Jasper falls to Evansville CentralOctober 23, 2020
By ALLEN LAMAN
JASPER — “Jasper always competes.”
That phrase guided the local football program in a strange year that saw the Associated Press Class 4A-No. 8 Jasper Wildcats jump into the competitive Southern Indiana Athletic Conference — and still claw to a regular season record of 7-2.
The team’s 2020 run ended on a cold and wet Friday night, with a 30-7 Sectional 24 loss to No. 2 Evansville Central.
Jasper’s season is over. But Lance Dawkins, the team’s senior fullback and defensive lineman, reflected ahead of the game on the camaraderie that he and his teammates built throughout the season.
“I think with all the weird stuff going on, it just forced us to come together as a team even more,” Dawkins said on Thursday. “With all the new change, we had to adapt.”
Jasper received the opening kickoff Friday as cold rain spat down on Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium. The team’s triple-option offense methodically chipped away on the opening drive before sputtering out and turning the ball over on downs.
Evansville Central’s senior running back Jacob Boberg responded with a long run to the Jasper 33-yard line on the ensuing drive. Tory Evans of the Bears later punched in a 10-yard touchdown run to give the team a 7-0 lead with 1:34 remaining in the first quarter.
Jasper punted after the team’s next drive stalled early in the second quarter, but the team quickly regained possession after Central lost a fumble near midfield. Junior defensive back and wide receiver Jack Ahlbrand recovered the ball, and a few plays later, Blake Mann, the Wildcats’ senior quarterback, slung a 38-yard touchdown pass to Ahlbrand that tied the game.
Mann said prior to the contest that the season had been “kind of indescribable.” The Wildcats approached their first year in the SIAC with a straightforward goal: win as many games as possible.
“We just had really good chemistry with the seniors, juniors and sophomores,” Mann said when reflecting on the team’s stellar regular-season record. “We could all hang out and get along, and I think that was a big part of the success that we had.”
He rushed for 53 yards and passed for 88 in Friday’s game. One of his team’s two previous losses came when the Wildcats fell just short to the Bears about a month ago. On Sept. 25, the undefeated Evansville squad squeaked out a 24-17 victory over Jasper. The Cats failed to score on fourth down from just a few yards outside the end zone with little time remaining in the contest.
Jasper coach Tony Lewis praised Central’s physicality and athleticism prior to Friday’s tilt. He said the Wildcats had a feeling that there was a good chance they’d face off against the Bears again in the postseason after the close regular season contest. They knew that top-notch execution would be needed to secure a win.
When asked about his keys to winning the game, Lewis pointed to taking care of the football, controlling the line of scrimmage and “kids just making plays.”
“In a big game like this, it usually comes down to three or four plays,” Lewis explained. “And it depends on who makes those plays.”
Central responded to Jasper’s big second-quarter touchdown with a long kickoff return to near midfield. The team crept toward the end zone over the next few minutes of gameplay that drive culminated in a 27-yard field goal by junior kicker Steven Pritchett.
That made the score 10-7 going into the half.
Lewis said before the sectional showdown that Dawkins would be a big part of the Wildcats’ game plan. Dawkins had about 150 yards rushing and two scores in Jasper’s first game against Central earlier this season. He rushed for just 28 yards in Friday’s outing.
“I would say camaraderie is a big thing with us,” Dawkins said Thursday evening when looking back at the season. “Everyone’s looking out for each other and making sure that we do things right for the other guy, make things easier on each player.
Rain continued to fall when Evansville received the second-half kickoff on Friday. Central made its way to midfield before punting away to the WIldcats. Jasper punted it back to the Bears with about 6 minutes left in the third quarter.
Evansville Central scored on the team’s next drive on a 2-yard rush by Javonte’ Madison that increased the lead to 17-7. The Wildcats were bottled up on their next possession, and after kicking the ball away, Central took over at the Jasper 48 yard-line.
They would score again on a short fourth-down rush by Madison that inflated the Bears' lead to 23-7, and once more on a 10-yard rush by Boberg to make the score 30-7.
After the game, Lewis said he didn’t think his team played very well. The team’s game plan was executed in parts of the first half, he said — but offensively, it was not executed in the second half.
Central did a better job blocking and tackling, he said, and they also controlled the line of scrimmage in the majority of the second half.
“We’ve got to work to get stronger in the offseason,” he said. “And again, blocking and tackling were key. They did those better than us, and their players made plays when they had to.”
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