Several items drove the Rangers success this season
Six regular season wins. A second place finish in the Metro-Maroon North conference. A playoff victory against Eagan. A section championship and Class 6A Second Round appearance against Maple Grove, one of the state’s top teams and the best team in the metro, according to the Star Tribune’s rankings on Tuesday, Oct. 25.
The Forest Lake Rangers football team is coming off their best season in the 21st century by all accounts and were one win away from a berth in the state tournament, something the program hasn’t accomplished since the 1991 season.
There are several different reasons behind their success, according to opposing coaches and two seniors.
A new voice, culture
In the offseason last year, Osseo coach Ryan Stockhaus knew that Forest Lake had talent in their program, even though the team couldn’t put anything together for whatever reason it was. So when the Orioles came back to play the Rangers this year, he could feel “a real sense of unity and purpose,” on the other side of the field.
In February, Forest Lake Area High School hired Brad Beeskow as their new head football coach. That provided the team with a fresh perspective, something Maple Grove coach Matt Lombardi said can make a significant impact because “sometimes it’s just important for a new message to come in,” even if the previous coach wasn’t at fault.
The energy felt different after Beeskow’s arrival, too.
“I think just coming into summer and having a new coaching staff, I think there was kind of a different energy,” senior wide receiver Westin Hoyt said. “I think everyone was kind of excited and wanted to work really hard.”
Senior quarterback Keagan Zeidler added: “I think we just really had a lot of buy-in, some new coaches just kind of brought a new culture, new scheme, and [we] just really bought in and just worked hard. The results came by themselves.”
For Mounds View coach Aaron Moberg, he could feel the excitement and energy during their matchup against the Rangers during Forest Lake’s homecoming week, and it was different than it’s been in the past.
It’s also that ‘work’ motto that Beeskow implemented that made a difference, according to Zeidler and Hoyt.
“We kind of focused on the process more than the result,” Zeidler said. “If we just worked hard, showed up to practice everyday and just put in our best, the results would take care of themselves. And I think that’s what kind of happened this year.”
Moberg said he can tell Beeskow gets them to play at a top level and that belief is something that shouldn’t be overlooked.
“I think belief is incredibly important to get your kids to believe, especially after years of not winning many football games, getting the belief that they can do it,” Moberg said. “It takes a special person and I think even though he may not want the credit, I think Brad and his staff obviously have instilled a high level of belief in their kids, and it shows in the way they play.”
Ability to respond
The ball was snapped on Forest Lake’s own 40-yard line with just under three minutes left on the clock in the fourth quarter. Zeidler avoided a sack with incoming defensive pressure and pitched the ball to junior Leyton Patzer. The running back found room near the sideline and ran to the end zone, evading a tackle en route to the game-winning touchdown in the Rangers 14-8 win over Mounds View on Friday, Sept. 23, during homecoming week.
The Rangers had trailed the entire game up to that point. They were down 8-0 until Patzer scored in the fourth quarter with 7:19 left to make it 8-6 before they missed the two-point conversion.
In all, the team trailed for 45 minutes and 30 seconds in the game – and yet, somehow won.
“I would say this year, they did a very good job of responding,” Moberg said. “We had opportunities, we’d make a big play and then they did a good job of keeping us out of the end zone. … Oftentimes you’ll see teams roll over and just their response this year was impressive. When they faced adversity, they responded well to it.”
It was the second time in three weeks the Rangers had won in come-from-behind fashion after overcoming a 29-13 deficit against Anoka two weeks prior. They also recovered against St. Michael-Albertville in the season opener after trailing 14-7 to a team that beat them 42-6 the year before.
“I think that was just a big belief in ourselves,” Zeidler said of the team’s ability to respond in the comeback wins. “I think we just all knew what we were capable of, and even if we were down by a couple of scores, we just knew that we were always in the game and if we just played our best game, we can take down anyone.”
Hoyt said that some of the games “got out of hand early” but the team never quit, and he said a huge reason for that is Beeskow, who never stopped believing in them.
Against Maple Grove on the road in the section championship, Forest Lake responded on their first drive with a score after the Crimson took an early 7-0 lead when they converted on the opening drive of the game.
“They put us on our heels defensively,” Lombardi said. “You could tell they were kids that believed and came in with every intention of winning.”
Despite the loss, the Rangers responded the best they could. When they allowed 26 points in the second quarter and their state chances were all but gone, they didn’t let the game get more out of hand, getting outscored just 21-14 in the second half.
The talent, depth and system
A lot of teams will lean more on their top talent or more on their depth. The same can be said for a team’s offensive attack with some teams attacking offensively on the run while others utilize the passing game. The Rangers have a mix of everything, according to the various coaches. Several coaches also mentioned Forest Lake’s speed, defense and system this year in addition to their offense.
“Any team that’s going to win six games in [Class] 6A football, you got to have some studs,” Moberg said. “They definitely have some horses to lean on this year, and you need to have that. But at the same time, they’re strong across the board, and it was hard to expose any big weaknesses on either side of the ball.”
Patzer (12 touchdowns), Hoyt (nine TD’s), senior Jake Johnson (seven TD’s) and of course, Zeidler, led the way offensively for the Rangers.
Lombardi said that Zeidler is a “dual-threat” and Hoyt is a “super explosive receiver. ...”
“They had some guys on both sides of the ball that were electric playmakers, and they had some other guys that just played their role really well and complemented each other well,” Stockhaus said.
Forest Lake’s ability to attack offensively in both the run and pass game is a “pretty dangerous combination” to have Stockhaus said.
“I think that was a huge part of why our offense is successful this year because if the defense could stop one part of our offense, then we would just use the other part and I think that just went a long ways in helping us be able to score in multiple different ways,” Zeidler said.
Forest Lake’s top competition in the Metro-Maroon North this season was Stillwater, who was one of the two teams who beat Forest Lake in the regular season, which will surely set the stage for an entertaining matchup again next season.
“The staff picked an offensive system that featured their players effectively,” Stillwater coach Beau LaBore said. “They were fast and durable throughout the season.”