It was a tough end to a tough season for the Forest Lake football team, which was matched up with No. 4 East Ridge Friday night on the Raptors’ home field. The Rangers fell 54-14 to the top seed in the section.
Three plays into Forest Lake’s first drive, the Raptors picked the ball off and returned it for a touchdown for an early 7-0 lead.
During Forest Lake’s second drive, junior Brandon Rogers was sacked, forcing a fumble that East Ridge would recover and return for 14-0 lead. After going three-and-out on the Rangers’ next drive, a botched snap went over the head of Rogers on a punt attempt. The Raptors recovered the ball deep in Forest Lake territory, setting the hosts up for a 6-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-0 in the first quarter.
Head coach Billy Kirch said he told his squad not to dwell on the first-quarter struggles.
“It was just disappointing for everybody,” Kirch said. “But I told them they had to move forward and focus on the next play. Then again, it’s easy to say and hard to do. It’s a long game and we beat ourselves.”
Halfway through the second quarter with East Ridge on top 34-0, senior Leighton Bierman put the Rangers on the board with a 4-yard touchdown run. Sophomore Eric Ellefson kicked the extra point.
The Raptors would score three more times, two of them before halftime, before Bierman rushed 16 yards for his second touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter. Ellefson added another extra point to close the scoring at 54-14.
Bierman led the offense with 80 rushing yards on 18 carries, followed by sophomore John Eiden with 43 yards on seven carries. Sophomore Nic Norem added 23 yards on three carries.
Senior Mike Aho recorded 81 yards on six catches, giving Forest Lake all of their receiving yards on the night.
At quarterback Rogers went 4-13 for 56 yards, throwing two interceptions, while sophomore Drayton Bagan went 3-6 for 25 yards.
Senior Zach Voss recorded the only tackle for loss for the Rangers.
“We looked a lot better in the second half — cleaned things up,” Kirch said. “They had their second string in the second half, and with a team like that, we obviously match up better there. We just can’t have those turnovers early on, and we can’t struggle to move the football.”
By the numbers
Bierman led Forest Lake in rushing in 2013 with 348 yards on 65 carries, for an average of 5.4 yards. The senior also had four touchdowns. Norem followed with 202 yards on 55 carries with one touchdown, while Rogers ran for 152 yards on 64 carries with two touchdowns. Sophomore John Eiden added 131 yards on 34 carries with one touchdown.
On the receiving end, senior Dan Wassman totaled 202 yards on 16 catches with one touchdown, while senior Derek Giesner recorded 98 yards on eight catches and one touchdown.
Aho led the Rangers this year in total offense with 803 total yards, with 471 of those coming from returning yards. The all-around offensive threat tallied 251 receiving yards on 27 catches and 81 rushing yards. Senior Pat Murphy also aided in special teams, earning 155 return yards.
On defense, senior Zach Rosenthal earned seven sacks this season for 20 yards lost. Bierman recorded five for 14 yards lost, while senior Zach Voss (15 lost) and Andrew Murray (6 lost) each had three sacks. Senior Zach Maciej added two on the season.
The loss to the Raptors capped an 0-9 season, bringing the program losing streak to 22 games.
The Rangers implemented a new offense this season, which was the focus of discussion at the start of the year. Kirch said while his players need to continue learning to use leverage and angles to move the ball, positions away from the offensive line never completely mastered the concept.
“The kids need to trust their offensive line to do their job and work on opening up those angles,” Kirch said. “But we’ll come back next year and practice hard. I know the kids are eager to learn and do the things that will make them successful.”
Senior captains Kyle Winberg, Bierman and Maciej agreed that the offense is one that takes some time to learn, and that it caused some confusion in its “guinea pig” year. Captain Cody Mehsikomer was unavailable for comment.
“It looked good on paper, but it’s another thing when we can’t execute it,” Bierman said. “We needed to have more backup plans and be able to adjust to the different types of teams we’re playing.”
Maceij was a fan of the new concept.
“As a linemen it’s awesome,” he said. “It’s an awesome offense and everything Desch (offensive coordinator Mike Deschneau) said made sense. It’s just the kind of offense that takes time to learn, and we’ve had a lot of different coaches and offenses and defenses in the past few years, so there’s no stability established yet.”
As for the season, the boys looked back at their 2013 schedule and said they wished they could have the opening game to Hastings back. They fell 20-9.
“I think we thought they were going to be better than they were since they had some good seniors returning,” Winberg said. “But looking back, it’s like, dang it, that was our best shot.”
Maciej had opinions on a number of factors contributing to the program’s struggles.
“Football isn’t a big enough deal in Forest Lake,” he said. “It started a couple of years ago. When one kid stopped playing football to keep from getting hurt in another sport, more followed. We only lost two games our freshman year. We need to get more kids coming out and the community behind football again.”
Maciej used Suburban East Conference opponent, Park, in reference to Forest Lake’s football slump. The Wolfpack went 2-25 from 2009-2012 including back-to-back winless years before hitting a competitive streak again at 3-6 this season.
While the Ranger football program continues on, the 2013 captains said they still enjoyed the season and especially their teammates. Twenty-one seniors made up the 52-man squad.
“This is the closest group we’ve ever had,” Bierman said.
“We’re a family,” Winberg added.