Rangers can’t capitalize in the clutch, lose 35-10

In perhaps the weirdest game of all time, the Rangers fall to rival Steele

Carson+Padilla+stands+alone+at+midfield+during+a+game+against+East+Central.+Padilla+was+constantly+in+the+Knights%27+backfield+Friday+night%2C+but+it+wasn%27t+enough.
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Rangers can’t capitalize in the clutch, lose 35-10

Carson Padilla stands alone at midfield during a game against East Central. Padilla was constantly in the Knights' backfield Friday night, but it wasn't enough.

Carson Padilla stands alone at midfield during a game against East Central. Padilla was constantly in the Knights' backfield Friday night, but it wasn't enough.

Danielle Esperiqueta

Carson Padilla stands alone at midfield during a game against East Central. Padilla was constantly in the Knights' backfield Friday night, but it wasn't enough.

Danielle Esperiqueta

Danielle Esperiqueta

Carson Padilla stands alone at midfield during a game against East Central. Padilla was constantly in the Knights' backfield Friday night, but it wasn't enough.

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

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I’m still not entirely sure what it is that I just watched.

Steele walked into Ranger Stadium and was outplayed by a very cold Smithson Valley squad. And yet, the Knights came out on top. How? Who knows! After what I’m sure is a historically poor red zone performance, the Rangers will almost certainly be looking for answers after two straight weeks of being held to ten points. But the first 50 yards were almost never the problem.

The Rangers constantly made their way into enemy territory. But the Knights inadvertently created an impeccable bend-don’t-break defense, holding the Rangers to just ten points. All this being on nine trips into Steele territory, including two trips to the one-yard line (which combined to generate zero points). 

The game started off conspicuously enough. CB Jalen Nutt ran the kickoff back to the Steele 40-yard line, and Greg Eggleston toted the rock twice for 20 yards. I began to question my pregame prediction of a Steele victory. Three plays in, the Rangers looked dominant. A Jacob Forton draw and Jaylon Jones pass deflection later, the team was looking at a manageable 36-yard field goal. The kick almost made it to the line of scrimmage before a white-clad Knight batted it down. 

Don’t worry, though, everything is totally fine. Defensive end Connor Hambrick forced (and recovered) a Wyatt Begeal fumble to bring the ball back into Ranger hands. And this time, the offense succeeded. Greg Eggleston wove madly around the field before finding the left sideline, and Joaquin Rodriguez’s kick gave the Rangers a 7-0 lead they would quickly lose.

Steele gained a grand total of two yards on their next possession, handing Smithson Valley a chance to build upon a lead that already looked formidable. After all, through two drives apiece, Smithson Valley had gained 63 yards to Steele’s 20 yards. Alas, it wasn’t that easy.

Eggleston’s 18-yard rush set the Rangers up nicely at the Steele 46-yard line. But, in his first carry of the game, Gabe Hoskins fumbled, a disappointing ending to a nice eight-yard rush. 

The Big Blue defense played well on the ensuing drive, including forcing another Begeal fumble (this one by way of Trey Moore), but couldn’t keep him out of the end zone on a 2nd-down QB Sneak to start the second quarter. Mason Livingston, presumably mad about the touchdown, decided to block the extra point. 7-6, Rangers.

This is when things start to get completely out of hand. Smithson Valley is forced to punt for the first time, and it goes about as well as any punt ever could. Not only did it flip the field and force the returner to make a tough decision, but Daryn McKnight actually tried to salvage the situation, and the gunners managed to force a red zone fumble. Did they score? Well… no.

Jacob Forton’s number was called three times, and three times he failed to reach the end zone. It was really an unfortunate game for Forton, who never found any lanes and finished the night with just 42 yards on 16 carries. The Rangers missed his typical excellence, especially in the red zone, where they struggled all night. This possession, for example, ended with yet another blocked field goal, this one from 20 yards out. 

The defense, however, continued its staunch ways. Jalen Nutt dropped a potential Begeal interception on third down – no one could hold onto the ball in the 40ºF air – and ended up forcing a punt, which sailed out of bounds at the Steele 27-yard line. Surely, this will be a chance for the Rangers to score.

Nope.

On the second play of the drive, Luke Gombert lobbed a pass into a group of of three receivers, including Chandler Cole, who had managed to get past the entire Knight secondary. It would’ve been a touchdown, at the very least a first down, but the pressure was coming and he had to get the ball out quicker than he would ideally have to. The result? An interception by the lurking Jaylon Jones, who returned it across midfield. 

