Cats resist stormy Raider response

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Jasper’s Grant Theil, left, and Scott Stallwood celebrated after the Wildcats stopped Southridge on fourth down in the final moments of Friday night’s collision between county rivals at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium in Jasper. The Class 4A No. 2 Wildcats surrendered a 14-point lead before Ben Moore’s touchdown run with 5:07 to play broke a tie and gave the Wildcats a 28-21 victory. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — Next up in nominations for the Understatement of the Year Trophy: Tony Ahrens.

“It’s been an interesting start, to say the least,” the relieved Jasper football coach said.

Stressful. Clutch. Wacky. Imperfectly satisfactory. Whatever you want to call it, the Class 4A No. 2 Wildcats have visited it within the first two weeks of the season against two of their closest rivals.

The perfectly rounded football score of 28-21 by which Jasper subdued Southridge on Friday night suggests little to the eccentricity of how the two county rivals arrived there. What began with the Zach Wood/Nolan Ahrens highlight hour for Jasper ended with the Wildcat defense just able to keep its head above water. The Cats and Raiders kicked off in drooping heat and a dusty surface at a busy Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium, finished nearly 3 1/2 hours later on a damp track, and in between, treated the fraction of fans that were willing to wait out a weather delay to a wild final quarter-and-a-half of football.

Down 21-7 before a spasm of rain and lightning forced teams to retreat to their locker rooms for  just more than an hour, the Raiders stormed back to tie. Ben Moore’s 31-yard touchdown run up the gut and two last defensive stops sewed up Jasper’s fifth straight victory in the series. Another escape for the Cats, who rallied from 19 points down to win their opener last week. A bit of conflicting pride for the Raiders. A host of memorable plotlines for all parties.

“This was a game, it lived up to the hype everybody had,” Raider coach Scott Buening said.

Mother Nature even waltzed in for a cameo, and flipped the game’s tenor in the process.

With 3:43 left in the third quarter, Jasper (2-0) clutched a two-touchdown cushion and was in position to force a punt as Southridge faced fourth-and-1 from its own 29-yard line.

Everything changed in a flash.

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Southridge’s Justin King, left, tried to stop a pass intended for Jasper’s Zach Wood on Jasper’s tiebreaking drive in the fourth quarter. King was called for pass interference on the play while defending Wood, who reeled in four passes for 86 yards.

The game was placed on hold by lightning from a storm cell so compact that the north side of Jasper didn’t see any rainfall. Right before officials sent both teams off the field, the Raider punting unit had trotted on the field. Buening was considering calling timeout to ponder the decision further.

Had he been forced into a snap decision, Buening had no idea what his call would have been.
“That’s a great question. I don’t know,” he said. “We were torn.”

Given some time to chew on it, offensive coordinator Brad Ohanian and the rest of the Raider coaches convinced Buening they had a play that would attain the risky fourth down.

“I think we probably changed the play about 15 times in there as to what we were going to run,” Buening said with a laugh. “Finally we got to the point where it’s like, ”˜OK, we’ve overanalyzed this plenty. It’s funny how that works. You run through all these scenarios, plays, thoughts, ideas in your head, and then keep coming back to the most basic play you have.”

A buck play run for Alex Householder achieved exactly the 1 yard the Raiders needed. That 1 yard soon catapulted Southridge to much more.

Three plays later, Raider quarterback Luke Stetter hit Householder on a 63-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. After the first of Jasper’s two errant field goal tries of the fourth quarter, Southridge’s eight-play, 84-yard drive knotted the contest. Stetter hooked up with Cody Thompson on a 16-yard scoring strike, then located Thompson once more for a tying two-point conversion that compensated for a blocked extra point on the prior TD.

“Any time you’re forced back into a locker room when you’re in the thick of a game, it’s going to affect momentum of a game. And it did,” Jasper coach Tony Ahrens said. “Both teams come out and there’s not very many people left here. It’s just a different environment and then they get that big play on us, so now that’s a momentum swing for them. Then we’re kind of slugging it out, and we caught a couple breaks.”

The Cats needed just 1:30 of game time to craft a go-ahead answer.

They first looked long to Wood, who stutter-stepped his way to a 17-yard scoring reception in the first quarter and a 47-yard touchdown grab while slipping behind one-on-one coverage in the second quarter. After Wood was tangled up and Jasper earned 15 free yards on a pass interference call, Moore rumbled for his winning touchdown as the junior capped his 133-yard night on 15 carries. Nick Hale gave the Cats a second back with better than 100 yards, as the senior broke off a 48-yard score and rushed for 102 yards on 13 tries.

Their counterparts accepted a similar load, as Householder (13 carries, 63 yards) ran for a 2-yard score and Connor Craig’s 16 totes yielded 86 yards. But it was Stetter (11-of-23, 167 yards) and Thompson (six receptions, 86 yards) that kept Southridge’s rally flickering late even though air travel isn’t the Raiders’ preferred mode.

Inside the final two minutes, with the Raiders backed up to their 11-yard line, Stetter skied a pass just before being flattened by two tacklers — and Thompson corralled it while falling on his back with a cluster of Cats around him.

“We knew if we kept going hard and getting them in long situations, they weren’t going to be able to keep pulling them off,” Jasper defensive end Austin Alles said. “We kept going hard and it worked out.”

A combo of penalties and sacks kept the Raiders looking to pass, and their final push expired around midfield when two passes hit the grass incomplete. Buening lamented a handful of simple motion penalties that dulled progress, and the Raiders showed the cause-and-effect of the intensity of the extended night. Lineman Logan Sollman was forced to leave the game because of dehydration, and at least one Raider was reduced to tears as Buening addressed his team in the postgame.

Still, Buening’s hope was that his guys appreciated the night’s full scope.

“It’s something I did ask our kids to notice, coming out of the locker room, I wanted them to look around a little bit and appreciate what they were getting into,” said Buening, whose team hosts Forest Park (0-2) next Friday. “It’s something you need to soak up the moment sometimes. It lived up to everything I hoped it would, I just wish we would have made a few less mistakes and finished the thing off.”

That distinction went to the Cats, who weren’t as fiery and not as sharp as was the plan for Friday’s post-storm return. Tony Ahrens sees shortcomings that need patched: a missed block that helped the Raiders secure a red-zone denial, an unsportsmanlike penalty that set the Cats back in the game’s wee stages, Ahrens mentioned on the short list.

He figures his team simply needs to tidy up a few details, since he has few qualms with the effort level.

“We’ve got kids that are trying to do the right things. It’s just a matter of continuing to work on those little things that make the full picture work,” Ahrens said. “Any time you go through two games like that and come out on the winning side, you’re going to improve as a team.”

JASPER WILDCATS (2-0)
Aug. 23 — EVANSVILLE MEMORIAL W 59-29
Aug. 30 — SOUTHRIDGE W 28-21
Sept. 6 — at Boonville
Sept. 13 — at Heritage Hills
Sept. 20 — at Vincennes Lincoln
Sept. 27 — PRINCETON
Oct. 4 — at Mount Carmel
Oct. 11 — at Washington
Oct. 18 — MOUNT VERNON

SOUTHRIDGE RAIDERS (1-1)
Aug. 23 — at Clarksville W 61-8
Aug. 30 — at Jasper L 21-28
Sept. 6 — FOREST PARK
Sept. 13 — NORTH POSEY
Sept. 20 — at South Spencer
Sept. 27 — TELL CITY
Oct. 4 — at Heritage Hills
Oct. 11 — PIKE CENTRAL
Oct. 18 — GIBSON SOUTHERN

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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