Inclusive plan received with open arms

Chet Strange/Special to the Herald
Jasper’s Zach Wood has led a receiving corps that’s amassed record numbers this season, thanks to the accuracy of quarterback Nolan Ahrens and a bevy of capable Wildcat hands. Ahrens’ 2,098 passing yards and 21 passing touchdowns are both tops on the single-season list for Jasper, which will face top-ranked Columbus East in the Class 4A regional at 8 p.m. Friday in Columbus.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

Friday afternoon finally arrives, the long-winding school day now complete. Austin Alles catches a ride with Jasper football teammate Zach Wood back to Wood’s house, just like he has for the past two seasons.

With only a few hours remaining before the two meet with the team for the Wildcats’ game that night, they go through the normal routine.

They kick back and relax. Alles cues some Taylor Swift, and each player catches a quick snooze. Then it’s off to grab subs and Gatorades — always the same sandwich, always the same-colored sports drink.

“We’ve been doing it for two years, and the only time we ever messed up was last year when we lost to (Evansville) Reitz,” said Wood, who chooses red-colored Gatorade and clarified that Alles ordered the wrong bread last November.

It’s a tried-and-true recipe for the Wildcat receiver (Wood) and tight end (Alles), but it also reveals how this season’s receiving corps has distinguished itself and flouished behind a brotherly bond.

As Wildcat coach Tony Ahrens puts it, “There’s a pure goodness about this group of guys.”

Much comes down to the alignment of circumstances, offensive coordinator Geoff Mauck points out. In most instances, a team boasts either a solid quarterback or a host of reliable receivers. Having both at the same time has been rare. This year, with second-year starter Nolan Ahrens at quarterback and a slew of capable hands that each provide certain strengths, things have aligned, propelling he sixth-ranked Wildcats (11-1) to Friday’s 8 p.m. Class 4A regional skirmish at No. 1 Columbus East (12-0).

“We knew we had some special kids,” Mauck said.

“And they matched up where we now have a quarterback who’s very accurate with the football and he has receivers who can catch and make plays.”

Added Nolan Ahrens: “I knew we had the potential to do it, but I didn’t know we were going to have receivers like we do.”

Therein lies perhaps the most impressive aspect to the aerial attack.

Ahrens has set record marks this season. His passing yards (2,098) are almost 500 more than the mark his brother, Austin, set in 2008. With a 37-yard scoring strike to tight end Philip Huebschman in Friday’s sectional title triumph over Reitz, Ahrens eclipsed Ben Schmidt’s record 20 touchdown passes established in 2002. Yet even with the gaudy totals, not one of this year’s receivers ranks in the top three all-time for receiving yards or touchdowns.

While Wood’s 53 receptions places him second on the program’s single-season list, Alles (37 catches), Huebschman (27) and Ben Moore (21) each have more than 20 receptions on the year. Last season, just one receiver collected more than 20.

As the group is quick to point out, the plethora of paws has created quite the predicament for those hoping to contain the attack.

In the season opener against Evansville Memorial, Huebschman gashed the Tiger defense for 134 yards on five catches. On a 64-yard home run grab in that contest, Huebschman served as Ahrens’ third option on the play. A week later, Wood snagged four receptions for 84 yards and two scores against Southridge. After Wood gathered six catches for 85 yards the following game, Ahrens then connected with Moore for 156 yards on three catches against Heritage Hills.

“Everybody has their big games,” said Wood, whose 739 receiving yards put him 49 yards shy of third on the single-season list for Jasper. “And the next game, it opens somebody else up. And then it just keeps going back and forth.”

With Moore limited solely to running back duties after Nick Hale’s foot injury sidelined the senior heading into the postseason, the receiving corps’ depth shone even brighter. After tallying just four receptions during the regular season, junior Cody Jacob has snared eight catches for 75 yards in the tournament with Wood (four catches) and Alles (11 catches) being blanketed more.

“The (reduced) numbers (for Wood) aren’t as big as them just paying attention to him,”Jacob emphasized. “So we have more options in our offense.”

Yet the distribution of passes is predicated on an elementary concept: sharing is caring. These guys are invested in one another, Mauck assures, and that’s the biggest part of it.

“This has been one thing that’s been kind of special. And the high school level is not quite as bad, but you see it in college and in the pros, there’s a lot of self-interest. And I don’t think we quite have that here. The kids are happy,” Mauck said. “And if the defense is taking something away, they know that this might not be their game. And they still know, ”˜I’ve still got to run my routes hard. I still have to try to get open because if the defense messes up, I will get the ball.’”

Added Huebschman: “We’re out here to win. We don’t care who does it as long as it gets done.”

The group is one. The group is tight.

After games, a few of them often venture back to Wood’s house, where they’ll hang out late into the night. Alles plays his Gameboy. Wood and the others play Xbox and watch movies and shows on Netflix. They all watch game film. Alles cooks pizza for everyone. The bond extends far beyond hashmarks, practices and Friday night skirmishes.

For Wood, it’s difficult to consider this group’s achievements among the top in program history.

“It’s weird looking back at the program’s records and thinking (about) all these really good players that played. And we’re getting their numbers. It’s just ... awesome,” Wood said. “Later on, I’ll just remember that we’re really good friends and I don’t know, we did it just as easy as the greats did it.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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