six catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns and said Fuhs’ words to the upperclassmen about having a limited amount of playing time left motivated him to do everything necessary to ensure the Rangers lived to play another game.

“He told the seniors this could be it, so we knew we had to win,” Englert said. “Us seniors guided the team.“

Fuhs said he was proud of his team for keeping cool heads and sticking with the game plan. The Ranger defense was able to hold the Warriors to 210 rushing yards, which gave the Forest Park offense a chance to find its rhythm.

“We felt if we stopped the run we had a good chance to win,” he said. “Our guys strapped it up and did a great job tonight. I couldn’t be more proud of them.

With the Warriors behind them, Forest Park will host Evansville Mater Dei (7-4) next Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Wildcats blew out Tell City, 49-6, in those teams’ quarterfinal Friday.

Fuhs will give his team the next few days to celebrate its historic win, but said he will be taking advantage of extra practice time afforded by fall break in order to prepare for the next sectional game.

“I told them I’d give them a day off, but then they have to come back focused the rest of the week,” he said.

Both Fleck and Englert are riding and high and hope to keep the momentum going. 

“As long as we can keep the confidence up and keep playing like we are, I don’t care who we play,” Fleck said. “As long as we come out and give it our best effort, I’m happy.”

“We’re going to buckle down, get the game plan down and hopefully shock the world,” Englert added.




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