Grateful Cats accept harsh dismissal

Photos by Ariana van den Akker/THe Herald
Jasper seniors Ryan Hopf, left, and Neil Rose listened to Wildcat coach Tony Ahrens speak to the team after Friday night’s Class 4A regional at Columbus East. The Wildcats lost 42-0, ending a season marked by the program’s first sectional championship since 2008. A gallery of photos can be found here.

Herald Enterprise Editor

COLUMBUS — By the time the whole mess ended, Jasper had accepted what happened.

There’s no use digesting a six-touchdown defeat in hopes of finding specific flaws. It was like a breakup in which there was no alternative — swallow your pride and move along. Yet the certainty of the outcome let the Wildcats down easy — less heartache when a harsh gulf separates victory and defeat. So the Wildcats absorbed the punch, scrambled for a recovery that never materialized then appreciated a successful season even if it did end with unwanted memories.

Zach Wood snagged six passes for an offense that moved inside the Columbus East 30-yard line four times but didn’t score. Wood finished the season with 59 receptions, ranking second in program history for catches in a season.

In the Class 4A regional at Stafford Field on Friday night in Columbus, top-ranked Columbus East was simply better. The Olympians scored on their first six possessions, blistering No. 6 Jasper 42-0 in a setback that equaled the most lopsided in Wildcat postseason history.

“It was bang, bang, bang. It all happened pretty quick,” Jasper coach Tony Ahrens said. “I just felt like we would have played better ... But like I told the kids, when it comes to this, everyone is disappointed and you feel awful about the game, the score. But the fact is we had a great season.”

The finale went unlike almost any Jasper game.

A program that smothers opponents’ rushing attacks this time suffered on almost every snap.
Columbus East’s unique approach — zone blocking that prevents opponents from predicting exactly where the ball is headed — amassed 360 rushing yards. Markell Jones, a junior and Division I recruiting target, repeatedly shed tacklers on his way to 222 yards and quarterback Alex Cowan slithered and sliced for 99 yards and two scores. Jones cleared 2,000 yards for the season. Cowan spurted close to 1,000.

But it was other numbers that left Jasper (11-2) feeling overwhelmed. The Olympians brought the beef to the offensive line. Check the roster for the official weights of some of the bulldozers — 255, 265, 270, 285, 290, 290, 330, 330.

Jasper linebacker Scott Stallwood couldn’t recall coming face-to-face with a bigger unit.

“They just had some brutes up front for sure. They have guys who can push some people around,” Stallwood said. “(Evansville) Central could run it and we stopped them. Same last week (against Evansville Reitz). But the size of their lines was not comparable to these guys. It was hard to get off blocks.”

For a team that so often spends Friday nights playing the bully, Jasper experienced the submissive side of the sport.

“I don’t like it,” Ahrens said.

The game included only one high-risk play, and Columbus East aced it. Cowan opened the scoring when he jetted seven yards into the end zone on fourth-and-3 to cap the first possession of the night. He built a cushion with a 53-yard TD bomb and capped the first-half knockout with a 48-yard scoring run in the final two minutes.

Until reserves shifted into the rotation in the fourth quarter, Columbus East (13-0) went backward on one play and gained 30 or more yards seven times.

Staggering almost immediately, Jasper groped for a route back into contention. Tony Ahrens acknowledged everybody was thinking, “What now?” The Cats stuck with their game plan and did move the ball. They just didn’t receive the payout.

Despite a lingering knee injury, Ben Moore carried 20 times for 107 yards. Nolan Ahrens concentrated his 15 completions on Zach Wood (six catches, 37 yards) and Austin Alles (five catches, 37 yards). But every time the Cats moved inside the 30-yard line, momentum evaporated. Ahrens was twice intercepted before the Cats missed a 40-yard field goal attempt and their final drive stalled with the final of the Olympians’ three sacks.

“You tell the kids to keep banging away, try to make something happen,” Tony Ahrens said. “We just didn’t finish.”

Jasper would rather remember last week — or any other, really. Even the team’s lone regular-season loss served as a benchmark; Tony Ahrens said the loss at Mount Carmel realigned the team’s focus and pushed the Cats toward the sectional. That’s where Jasper undercut a trio of Evansville schools in a three-week conquest capped with that win over Reitz.

In applauding the team’s 22 seniors and requesting that they not let the margin of Friday’s defeat muddle the 2013 season, Ahrens reminded his team of what it earned.

“You ran up against a good, tough team and things didn’t go your way. Your season is over and you have to appreciate what you have,” he said. “Those kids had to go through a tough sectional to win and that’s something they can’t take away.”

Contact Jason Recker at

More on