New beginnings: Rangers ready to rumble with Rebels

Football rarin', ready to kick off their season against Midland Lee

The Rangers run out onto the field prior to last season's 24-23 loss to the Lee Rebels. The two teams face off again in Midland this Friday.

Casey Casselberry

The Rangers run out onto the field prior to last season's 24-23 loss to the Lee Rebels. The two teams face off again in Midland this Friday.

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

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Football is back, baby.

And boy, am I excited.

After a frustrating 2018 in which the Rangers endured peaks, valleys, and general inconsistency, the team is ready for a new year. Spearheaded by new quarterback Luke Gombert, a senior, the team looking to climb to new heights, and not just incrementally. So what exactly are they shooting for?

“Without a doubt a state championship,” Gombert said.

They’ve got a long way to go. A 28-0 shutout loss to Converse Judson was their first shutout loss since 1996, and the school’s 5-5 record was its first non-losing season since 1995. Quarterback Levi Williams is gone, and he provided valuable leadership for a a young team.

And young they were. This year’s team returns 14 starters and 37 of 73 total lettermen, an important bit of context to remember when looking at last season’s failures.

But every year is a new year, and with it comes new expectations. Defensive linebacker Trey Witcher, for example, seems to be in line for a monster senior season, after a junior campaign that included 57 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and a pick. His bigger sidekick, defensive end Trey Moore, looks to be a bookend if he can build on a strong sophomore season (35 tackles, 5 sacks). Dominant interior force Will Gibbens also departed, but Coach Larry Hill’s defensive tackles have survived turnover before.

Rounding out the front seven, linebacker Tom Zeug (61 tackles, 1 sack) is another big part of what is shaping up to be another stout Ranger defense. His 4.6 speed should play well against tight ends and running backs, so he should be able to help out the secondary.

Led by junior Jalen Nutt (47 tackles, 2 INTs), the secondary looks to rebound into a solid unit after the expected dip in play following Trevon Moehrig’s departure to TCU.

The offense, on the other hand, is unpredictable. Gombert seems promising enough but has never really gotten significant reps against high-level competition. Four of last year’s top five wide receivers – including punter Jeremiah Gilliam – are gone, leaving only sophomore Kasen Wells (12/169/0), a converted quarterback, to lead the charge.

The rest of the offense seems sturdier. Tight end Austin Howell returns, and despite losing running back Marc Franco, the other two-thirds of last year’s committee are poised to take a leap. Senior fullback Jacob Forton led the team in rushing last year, and junior Darlington Frasch hopes that being another year removed from a major injury will let him leap into the limelight.

The offensive line, as well, should be much better despite guard Ronald Copney taking his talents to Texas State. Devin Smith, Taylor Brooks, and Nathan Moczygemba come back with a year of experience. 

Gombert’s championship dreams might seem far-fetched, but every dream starts somewhere. And his starts on Friday against the Midland Lee Rebels.

The Rebels present a formidable opening-week challenge to the young Rangers. The team is 19-6 with three playoff wins in the past two seasons and are led by senior wide receiver Loic Fouonji, ranked among the top wideouts in the state. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound monster blazes a 40-yard-dash in the 4.3 seconds and already has offers from schools like Texas and Texas A&M. His line of 51/903/13 should strike fear into the hearts of opposing teams as well as his 221 kick return yards will.

The Rebels also boast a fearsome 3-4 defense. Led by defensive linebacker Michael Hinojosa and defensive back Karl Taylor, the Rangers’ new quarterback will have to get acclimated quickly, as Lee will certainly play with a chip on their shoulder after nearly botching last year’s near-blowout at Ranger Field.

PREDICTION: The Rangers play tough defense, but can’t get the offense going as the Rebels stack the box all game long. Wells picks up a couple of big gains, Howell snags a touchdown reception ,and Frasch and Forton lead the charge for another, but the unit otherwise stalls. The defense can’t stop Fouonji, and Midland Lee defends their territory, 27-14.