Cats upset champs in opener

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Jasper High School seniors Sam Fritch, right, and Emma Shelton, center, cheer during Friday’s football game in Jasper. Masks were required for all fans, hand sanitizer stations were dispersed throughout the stadium and seating capacity was limited to 50 percent due to COVID-19 precautions. Emma said that wearing a mask was hot, “but if that’s what we have to do to be out here, I’m fine with it.” Jasper defeated Memorial 14-3.
For more photos from the game, click here.

By COREY STOLZENBACH
sports@dcherald.com

JASPER — Every Friday night around this time of year, it is customary for Jasper and high schools across the nation to be playing out their annual high school football season. But Friday's 14-3 upset win against Southern Indiana Athletic Conference rival Evansville Memorial, the defending state champions in Class 4A, wasn’t any ordinary season opener.

Seats at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium were limited to half capacity in the bleacher section as caution against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Extra bleachers were brought in to space people out.

Fans may usually dabble in face paint to flaunt their pride for their team on the gridiron, but the only thing covering their faces Friday night were the masks they were mandated to wear to keep safe, with the exception of eating or drinking, as concessions were open. Coaches were also masked up, as were players on the sidelines, but players in the game wore no masks.

The traditional high school football scene was different than usual, but the pride the Wildcats carried themselves with was not.

“First and foremost, we’re playing for our school,” Jasper coach Tony Lewis said. “It’s important that our football program is representing our school first, and it’s representing our community second; and anytime you can do something that represents your school and your community into it in a way that brings pride and excitement and hopefully some relief to the people and what they’re going through, that’s what we want to do.

“We want to play the way Jasper has always played, and that’s with a lot of pride, a lot of passion and be aggressive and play tough, physical football,” Lewis continued.

The Wildcats (1-0, 1-0) had a defense stood tall in this game. The first half saw forcing a turnover on downs against the Tigers, and senior defensive back Grant Mehringer intercepted senior Memorial quarterback Colton Pence.

However, Jasper itself lost three fumbles, and senior quarterback Blake Mann threw an interception that junior Justin Scheberle of the Tigers picked off towards halftime.

The Wildcats ran the ball 26 times for 129 yards in the opening half, but had nothing to show for it. They had their opportunity with it was fourth down with eight yards to go on the 16. They came up empty handed when they opted to go for it instead of kick it.

However, Jasper's defense continued to ball out in the second half, and this time it paid off. Memorial was knocking at the door on the seven-yard line, when Jasper junior Isaac Day forced a fumble, and fellow junior Ashton Schuetter took it 93 yards to the house for the first score of the night. An extra point by senior Alex Sermersheim made it 7-0 with 7:47 to go in the third.

“We had a blitz going on and then Isaac got the strip sack,” Schuetter said. “And then I just picked it up and ran as fast as I could.”

The Tigers got their first points of the night, as they overcame multiple penalties on the very next drive. Jasper's defense limited them to three points, as junior Nico Brougham kicked a chip shot with 2:18 to play to make it 7-3.

Jasper kept at it with its running game, gradually moving the chains on the ground through much of the fourth quarter, and the Wildcats' steady run game was rewarded with some breathing room. Mann's three-yard keeper with 4:09 left to go gave Jasper its first offensive score of 2020. Sermersheim's extra point made it 14-3 to bring it to the final score.

“As we told our kids, they put in the work, it was time to get paid, and they got paid tonight,” Lewis said.

Jasper's Blake Mann carries the ball during Friday's football game in Jasper. Jasper defeated Memorial 14-3.
For more photos from the game, click here.

“It’s definitely a confidence booster, but we can’t let it get to our head,” Mann added. “We got to keep doing Jasper football and play hard every single game.”

Other states have postponed their high school football season, but Lewis believes this game was a product of Gov. Eric Holcomb believing high schools can be in session and have high school sports.

Lewis found himself more excited for his players than anything else. He knows that some seniors who played basketball last year or were in a spring sport did not get the opportunity to play, but is happy for the seniors this year who are getting that opportunity.

Some of those seniors getting said opportunity are lineman Quade Popp and fullback and linebacker Lance Dawkins, who both serve as team captains of the Wildcats. Dawkins told the Herald how the team was fired up and ready to go, adding the Wildcats wanted to go out and play like it was going to be their last game.

“I think leading by example is big this year with wearing a mask and staying distant and all that,” Dawkins said. “So, that’s huge. That was never really a factor in the past, but it all comes back to being a leader on the field, being vocal and leading by example.”

Dawkins noted it was weird when the team held their Aug. 15 scrimmage against Heritage Hills and they had to be distant on the sidelines. Jasper could no longer be huddled up and jump around together, but Dawkins said the team will get used to it and adapt. He carried the ball 22 times for 128 yards to lead a Jasper team that rushed for 256 yards on 46 carries.

Popp knows that great feeling to wear the pads again because this season wasn’t promised to anybody. He noted that there’s been a change in attitude in the locker room this week — where everybody has been locked in. Popp’s hopes were always high, but he wasn’t always sure that this going to happen. So, he was very appreciative to be able to take the field Friday night.

“It means the world to me,” Popp said. “As I was growing up, I always dreamed about getting to play senior ball and football’s been that thing for me that I can find time to relax and also time to grow as a person and as a player. Not many things are better in life to me than being able to go out and play football with a group of teammates. Just to be able to put some pads on and be out there with everybody — it’s unworldly.”

Jasper athletic director Brian Lewis never had time to worry about this game not happening. This was all carefully planned out months in advance when the virus first escalated, and football especially takes a lot of planning because of the larger crowd the sport attracts.

He predicted there would be an electric atmosphere in ways that hadn’t been seen in a long time. Brian cited that locals would get to see their very own under the lights in a community with a sports-rich history, and sure enough, the crowd roared through the duration of the night as the Wildcats made big play after big play.

“I think people are really itching to get back out to a sense of normal, even if it is our new normal,” Brian said.

Jasper will return Aug. 28 at home against Evansville Harrison.

For more photos from the game, click here.




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