Steele managed to reach the end zone not once but twice on that drive, Troy Gattis’ two-point conversion lifting them to a 14-7 lead they would never relinquish. But the Rangers still seemed like a team trying to reach midfield, rather than the other side of the goal line. This time, they hardly got that, as an Eric Titzman catch ended up in the hands of a white jersey. Was it a fumble? Probably, although there was never an official ruling, so we may have to add another tick to Gombert’s ledger. Regardless, the Knights wound up with possession, and they took full advantage, stretching the lead to 21-7. With 40 seconds still to play in the first half, the game looked like it may be getting out of hand. But coach Larry Hill was determined to take full advantage of this final opportunity.

Nutt returned the kick to the Rangers’ own 45-yard line, great starting position for a team which so desperately needed some semblance of points. Senior linebacker Darnez Davis dropped a Gombert pass which hit him in both of his hands – again, drop issues for both sides – and the Rangers responded with 15 quick yards and a clock stoppage. On third down, Gombert is flushed out and throws the ball away, leaving two seconds for a Hail Mary. However, after a long discussion with both coaches, the referees set the zero. The first half was finally, mercifully, over. So, in the second half everything regresses to the mean, right? A team this god can’t play this poorly in the red zone forever, can they?

Turns out, they can.

Steele received the second-half kickoff, and Smithson Valley lucked out after a 45-yard De’Quavion Thomas run was called back for holding. The Knights punted from inside Ranger territory for the first (and last) time of the game. The Rangers couldn’t capitalize. A three-and-out and short punt later, Steele undertook a four-play, 52-yard touchdown drive. The score was now a painful 28-7, with 3:21 remaining in the third. A comeback is unlikely, though possible. That is, it was possible, until the Rangers actually got the ball.

The always-methodical Hill and his staff marched up the field to the Steele 16-yard line with gains of 17, 4, and 16, respectively. Forton takes a five-yard loss but Maverick Freeland makes up for it with a 10-yard reception. Jones is called for targeting on Eggleston, and suddenly, everything looks like its coming together. Just one play later, Jones is penalized again, this time for a late hit on Austin Howell. The refs picked up the flag, but the Texas A&M commit was livid, resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. First-and-goal from the two should be a breeze. But Eggleston, who otherwise had an incredible game (18/158/1), fumbled the ball while diving towards the goal line. And who else would recover it but Jones, whose exploits delighted Knight supporters and dismayed those on the other side. 

Steele proceeded to drive 99 yards down the field and score, effectively ending a cold, miserable game. Smithson Valley did manage to kick a field goal that didn’t get blocked, but it was too little, too late, as Steele escaped with an oddly unimpressive 35-10 victory.

So, what can we take away from this game? Not much, but there are a few important points. For one, the fragility of the non-Eggleston offense. In prior games, Jacob Forton had played like the Hulk in Ant Man’s body, but a no-show from last year’s all-district fullback casts a dark shadow on the state of an offense that has managed just two touchdowns in the past two weeks. On the bright side, Luke Gombert continues to look better and better every week, and though his final stat line (5/16 for 47 yards and two picks) is dismal, his accuracy and decision-making are improving by the week.

To be honest, the main takeaway is just the sheer stupidity of this game. Not of the players, but of a game which saw five fumbles, three blocked kicks, two interceptions, a successful hurdler (Eggleston) and an unsuccessful one (Howell). If it didn’t have such critical playoff implications, I’m sure we would all laugh about this game. Everything about it defied logic! And yet here we are, revisiting a circus of elite performers being tugged about by some great puppet master. As weird and disappointing as this game was, however, there’s still another game to prepare for, and beating San Marcos is a must if the Rangers are to make the playoffs. As a real circus act would say, “the show must go on.”

And on it must, marching on through the years and onwards towards eternity, brick upon brick, game upon game, until the metaphysical pieces of and beyond our world conspire to give us this gift of a game. So smile a bit! Laugh! The playoffs are within striking distance. This is just a nice gas station on the journey. But rest stops don’t last long, and soon it’ll be time to take on the Rattlers. Day by day, night by night, we march on in this rat race of life. Sometimes, it’s better to take a step back from the pessimism and enjoy life. And this disappointing-yet-still-kinda-funny matchup provides a chance to do just that.

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