Ahrens shares the love in 100th win

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Jasper coach Tony Ahrens received an ice bath from players Scott Stallwood, left, and Neil Rose in celebration of his 100th career win Friday night at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium. The Class 4A No. 3 Wildcats left little doubt about the milestone, exploding for 44 first-half points en route to a 51-13 blowout victory. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — Before a question could be asked, Tony Ahrens answered in more ways than one.

As he customarily does, he walked outside the jubilance of Jasper’s locker room and took a seat on the steel bench to the left of the door. Dressed in his standard attire — a black long-sleeve shirt, black pants and black shoes — Ahrens cracked a smile.

“This is awesome,” the 11th-year Wildcat coach said.

Indeed, it was. In every sense. From a near flawless passing game to a rushing attack that maintained consistency. From a smoldering defense to special-teams ingenuity that coalesced insight with imagination. It seemed that whatever the Class 4A No. 3 Wildcats needed Friday night, they got. Whatever they wanted, they took.

The play from Jasper appeared inspired. And rightfully so, as the Wildcats’ 51-13 victory over Princeton brought Ahrens’ win total to 100 in his head coaching career, which began at Jasper in 2003.

Without a prompt of any kind, Ahrens justified the success without hesitation.

 “I’ve been here a long time and I’ve had an opportunity to coach a lot of really, really neat young men,” said Ahrens, now in his 18th season as part of the Wildcat coaching staff. “This doesn’t have really anything to do with me. It’s the staff and the kids that have played here.”

With about a minute remaining in the contest, Ahrens stood at about the 40-yard line of the south end of the field at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium, still watching intently as Jasper’s reserves ran the game’s final series of downs.

Behind him, mischief lurked. Seniors Scott Stallwood and Neil Rose each grabbed a side of a Gatorade cooler and meandered their way toward the Wildcat coach. With help from classmate Zach Wood, they dumped the 5-gallon jug at head level. Water and ice connected squarely on the unsuspecting coach’s back. A startled jump, a quick look back, a grin and some handshakes.

The shower arrives unexpectedly. Much like the milestone.

“When I see something like that on TV, I’m thinking, ”˜That’s never going to happen to me. I’m too smart.’ And here I get hit,” Ahrens said of the ice bath. “And honestly, I didn’t think about this. One hundred wins? I never even thought about it. I live week to week, game to game. In the coaching profession, that’s what you do. And I’ve learned from a lot of different coaches, you take one game at a time and you don’t get outside of that world because if you do, you can’t focus on that one game.”

Jasper’s performance accentuated the notion.

The offense, irrepressible.

Quarterback Nolan Ahrens connected on 17-of-20 pass attempts for 218 yards in the opening half, allocating strikes primarily to a trio of receivers — Wood (six catches, 62 yards), Austin Alles (five grabs, 86 yards, two touchdowns) and Philip Huebschman (four receptions, 65 yards). Meanwhile, Nick Hale nourished Jasper’s ground regime with 67 yards and a touchdown while Ian Songer (two touchdowns) added oomph in the red zone. The Wildcats collected 13 first downs in the first half alone, two more than the Tigers had all game.

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Boone Jahn, right, and Cole Kreilein celebrated after Jahn returned an interception for a touchdown.

Jasper’s defense simply followed suit.

Deon Hardiman, the Tigers’ dynamic senior running back, managed just 34 rushing yards in the first half. Princeton quarterback Colton Wilder completed just 5-of-12 passes for 32 yards in that same stretch, noticably rattled by Jasper’s defense in the worst of circumstances for the Tigers.

Within a span of 1:03 of game time in the second quarter, Jasper’s defense tallied nine points to bolster the Cats’ lead to 37-0. First, Boone Jahn jumped in front of a bubble screen and returned the interception 16 yards for a score.

“I’m not known for having the best hands,” the sophomore joked, “but I guess I just had to bring it in and just take it to the endzone.”

One minute later, Pablo Santos wrestled Wilder to the endzone grass for a safety, as Moises Valenciano came crashing in to finish the job.

The Tigers had just 61 yards of offense in the first half. They entered the locker room at intermission still processing a deficit that had swelled from two scores at the end of the first period to 44-0 after two.

“We’re all gang-tackling ’em, hitting ’em hard and playing OK up front,” Jahn said. “Just shutting ’em down.”

And sprinkled within the explosiveness, Jasper revealed some flair as well. Forced into a fourth-and-1 on their own 49, the Cats resuscitated the drive with a 9-yard run by Stallwood as punter Nolan Ahrens acted as if the snap had sailed over his head. From there, a 27-yard pass to Huebschman, two scampers by Ben Moore and Hale’s 3-yard touchdown blast gave Jasper a two-touchdown advantage at first quarter’s end.

In the second quarter, Mitch Lindauer pounced on an onside kick to give Jasper the ball again after Alles scored on a pass from 35 yards out. Six plays later, Nolan Ahrens again targeted Alles in the endzone.

The efforts arrived from a litany of contributors. And how appropriate, given Tony Ahren’s perpetual desire to shower others in praise.

“He is so selfless. He never thinks about himself,” Nolan Ahrens said of his coach and father.
“He puts everything into the games we play. Looks at film every day of the week. He loves doing it.”

As Tony Ahrens stressed, the 100th victory came via the dedication of coaches like offensive coordinator Geoff Mauck and defensive coordinator Nick Eckert, and from continued exertion from players.

Yet from Day One, the motive has never been quantifiable.

“I don’t really think about (the wins). I never really thought about, ”˜Oh, I want to win this many,’ or ”˜I want this stat.’ What you really try to do is you try to just teach guys how to handle themselves, handle life, and handle a game that can teach you a lot about how to handle life. Try to get them to understand closeness, and you’ve got to rely on other people to succeed and how to pull together when things aren’t going well. Just all the fundamentals of living is what you can learn through something like this. And there have been a lot of guys who have grown up in this program.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.

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