Cats roll, return home for showdown

Olivia Corya/The Herald
Jasper’s Cory Hoffman, left, and Adam Goepfrich relaxed on the sidelines Friday night at Seymour as the Wildcat reserves finished off a 45-13 rout of the Owls in the Class 4A sectional semifinals. The second-ranked Wildcats (11-0) will return home for next Friday’s sectional championship to face Evansville Reitz (8-3), which ended Jasper’s season in 2009 and ’10. For a gallery of photos, click here.


Herald Sports Editor

SEYMOUR — Devon Traylor didn’t see many droopy eyelids. That was the Jasper senior’s first signal that sluggishness wasn’t along for the ride for the Wildcats in Friday’s Class 4A sectional semifinal.

Napping wasn’t necessary on the winding, two-plus-hour bus trek to Seymour — in fact, it was emphatically discouraged. The Wildcats had orders that snoozing wasn’t the best way to pass the time during the cross-state journey. That’s how Jasper’s week went: Everything was planned with precision, like a strict father’s vacation itinerary.

Jasper smacked Seymour with two big plays to open the game, nudging the second-ranked Wildcats off and running to a 45-13 rout of the Owls and into next week’s sectional final. Jasper (11-0) will return to Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium for a throwdown Friday with Evansville Reitz (8-3), which cashed in on a two-point conversion in overtime to outlast Evansville Central 43-42.

Jasper coach Tony Ahrens characterized Friday as a “weird type of game,” being two hours from home in the rain and wedged between the anticipation of the sectional opener and the sectional final, which the Wildcats have now reached eight times in the last nine years. Friday, Jasper prided itself on preparation. Even as the Cats were out of school Friday for fall break, Traylor said the team’s seniors warned everyone not to fall victim to the trap of staying up late Thursday and making up the sleep deficit Friday. Traylor and quarterback Nolan Ahrens treated Thursday night as a typical school night, both turning in at the usual time of around 10:30. Others followed suit, and Jasper reaped the rewards of playing refreshed.

“They knew — they should have known — they needed their energy. We told all the younger guys that they’re going to get out and be ready to play. And to be honest, we handled that really good today,” said Traylor, who returned an interception 32 yards to equip Jasper with a 14-point lead late in the first quarter. “Coach said don’t just come and sleep two hours on the bus the way there. I looked up, nobody was really sleeping. We handled it pretty well, came out and did our business.”

Two turnovers on their first three drives notwithstanding, the Wildcats scored on their first six possessions. Jasper slayed Seymour on the first two touches after kickoff, first when Traylor dashed 55 yards on the return and Cole Sermersheim fled an arm tackle on a 35-yard touchdown run.

The Cats gave Reitz’s scouts in attendance something to chew on, as their first five touchdowns came from five separate sources, and Adam Goepfrich added a 31-yard field goal. Nick Gobert lowered his head for a 1-yard TD on fourth down and Kade Elliott scored Jasper’s last touchdown of the first half and the opening score of the second half on an 18-yard burst. The Cats embellished the ground game with a dash of variety, executing reverses on a running play and a punt return, and gaining a first down on a fake punt by Traylor.

Jasper owned a 21-0 lead before completing a pass and stretched the advantage on two Ahrens-to-Alles connections, the first a 49-yard pickup on third-and-10 that preceded an 8-yard hookup between the sophomores for a touchdown.

“We had great tempo and just ran the ball most of the time,” Nolan Ahrens said, “but when we passed the ball, they were unexpected.”

The Owls (5-6) also found uncommon results in the passing game, only of a different variety. A week after throwing for 368 yards and six touchdowns, Seymour quarterback Austin Sutton completed just one pass to his own team and three to the Jasper defense as Jesse Schmitt and Brayden Betz also secured interceptions.

Slick conditions and Jasper’s swarming defense conspired against Sutton, and Traylor in particular returned to his usual menacing. On Seymour’s fourth drive of the night, Sutton tried for the left edge. Traylor slung him down for a 1-yard loss. Sutton next explored an opening to his right. Meet Traylor again, for a 3-yard backtrack.

“Since I hadn’t really hit anybody in two games, I just wanted to come out and play a dang good sectional game, and I thought I did that,” said Traylor, who missed the prior two games with a shoulder injury. “It was fun. My teammates provided a lot of energy, which got me hyped up, too.”

Traylor added that his coaches assumed their share of their preparation. He said the Cats had heard rumblings throughout the week from Seymour with claims that the Owls, who averaged better than 35 ppg, could throw the type of offense at the Cats they hadn’t before seen. But the Owls didn’t score until the game’s final 61⁄2 minutes.

The challenge becomes amplified next week against Reitz, which is on a seven-game win streak and snuffed out Jasper’s undefeated seasons in 2009 and ’10 with losses by 36 and 27 points, respectively. Last year, Jasper had a sectional title within reach before slipping late in a loss to Central in the championship. Come next week, Tony Ahrens said, the Cats can put those lost encounters to good use.

“You get a little bit of experience when you go through situations like that,” Ahrens said. “The team gets a little bit of experience and the kids are hungry for playing, so we’ve just got to go home now and really do a good job preparing for (Reitz) so our kids know what they’re going to be facing.”

“We’re definitely going to remember it,” Traylor added. “Whichever team we play (Central or Reitz), we’ve lost a sectional championship to both of them. It’s definitely burning on us, and we’re going to come out and do everything we can to win a sectional championship.”

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