Jasper rallies late to shock Mount Carmel

Photos by Nic Antaya/The Herald
Jasper's Carter Gentry celebrates after Friday's game against Mount Carmel in Jasper. The Wildcats rallied late to defeat Mount Carmel 36-32 after they trailed 32-17 entering the fourth quarter. Jasper has now won back-to-back games for the first time this season. For more photos from the game, click here.

By JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com

JASPER — It was one for the ages and a game the crowd won’t soon forget when the Jasper Wildcats took to the field against the Mount Carmel Golden Aces for their homecoming game.

They quickly found themselves down and unable to string together consistent drives. But instead of folding as they might have done in the beginning of the season, the players rallied together and made the big plays late to mount a push across the final two quarters that helped the Wildcats overcome a 15-point second half deficit and defeat the Golden Aces 36-32.

Tony Ahrens was equal parts relieved and proud of his boys for fighting past their struggles and not looking to focus blame on other guys when things didn’t go right. Instead, they banded together and kept the faith that good things would happen if they stuck together.

“I’m proud as hell of the guys, they did that,” he said. “It comes down to the end of the fourth quarter and down to the wire, the game could go either way. They didn’t hang their head, they kept playing and dang it they deserve a win.”

The Wildcats (3-4, 2-2) started the game off strong enough after they elected to defer possession until the second half, and closed Mt. Carmel’s (3-3, 1-3) offense in three plays on their first drive. The first offensive series for Jasper opened with back-to-back 11-yard plays featuring a pass from junior quarterback Nathan Rillo to senior wideout Reece Milligan and a carry for sophomore running back Lance Dawkins. Dawkins rushed for another four yards after an incomplete pass, but senior running back Caden Schmitt lost five yards on the next play and Jasper settled for a 34-yard field goal to put the first points on the board.

The Golden Aces sputtered again and found themselves facing 4th and 20 after another three plays. They tried a fake punt, but sophomore quarterback Kaleb Applebey was dropped at Mt. Carmel’s nine-yard line for a turnover on downs. Schmitt took the rock on Jasper’s next play and found the goal line to give the Wildcats to give them a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

But then the problems came knocking. Rillo was intercepted at the start of the second quarter and Mt. Carmel was able to capitalize immediately with a 19-yard aerial strike from Applebey to senior running back Blake Kight for their first touchdown. However, the Wildcats responded with an eight-play drive which ended with a 24-yard run from Dawkins to keep the Golden Aces at bay.

But Mt. Carmel kept on coming. On their next drive, Applebey connected with senior wide receiver Luke Gould for a 30-yard gain which flipped the field and put the Golden Aces at Jasper’s 35-yard line. Applebey was able to find another hole in the Wildcats’ secondary a few plays later and hooked up with senior wideout Austin Rager for a 20-yard score. Mt. Carmel failed in their two-point conversion, but were still within an arm’s reach of Jasper, 17-12.

Rillo was picked again by junior linebacker Cade Newkirk on a screen pass play deep on their side of the field. Newkirk was able to return the ball to Jasper’s 19-yard line and two plays later Appleby connected once again with Rager for a 17-yard touchdown strike. The two-point conversion pass to junior receiver Satchel Patberg was good and suddenly the Golden Aces were ahead 20-17. The Wildcats’ final drive resulted in a turnover on downs and the first half ended with Mt. Carmel firmly in control.

But Ahrens preached to his boys to stick together in spite of the difficulties and not to point fingers at each other. They were losing as a team and it would take all of their efforts to turn things around and get things back on track.

“If we’re going to play this game we can’t play it for ourselves,” he said. “We have to try to help our teammates out and understand if one makes a mistake, we let that go. They took the message to heart.”

Mount Carmel's Luke Gould fumbles the ball after being brought down by Jasper's Caden Schmitt and Ethan Lents during the fourth quarter of Friday's game in Jasper. The Wildcat defense made a few big plays including the game-sealing pick-six by Isaac Bartley. For more photos from the game, click here.

But it took a while before the ship righted itself. Jasper ended their first drive with a punt to open the third quarter. A steady diet of Applebey-to-Rager passes and a pass interference call against the Wildcats led to another touchdown for Mt. Carmel, this one a 10-yard run by freshman running back Zeke Hadra. Even though the PAT was blocked, Mt. Carmel sat with a comfortable 26-17 lead.

Another drive for Jasper resulted in a turnover on downs, but then the Wildcats started to show the faintest signs of life in their next defensive series. The Golden Aces moved into the red zone once again, but a personal foul penalty cost them 15 yards. Three straight incompletions followed for Mt. Carmel. Then on 4th and 22, senior linebacker Zachary Flynn shot through the line untouched and sacked Applebey to force a turnover on downs.

However the Wildcats were unable to cash in on their defensive stand. After turning it over on downs once again, the Golden Aces marched down the field on Jasper and punched it in with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Applebey to junior wideout Kyle Kline. The two-point conversion failed once again, but Mt. Carmel led 32-17 with less than a minute left in the third quarter.

But the team kept fighting when finally the plays started to break for the Wildcats. A block in the back penalty on the kickoff return forced Jasper to start with a 1st-and-20 on their next possession, but Rillo connected with senior tight end Phillip Noblitt for 25 yards to make up the ground. As their drive went into the fourth quarter, Jasper marched down the field and concluded the campaign with a one-yard run by Dawkins, 32-24.

The defense was able to stand strong against Mt. Carmel in their ensuing drive and forced a punt. Then Rillo, who had been struggling all night, connected with junior pass catcher Collin Cassidy for nine yards, got the first down himself on the ground, and found Cassidy again for 16 yards. On the next play, he saw that senior wideout Isaac Bartley had the edge on his defender and sent him a package into the endzone.

“I just made the right read on that play,” said Rillo. “I saw that he beat the corner, so I laid it up for him and thank God he scored.”

The subsequent two-point conversion play fell short but Jasper was suddenly down only two points with about four minutes left in the game. It turns out, they wouldn’t need that much time to make up the deficit. On the third play of Mt. Carmel’s drive, Bartley intercepted Applebey and took it across the open field for a pick-6.

“It kind of just happened,” said Bartley.

Jasper went up 36-32 and only needed one more interception by Schmitt to seal the win.

Ahrens believes that his team is better than their record indicates and hopes to use the last couple of games to get the Wildcats some positive momentum going into sectional. And after a win like this, maybe the boys can start believing in themselves all over again.

“I told the guys we’ve lost a couple of games, but we’ve done a lot of good things in some of those games,” he said. “A loss doesn’t mean we can’t be good. There’s a lot of pride in this program. When the momentum swings it gives them a boost of confidence like a shot in the arm. Then there’s that light that says ‘one game at a time’ and see where we end up at the end of the season.”




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