Cats at 'good spot' heading into postseason

Herald File Photo by Brittney Lohmiller
Sophomore running back Lance Dawkins is one of the primary weapons that Jasper will search to utilize in tonight's sectional opener against Evansville Harrison. Dawkins finished with 542 rushing yards on 87 attempts with six touchdowns this season. Elliott Hopf, who recorded four touchdowns on the year, also finished with 500+ rushing yards this season.


Tony Ahrens is feeling really good about where the Jasper football team is at this point in the season.

The Wildcats (5-4) have won their last four games heading into Friday’s sectional matchup against the Evansville Harrison Warriors (2-7) a complete turnaround from when they dropped four of their first five games. Ahrens said that the four-game streak helped the players bounce back mentally to a place where they feel like they can compete with anyone on the field.

“I think some of the challenges that our team had to go through and having the attitude to work through it instead of taking a negative road, it’s made them as a group a little more perseverant,” he said. “They are playing so much better together. We had some different lineups in there for awhile, but we’re getting back to where we have a solid group of starters.”

Ahrens referenced the team’s latest win over the Mount Vernon Wildcats as an example for a team that is peaking at the right time. He loved the team’s physicality on both sides of the ball, and stressed how that factor will be critical for their success as they move forward toward Friday night.

Being able to put forth that kind of pressure and grind on a team can wear down opponents across four quarters of football, and the Wildcats look prepared to do just that against the Warriors.

But the message all week has been warning against getting overconfident and complacent against Harrison. Ahrens said he has been hearing chatter about how Jasper should be able to move past the Warriors, but the coach said you can’t just look at a team’s record and start writing off games before they are played — the Wildcats will still have to do their part to step up and play well in order to earn their advancement into the tournament.

To that end, Ahrens wants his defense to do everything they can to keep plays in front of them; the Warriors have speed at the skill positions, and Ahrens doesn’t want any of their playmakers in open space where they can make a guy miss and take off for the end zone.

“Anytime you put the speed that they have on the field, you better have a good game plan to stop that speed because they could score quickly,” said Ahrens. “So to counter that speed we have to corral them. We have to pin them and we have to all pursue to the ball.”

Offensively, Jasper will stay consistent in their intent to control the action on the ground with running backs Elliott Hopf and Lance Dawkins.

But the Warriors also have an aggressive defense with a lot of stunts and blitz packages, so he and the coaching staff are looking to hit areas of the field that they leave exposed if those opportunities present themselves.

“They’re going to be attacking the line of scrimmage with linebackers, safeties, and defensive ends,” he said. “So as an offensive line we have to have our eyes up and understand our assignments, or they can make big plays like that. We have to do a good job recognizing what’s coming at us as far as the defense is concerned and countering. You can really hurt people throwing the ball when they bring that kind of heat.”

The last key that Ahrens thinks will be a big factor in tonight’s result will be team discipline across the board.

Early on in the season when Jasper wasn’t playing so well, Ahrens felt that a lot of their issues were self inflicted. Guys would have lapses in concentration when it came to assignments or game situations, and then the machine wouldn’t work like it needed to.

A better opponent beating the Wildcats in a game is one thing, but the coach doesn’t want the team to fall victim to self perpetuated bad habits and patterns.

“We gave away a lot of games during the season. We beat ourselves in a lot of cases because of turnovers, not lining up right,” he said. “If you have a lazy mentality going into the game, you’re going to lack that discipline that it takes to do the simple things that you should be able to do anyway. I think discipline is critical.”

But all that aside Ahrens thinks the team has had a good week of practice and preparation heading into tonight’s battle with the Warriors and believes that the boys have the talent and skills to win a sectional.

They still have to earn it on the field, but Ahrens is positive about where the team is headed when they take to the field.

“Success obviously makes everyone feel better, but the way we’ve had it is convincing them that if we do these kinds of things, we can be good,” he said. “So our demeanor at practice has been very positive. We’re in a good spot right now.”

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