Hopf leads charge as Wildcats rout AlicesSeptember 20, 2019
BY JONATHAN SAXON
VINCENNES ― It must be something about conference opponents that brings out something different from the Jasper football team.
For the second time this season the Wildcats rushed headlong into the challenge of playing a Big Eight conference game on the road following a narrow loss at home the week prior. And once again the boys jumped all over their opponent early and never lightened the grip. Jasper took advantage of a huge rushing effort from senior running back Elliot Hopf combined with a couple of other personnel changes across the field to dominate the rival Vincennes Lincoln Alices in a 35-19 win Friday night.
Wildcats (2-3, 2-0) coach Tony Lewis spread out credit far and wide among his players as they bounced back from their setback against Heritage Hills to produce a victory that was a complete team effort.
“I thought we played hard,” he said. “Defensively we turned them over, which was huge getting the offense the ball back. Thought it was big to get a touchdown at the end of the half. Our offensive line gave us great protection, I thought our backs ran hard. Lance (Dawkins), Elliot Hopf ran extremely hard. Elliot’s been working hard in the weight room and has more speed than people realize. Elliot had a heck of a game running the football.”
Hopf had what could turn out to be his breakout performance of the season, if not his career. He has seen the field this season as one of the contributors in the Wildcats’ ball carrying legion, but he hadn’t really broken through in the first four games. But with Dawkins dealing with a illness which threw doubts over if he would even play Friday, the coaching staff went to Hopf in hopes that the senior could step up and drive the offense as the featured back for the week. Hopf didn’t hesitate to raise his hand.
“I just embraced it,” he said. “I knew that this was a big game, and I had to go out and do my job in order to win. It’s just something I had to do.”
It didn’t take Hopf long to get to work. Jasper was awarded the first possession after the Alices (1-4, 0-3) chose to defer to the second half, and on the first play from scrimmage Hopf shot through the line like a cannonball, racing downfield for a 60-yard touchdown with his first touch. But Lincoln was quick to answer back as they finally got their offense going on their second drive.
First senior running back Raekwon Haislip cut loose for nine yards, then a series of connections from junior quarterback Eric Vickers to senior wide receiver Brody Ruggles drove the Alices out to midfield. An offsides penalty and a couple of more Haislip carries got Lincoln to Jasper’s 28 where he launched a bomb to senior wideout Torrence Gillis for a touchdown. However, the Alices couldn’t convert the PAT, so they trailed the Wildcats 7-6 with ninety seconds left in the first quarter.
Lincoln struck again after a collection of ineffective drives for both teams. A holding penalty on Lincoln backed them up into a first-and-long situation from their own 28 at the top of their drive, but a couple more Vickers-to-Ruggles connections moved the Alices to the Wildcat’s 37-yard line in a flash. Then a defensive pass interference and an eight-yard run from Haislip moved the Alices inside the red zone. All it took was a 14-yard strike from Vickers to junior running back Emmanuel Smith to complete the drive and suddenly Lincoln was ahead 13-7.
Then it was the Wildcats’ turn to respond. Junior quarterback Blake Mann, who replaced senior Nathan Rillo as Friday’s starter, broke off a 51-yard run that moved the line of scrimmage to Lincoln’s 11. From there all it took was a pitch to Hopf to cover the last 11 yards and put Jasper back up 14-13 with 3:59 left in the second quarter.
But that wasn’t it for Jasper’s first-half party favors. The Wildcats started their last drive with a pitch to Hopf, who rumbled down to the Alices’ 26-yard line. Mann called his own number for 12 yards, and a couple of plays later rocketed a 15-yard missile to Rillo for the team’s third touchdown with less than minute remaining in the half.
Lincoln didn’t do much when they got the ball back to start the third quarter, but a red zone fumble from Mann gifted the Alices another chance on offense. However, Rillo snuffed out the any hopes of converting the fumble on the very next play. Vickers dropped by to try for Ruggles again, but Rillo, from his newly slotted safety spot, picked off the pass and returned it 45 yards for the 28-13 Wildcats lead.
Jasper’s final score came with a little over ten minutes left in the fourth quarter, and it was Hopf who put the bookend on the Alices. Jasper used a series of rushes to march the ball from their own 25 back down to Lincoln’s 12. Once there, Hopf has his number called one more time for a 12-yd TD rush for a 35-13 lead.
To their credit, the Alices didn’t let the Wildcats off easy. Senior free safety Flavian Hernandez picked off Mann, and the Alices converted on the subsequent drive with a two-yard run from Haislip with 3:48 left in the game. Lincoln then caught Jasper sleeping in the ensuing kickoff as junior wide receiver Julius Hardiman recovered the onside kick and returned it to the Jasper 41-yard line.
But once again it would be for naught. Vickers was picked by junior defensive back Grant Mehringer with a little over three minutes remaining, and after a few plays Jasper assumed the victory formation to close out the game.
Hopf finished with 232 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 19 carries. Man finished 3-6 passing for 48 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also had 91 yards rushing on 18 carries. Rillo finished with one catch for 15 yards and a touchdown.
Vickers went 18-33 with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Haislip finished with 62 yards rushing with a touchdown on 13 carries. Ruggles had six catches for 147 yards, while Gillis caught four passes for 52 yards and a touchdown.
“I have to give credit to my line, they worked their butts off tonight,” said Hopf. “I don’t have those yards without the line. It’s just putting your head down, keep moving your legs and things happen.”
Mann and Rillo also stepped up big for the Wildcats in various ways on and off the field. Rillo stepped into a different role for the benefit of the team and flourished, while Mann was just glad he was able to pick up the game plan and in the week he had to prepare.
“Going on the defensive end is like a different language, but I really liked it,” said Rillo. “Having guys around helping me out, it makes it worthwhile.”
“It was a lot to learn in a week,” added Mann. “The rest of our offense helped me adjust to that, so props to them.”
Now the key is maintaining the momentum that was created from the win. Lewis reminds himself that he is working with young men and that comes with challenges of consistency. He and the coaching staff are dedicated to preaching their message of upping the intensity on a weekly basis, and in doing so the team will continue move forward to become the best that they can be.
“We need to up the intensity every week,” said Lewis. “I didn’t feel like we did that last week. This week I thought we upped the intensity. It goes back to good practice habits and playing with enthusiasm and energy. Our sidelines and fans had great energy, which our kids were able to feed off of.”
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