By Malik Mitchell
From finishing (2-7) in the 2021-2022 season to currently being (5-0) in Class 6A, the Forest Lake Rangers are back this season with a new strut. With a new head coach, new culture, and some new faces, the Rangers have made a massive improvement in the program.
First-year head coach Brad Beeskow said, “It means a lot, it really does. It means a lot to be undefeated to this point, we know that we’re not perfect by any means but we’ve done a good job so far in finding ways to win football games. Our guys are learning how to win still, and they’re learning that there are a bunch of different ways to do it. You can blow teams out, you could be in a tight game, but we’ve had to come back a few different times this year. We’ve never really just led wire to wire outside of the last game. We’ve done a good job of learning how to win and learning how to come back. They just keep fighting, just keep playing at all times and they’re gaining confidence as they grow just based on the wins and getting in the win column.”
Besides overcoming close battles from weeks one through four, the Rangers are coming off a lopsided victory against the Hopkins Royals 72-7.
“We were able to get off to a little bit of a lead and then from there our guys just did a really good job of playing together,” said Beeskow. “We talk all the time about playing complementary football and playing in all three phases and making sure that we’re really firing on all cylinders and helping each other out on offense, defense, and special teams.
Beeskow said it wasn’t just an offensive explosion for the team and praised the defense for their continued effort.
“A lot of people see the final score and see that we put up a bunch of points and think it was all offense, but it really wasn’t,” he said. “Our defense did a great job of getting some turnovers and keeping us on a short field. I don’t think we had to go on a long field really all night, we were getting more towards midfield and having some short fields to work with.”
He said it takes all areas of the game to be successful.
“Playing together on offense, defense, and special teams were accountable to allow us to score a lot of points and get a lot of kids in the game and they did a good job altogether,” he said.
The Rangers wasted no time scoring 46 unanswered points in just the first half. In the first quarter, the team racked up 37 points. Senior Keagan Zeidler performed a hat trick completing three touchdown passes, two of which went to senior Westin Hoyt. Zeidler finished the night with four completions for 85 yards, 56 rushing yards, and four touchdowns.
In the second quarter, the Rangers ground game started to heat up with junior Leyton Patzer cruising in for a 4-yard score.
“I felt it started off a little slow due to the passing game working well,” Leyton Patzer said. “Towards the end of the first and into the second quarter, I was able to pick it up with the chances I was given. The first touchdown after a great return by Jake Johnson, I had complete faith in my O-line to be able to open a hole for me to run through for the 4-yard touchdown.”
After the Rangers defense managed to get a safety, Patzer scored another touchdown, this time on a 28-yard run making it a 52 point game.
“My second, I had been waiting for since the game started,’’ said Patzer. “I got through a beautiful hole from the line and saw space and was able to capitalize by making a few moves and getting in the end zone.”
Patzer finished the game with 16 carries for 155 yards with two touchdowns. So far, he’s accumulated 91 carries, 712 yards, and nine touchdowns with an average of 142.4 yards per game. In week two, he had an exceptional game against Anoka carrying the ball 27 times for 163 yards and three touchdowns.
“It feels like a relief, but still a little unreal. I had been working hard last year and throughout the off-season to be able to lead my team the best I could to success,” said Patzer. “Seeing the work I’ve put in turn to success has been a big relief of any doubt. I haven’t taken a whole lot of time to think about stats. Our main focus is usually always the next play or game.”
Beeskow said Patzer has been a great asset for the team.
“He’s a great kid,” he said. “He’s a tremendous athlete. He’s fast, he’s shifty, and he’s really strong but really his best thing in terms of what he does well on the football field is his vision. He makes cuts on the dime, he really truly understands the offense and where the football needs to go. He’s had a great season for us, he had a tremendous football game last Friday night and really every Friday night he shows up.”
Last season, the Rangers only put up 468 rushing yards and 494 passing yards over the course of nine games. Thus far, The Rangers offense has put up 526 passing yards and 1509 rushing yards, averaging 301.8 yards per game.
“Our offensive chemistry is the best we’ve ever seen in my opinion,” said Patzer. “It’s nice that our upper-class grades have become so close off the field, that then allows us to translate it to the field. Not to mention, all the extra reps we’ve taken to truly master our playbook. On top of that our team is always positive, we always try to keep each other up and we’re always working to better each other.”
What’s next for Forest Lake? They’ll host Stillwater (5-0) on Friday, Oct. 7. The Stillwater Ponies have put up 30 points or more in the last four games collecting over 1,400 passing yards.
“It’s going to be a good one, it’s going to be a really fun game,” said Coach Beeskow. “It’ll probably be our biggest crowd and our most exciting game here at home obviously with a tremendous football team and a great program historically. We’re excited for the match up, we’re excited to play them. Let’s go (5-0) vs (5-0) and see who comes out on top.”
There’s certainly some buzz around Forest Lake, with people talking about their football team.
The coach and his players are ready.
Said Beeskow: “We are just excited to enjoy the experience and enjoy the week and get better at practice every single day and get ready for that big one on Friday night.”