From big trouble to big win, Cats revive

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper’s  Neil Rose, left, Collin Bowlin and Ryan Hopf congregated with teammates while receiving praise from coach Tony Ahrens after Friday’s comeback victory in the season opener at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium. Down 19-0 early in the second quarter, the Wildcats ripped off 38 consecutive points and trucked to a 59-29 victory. In 37 prior meetings with Memorial, Jasper had never scored more than 36 points against the Tigers. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — Ah, the launch of a new football season. The serenity of the season opener under a setting sun. The fervor of the home crowd on the first installment of Friday night lights.

Yep. Jasper wasn’t feeling any of it after a little more than a quarter of a Friday night that appeared to be veering off the rails.

“It sucked,” Wildcat senior defensive end Spencer Otto said. “It really sucked looking up and seeing 19-0. We knew we had to do something about it.”

Jasper did, on an value-packed night at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium that contained about a month’s worth of twists and scenarios jammed into a whirlwind 59-29 comeback over Evansville Memorial. Less than two minutes into the second quarter, Memorial gripped a 19-0 lead. The security of a three-score cushion didn’t last, flattened by a runaway train of Jasper offense that stacked up 52 points in a span of 20:41 of game time.

The numbers, gaudy all around, revealed both Jasper’s vulnerability and potential.

The Cats accumulated 26 first downs and 90 yards’ worth of penalties. They wobbled through a scoreless first quarter and torched Memorial for 52 points in the next two periods. They surrendered 257 passing yards to Memorial sophomore quarterback Will Durchholz, but registered 227 yards themselves through the air as Nolan Ahrens’ marksmanship helped spur the Cats from big trouble to big victory.

“We knew going into that game we were going to have some growing issues. But not 19 points of growing issues,” Jasper coach Tony Ahrens said. “It’s just a testament to our kids. They didn’t hang their heads, they kind of kept fighting and they stayed poised and they had a lot of guts to come back and end up putting it to them, more or less.”

“More” would be a fair characterization.

Brutalized by Memorial on the Tigers’ first three series when Durchholz fired touchdown passes of 55, 53 and 3 yards, Jasper embarked in its own scoring cascade. On the first play from scrimmage on the next drive, Philip Huebschman stiff-armed a tackler for a 64-yard pickup. Two plays later, Huebschman clutched an 8-yard TD reception from Ahrens.
The blitz was officially on.

Zach Wood, who watched a potential touchdown pass slip through his grasp in the opening period, juked a stop-and-go escape and cut-back up the middle. Then came the first of Nick Hale’s three 1-yard TD runs, which combined with Scott Stallwood’s block of two Memorial extra points, equipped the Cats with a 22-19 halftime edge.

The pause did little to blunt Jasper’s rush.

On the Cats’ second sequence of the second half, they practically toyed with their Evansville rival they’ve now topped nine straight times.

First play, 12-yard toss to Austin Alles.

Second play, 11-yard fling the other way to Huebschman, the other tight end.
Third and fourth plays, rumbles of 13 yards by Hale (14 carries, 44 yards) and Ben Moore (10 carries, 76 yards, two TDs).

“Steamrolling through,” Otto later beamed about the offense. “It was fun to watch. They bailed us out for sure on defense, helped us out a lot.”

The offensive corps repaid the kudos — after Memorial’s 19 points, Jasper’s first-string defense didn’t allow another point; McKinley Warren dashed for a 97-yard kickoff return and Memorial added a field goal in the game’s waning stages.

“It was a lot of jitters first game,” he said. “Second half, they knew their assignments, came out to play. They brought the right attitude.”

The defensive breakdowns and subsequent reclamation proved puzzling to the Cats, albeit welcome. Beyond Memorial’s first three touchdowns, Durchholz passed for a modest 76 yards before exiting the game midway through the fourth quarter with an injury.

Tony Ahrens commended his team’s secondary after it was burned a couple times early on. And he figured guys like Luke Sermersheim, Cal Krueger and Tate Blessinger — the brand-new crew of starting sophomore linebackers — simply needed to survive the rollout of the season as the Cats mixed and matched other experiments.

“We played a lot of different kids in there, just to see who’s going to do best,” Tony Ahrens said. “There’s some good kids in there that are going to be good players, it’s just going to take us a little time to get them to grow up.”

The Cats’ quarterback, for one, has advanced in that process.

Leading up to the season opener, Tony Ahrens expressed confidence in his son’s crisper accuracy. Nolan embodied the prognostication, completing 13-of-17 passes in three quarters of work. And while opponents try to blanket Alles, Tony Ahrens said the Cats are just as well-served looking toward guys like Huebschman (134 receiving yards) and Wood (58), who both snared five passes.
Merging the veterans and rookies will be an ongoing project. But there’s a distinct thread that links both groups of everlasting Wildcats.

“Our team’s in better shape than (Memorial),” said Tony Ahrens, who counted four or five Memorial players who didn’t finish the game because of fitness issues. “As we progressed into the second quarter and into the second half, it was very obvious that our team was in better shape and taking control of the game. I think that our conditioning and training our kids do really helps them in situations like that.”

So Jasper kept churning, kept scoring, even adding two points on a safety when a snap sailed over the Memorial punter’s head. The offensive circus was worthy of the record books — the 88 total points marked the most that the Cats have ever combined for in a game with an opponent (outdoing the 84 from Jasper’s 56-28 win over Mount Vernon in 2000).

From being overwhelmed to being overpowering, the Cats gladly accepted the shift ahead of next week’s visit to rival Southridge, which knows a thing or two about scoring as the Raiders rang up 61 points in their debut Friday.

“It gives us a lot of confidence,” Otto said. “We’ve just got to be hungry for Southridge, because we know Southridge is a really good team and we’ve got to just bring it every single play — offense and defense.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at

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