Lucas Oil brings out best in WildcatsSeptember 23, 2013
By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor
INDIANAPOLIS — Scott Stallwood trotted off the turf, rounded the corner toward Jasper’s locker room and had one exclamation to make.
“That was freakin’ awesome,” the senior safety said, with the buzz from the last several hours hardly worn off yet.
Stallwood’s statement was a twofer, encompassing everything within Lucas Oil Stadium’s monolithic presence.
The Wildcats’ visit to the home of the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday afternoon doubled as a chance to sample a taste of the big time and to put on quite a show against one of its chief foes as Jasper and Vincennes Lincoln transported their rivalry to the state capital. The Class 4A No. 3 Wildcats emerged with more than just a happy-to-be-there feeling. Jasper crunched Lincoln 64-2 as part of Big Rivals Night, turning the middle contest of the three-game showcase into a big mismatch.
“It felt great to come out here and play like we did,” Jasper sophomore linebacker and kicker Cal Krueger said. “That’s the first time I think we’ve truly played up to our potential all year, and we want to expect more to come.”
The Wildcats left feeling like kings, after arriving feeling like starry-eyed amateurs.
Jasper senior Connor Giesler joked that “I almost felt like a tourist” when the team bus pulled up to the stadium and he and several teammates snapped cellphone photos on the way in. If there’s any chance the Colts want to lend their digs to the Cats on a regular basis, they’d probably have a taker as Jasper coach Tony Ahrens said the surroundings inspired the sort of verve that he’s continually trying to mine from his team.
“One of the best ingredients we had here today was just the emotion and intensity that our kids had,” Ahrens said. “It was something that we’re always trying to improve, and the kids were very excited about playing here.”
Naturally, a little jumpiness was apparent. On the first three plays of the game from scrimmage, each team flinched offsides once. Largely, though, the Cats had few issues coming back down to earth and focusing, and senior running back Nick Hale explained why.
“We were ready to stick it to Vincennes,” he said. “We came ready to play from the beginning.”
With the exception of an interception on their second series and their final possession deep in the fourth quarter, the Cats (5-0, 2-0 Big Eight Conference) scored on every drive. Their defense routinely flipped possession — and usually in a hurry — as Lincoln (1-4, 1-2) mustered just one first down in the opening half, a mere 73 yards of offense for the day and didn’t score until a safety on the game’s final play.
Consequently, several Cats had the chance to make memories within the runaway.
Nolan Ahrens passed for 190 yards on 16-of-21 attempts, including touchdown tosses to Ben Moore, Austin Alles and Zach Wood. Moore, who netted 98 yards on 15 carries, added a 7-yard score on the ground to launch the second half.
Hale also relished the feeling of scoring on the Lucas Oil turf, then enjoyed it again and again. He followed up a pair of 3-yard TDs with a scoring burst of 19 yards as he warmed up to maneuvering on turf that he said contained more grip than other artificial surfaces he’s played on.
Of course, there was also the temptation to grab a peek at the replays of the touchdowns on the Jumbotron across the field.
“I wanted to see some of them, a few blocks,” Hale said. “But you’ve just got to stay focused. It’s kind of hard, but it was awesome.”
The experience was sweetened by the fact that Hale is a Colts fan, and Giesler said he’s been a Colts backer since he was a tyke. Giesler crafted a highlight he never expected early in the fourth quarter, when he beat one defender around the edge for an 11-yard gain — which went for a touchdown on his first carry of the season.
“I’ve been a Colts fan since I knew about football. Not too many people get to score a touchdown (at) Lucas Oil Stadium, so it was a pretty good feeling,” Giesler said. “I still can’t quite grasp the fact that it happened, but it was nice.”
Reid Milligan’s 6-yard score punctuated Jasper’s command performance, which left Tony Ahrens impressed when he considered the saga of the day.
The team made the trip in one day, piling onto the bus Saturday morning and warming up for the game on a concrete surface under the stadium. To boot, they endured a bit of a delay as the long-running opening game between Lawrenceburg and Franklin County bumped back Jasper and Lincoln about 45 minutes from their original 4:45 p.m. start time.
When the Cats did sprint onto the field from the tunnel prior to kickoff, Tony Ahrens watched the scene and just smiled, almost like a proud father.
“Just to get through that process and have the kids play as well as they played, it’s just a neat thing for everybody,” Ahrens said.
Especially considering the Cats figured they should have exercised control over Lincoln in recent years. Two years ago, Lincoln surprised Jasper in a 25-22 loss. The Cats’ touch-and-go 7-0 win last year was marginally better.
Saturday’s rout was more like it, the Cats figured. After Jasper piled on its fifth touchdown of the first half, team doctor Dean Beckman greeted the players returning to the sideline.
“This is great, isn’t it?” Beckman said.
“So fun,” Stallwood affirmed with a grin that wouldn’t fade.
All of it got Jasper thinking about a possible return trip to Lucas Oil. Next time, they’d have to earn a tougher ticket there to land a spot in the state finals in November. But Saturday’s showing may have introduced merit to the idea.
“It was definitely once-in-a-lifetime,” Krueger said, before considering a revision. “Hopefully we’re back here, though. I’d like to make it twice this year.”
Contact Brendan Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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