Big plays prove deciding factor for Wildcats

Jasper's Blake Mann runs the ball during Friday's sectional semifinal football game. The Wildcat quarterback had a game-high 155 yards rushing. Evansville Central defeated Jasper 27-16. Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald


JASPER — Jasper coach Tony Lewis and his staff won’t have to watch much film to dissect Friday night’s Class 4A sectional semifinal against Evansville Central to know how the wheels came off of the Wildcats’ postseason run. Of the 66 plays the Bears ran and the 40 snaps Jasper took, Lewis says the game’s outcome came down to four or five big plays: “the blocked punt leads to a touchdown; then we get the ball back and we’re driving it on them, and we put it on the ground; then, on an option, the kid cuts in front of the pitch and takes it back for a touchdown; and they went over the top of us for two long touchdowns.”

Those are the CliffsNotes for a 27-16 verdict that ended Jasper’s season and extended Central’s into the sectional championship versus Evansville Memorial.

“Big games like this come down to four or five plays,” Lewis decided. “Their good, athletic kids made some plays on us.

“I’m really proud of our kids. I thought we came out and competed in the second half. Obviously we scored a couple of times, and didn’t give up. That’s the hallmark of what we’re trying to get done here. Jasper always competes, and we competed until the end,” Lewis said.

The first half of Friday’s game at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium looked as if it was going to be a one-sided affair. When the Wildcats (6-4) went three and out on their initial possession, that’s when the Bears got the first big play of the evening, when Brennan Schutte broke through to block a Nathan Rillo punt, putting Central just 21 yards away from paydirt.

“Blocked punt, inexcusable,” Lewis said. “We’ve got to do a better job of protection on that.”

Two plays after the blocked punt, Central quarterback Collins Turner found receiver Tre’Jon Evans for the first of three touchdown passes with 9:40 showing.

After Jasper was again forced to punt the ball away, the Bears used just four plays to make it 14-0, a 77-yard drive capped by a 49-yard scoring pass from Turner to Evans with 5:17 left in the opening quarter.

The Wildcats threatened to narrow the scoring margin early in the second stanza, but that’s when another big play occurred. An option pitch from Jasper quarterback Blake Mann was intercepted by Evans, who raced 75 yards for paydirt and a 21-0 score at the 10:17 mark.

But the Bears (9-2) weren’t finished yet. With 6:01 remaining before halftime, Turner hooked up with Evans for a third time from 47 yards out to make it 27-0.

Jasper managed to get on the scoreboard as time expired in the half when Jackson Kabrick booted through a 34-yard field goal.

The Wildcats turned the tables on Central in the second half, holding the Bears scoreless in the final two quarters, while putting up 16 points of their own.

While Lewis was impressed with how the team responded in the second half, he also recognized the limitations the Wildcats had to try to overcome.

“Carson Park just played his butt off the entire game — great kid, unbelievable linebacker. Blake Mann made some runs in the second half, and Lance Dawkins made some big runs for us,” he said. “I thought we were moving the ball effectively offensively at times, but we just got bogged down. And for an option offense, it’s tough to come back. When you’re not a spread team and you’re not throwing the ball a lot, it’s tough to come back when you get down. That was kinda tough on us, but our kids continued to compete.”

Jasper's Carson Park, center, hugs his parents, Mike, left, and Stephanie, after Friday's sectional semifinal football game. Evansville Central defeated Jasper 27-16. "ItÕs just so sad," Stephanie said. "ItÕs bittersweet. I just love to watch him play." Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald

After holding the Bears on downs to start the third period, Jasper registered its first touchdown when Mann raced 45 yards to paydirt to make it 27-9 with 7:45 on the clock.

The Jasper defense then flexed its muscles. After Central drove 67 yards to the shadow of the Wildcat goalposts, the defense smothered a 34-yard field goal attempt that would have added to the Bears’ cushion.

But Jasper’s ensuing possession was thwarted when the Wildcats couldn’t make connections on a handoff, and Central pounced on the loose ball at midfield.

The Wildcats managed a final touchdown just 17 seconds from the end when Dawkins bowled into the endzone from two yards out, and Kabrick tacked on the PAT for the 27-16 final count.

Mann led all rushers with 155 yards, while Schutte paced the Bears with 134 yards. Dawkins finished with 125 yards.

“The positives we can take away from [this season] are we installed what we’re doing offensively, and we got better at it as the season went along,” Lewis said, looking ahead to next year. “Defensively, I thought we played well. Midway through the year, we really started doing well defensively. We’ve got to do a better job of assignment football, but in terms of looking at next year, we don’t have to put in a new offense now, the offense is in. Defensively, the defense is in. We’ve got great kids that work hard and have great attitudes, and I’ll take them any day, any day of the week I’ll take our kids.”

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