Still dynamic, Olympians run with new strength

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Jasper’s Moises Valenciano, left, got a hug from Scott Stallwood after stopping Evansville Reitz’s progress in last week’s Class 4A sectional final. The Wildcat defense will be tested again in Friday’s 8 p.m. regional battle at No. 1 Columbus East, which scores better than 53 ppg.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

Even for Bob Gaddis, who’s a couple seasons away from the 400th game in his 35-year coaching career, memories from the 2008 regional skirmish against Jasper remain.

“It was probably the coldest, muddiest, wettest game I’ve ever coached,” the 13th-year Columbus East coach recalled. “We tore the field up, and I felt bad because the field got destroyed.”

Certainly more damaging to the Wildcats that night was the 24-7 discharge delivered by the top-ranked Olympians, a verdict Gaddis felt “came down to a couple big plays.”

An early forecast for Friday’s Class 4A regional tilt between No. 6 Jasper (11-1) and top-ranked (again) and unbeaten (again) Columbus East doesn’t call for quite the deluge that arrived in the days leading up to the regional clash five years ago. And just as the precipitation prognosis has been flipped, so too has the identity of an Olympian group that ranks second in the state in points scored per contest (53.2).

In ’08, Columbus East featured a potent aerial attack, led by quarterback Dusty Kiel, who, despite the conditions, slung the Olympians’ first two touchdowns. Five years later and a few years removed from Columbus East’s lineage of Kiels at quarterback, the Olympians have redefined their attack almost entirely.

Behind standout junior running back Markell Jones, the Olympians pound out 324 yards on the ground per game. And though quarterback Alex Cowan has still registered 1,070 passing yards, the senior play-caller’s initial instinct is with his legs. Cowan’s 872 rushing yards rank second behind Jones (1,946 yards, 35 touchdowns).

“Philosophically, (the style) has changed around here,” Gaddis said. “And that’s the essence of high school football: changing with how your players play.”

Jasper can relate. The 2008 loss marked the end of the second-most successful pass offense in Jasper history, in terms of yardage. This year’s Cats became the only offense to top that team’s numbers. The two groups were and are an adaptation of sorts from the Wildcats’ usual heritage of handoffs.

Each year, the assignment becomes finding the correct combinations, Jasper lineman Neil Rose said.

“It’s like the coaches said, it’s kind of like a big puzzle. You just have to figure out where everybody fits in,” Rose said.

But even with redesign, total neglect of the Cats’ original identity would be ill-advised, coach Tony Ahrens stressed.

“One thing we don’t want to do, we never want to get away from just being a physical team that’s assignment-driven,” Ahrens said. “We’re always going to be … a downhill, come-at-you, play-action type team.”

The edict is direct, which is also how Ahrens views Friday’s adversary, particularly pertaining to the Olympian defense. While some squads bank on disguise and fakes to conceal a coverage, Columbus East masks very little, Ahrens said.

“You play a lot of teams and I don’t know if you want to call it a junk defense or what you want to call it, but you really have a tough time trying to figure out, ”˜OK, now what defense are they going to run?’” Ahrens explained. “In this case, you know where they’re going to line up. ... You know what’s coming at you.”

Like Jasper, Columbus East’s defensive heart is rooted up front. Anchored by three-year starters Brock Patterson (defensive end) and Dalton Bateman (defensive tackle), the Olympians returned all four defensive linemen, all three linebackers and eight defensive starters altogether from last year’s semistate squad and surrender just 12 points per game this year (16th best in the state).

As Gaddis watched film with his defensive unit at lunch Wednesday, the similarities between Jasper and his own defense popped up continually.

“I think we’re pretty much the same team,” said Gaddis, who called the Jasper defense the quickest and most physical defense Columbus East has faced.

“At this level, it starts up front, and I’ve been very impressed with Jasper’s offensive and defensive line.”

Evansville Reitz coach Andy Hape made the same comment about the Jasper defense after last Friday’s sectional championship, saying that “the strength of the football team is their front guys.

“Coach Ahrens had a great gameplan with bracketing our guys, which we knew he was going to do, but he did a good job of disguising it,” Hape said Friday. “Wide side, short side, they were always bracketing different guys.”

It’s a large part of how Jasper has managed its three tournament games so well, said Ahrens, who underlined the Cats’ 2-to-1 time-of-possession advantage in their last two contests. Ahrens has also seen the advantage the lines have created leading to preferable field position as well. Against Reitz on Friday, the Wildcats’ average start position on their 11 drives was their own 32-yard line.

“They can throw, they can run and they can stop the run. And they’re very good at establishing field position,” Gaddis said. “And when you look at all three areas, you can understand why they’re a sectional champion and playing in November.”

Friday will be the third time since ’08 that the Wildcats have met the top-ranked team in the state. Each time, it’s occurred before the semistate round. And for the Cats to clinch their first semistate berth since 2005, the aim remains realistic for Ahrens and his group: Curb a potent attack while sustaining a persistent psyche themselves.

“The thing of it is, we’re not going to stop either (Jones or Cowan) totally. Our job is to slow them down,” Ahrens said. “And (we have to) be mentally perseverant to keep banging away and try to put ourselves in a position to win the game.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




More on DuboisCountyHerald.com