Jasper rallies to end three-game skid


C. Schmitt

PRINCETON – The Jasper Wildcats haven’t had the best start to the season, one they had hoped to do something special with given their senior-laden roster.

They looked like they could be able to turn things around after a Week 2 win against the defending 2A state champion Southridge Raiders. But then they dropped three straight, including close games to Heritage Hills and Vincennes Lincoln.

But Tony Ahrens and the Jasper coaching staff have stayed on message despite the lows of the season: work hard, follow through on assignments, and lean on your teammates. He said that the losses don’t all rest on one person, but the players would need to band together if they were going to get themselves out of their rut.

And on Friday night that is exactly what they did.

After falling behind early, Jasper was able to rally behind big plays on both sides of the ball and overcome a 10-point deficit in the second quarter to rally back and defeat the Princeton Tigers 28-17 for the second win of their season.

“Our kids faced a lot of adversity this year, and (they) have to be able to understand that if you keep working hard good things will happen,” said Ahrens. “Our guys that have been put in a position where they have to play are starting to improve and get better. Figuring out our mix of guys is getting better, so we’re doing the right thing.”

After choosing to defer possession until the second half, the Wildcats (2-4, 1-2) came out fast and strong on both sides of the football. The defense posted a quick three-and-out on Princeton (3-3, 2-1) to establish the tone of the game, and the offense put together a quick-strike first drive to jump out to an early lead.

The first play from scrimmage for Jasper was a pass from junior quarterback Nathan Rillo, who was starting his third game of the season after senior Jacob Ahlbrand injured his knee in the Aug. 31 game against Boonville, connected with senior wide receiver Reese Milligan for 13 yards and a quick first down. Two rushes from sophomore running back Lance Dawkins kept the drive alive, and soon after the first down he was able to find a seam on the field for 17 yards and a touchdown to put the Wildcats up 7-0 just four minutes into the first quarter.

But Princeton was quick to even the score. Junior pigslinger Gerit Bock hooked up with senior tight end Jonathan Anslinger for five yards and junior running back Darrion Madison took to the ground for six more and a first down. The Tigers then picked up four consecutive first downs to set themselves up inside the redzone.

Two plays after that Madison lowered his shoulders and drove in the final two yards to tie the game at 7-7.
On Jasper’s next possession the machine broke down for a bit. Rillo was able to connect with Milligan again for a huge gain, but a fumble on an exchange led to a sack on Rillo which cost the Wildcats 10 yards on a 3rd and 6. They brought in junior kicker Jackson Kabrick to attempt a 46-yard field goal, but the kick fell just short and Jasper turned the ball over on downs.

The following momentum shift was sudden and swift,  as Princeton’s very next play resulted in an 80-yard touchdown connection between Bock and junior receiver Miles Bostick that put the Tigers ahead 14-7 with 1:33 left in the first quarter.

The Wildcats were unable to do anything substantial in their next possession and when they gave the ball back, the Tigers took their sweet time with their next drive. They took 11 plays and nearly seven minutes off of the clock in the second quarter to set up a 25-yard field goal for sophomore kicker Cole Hurt, which netted them a 17-7 lead with five minutes left in the half.

But Jasper didn’t crumble under the lead; instead they came together and did what they needed to do in order to dig themselves out of the hole. After a nice kickoff return that saw the Wildcats start their drive at their 40-yard line, Milligan and Dawkins combined for three plays that led to a 4th-and-inches situation for Jasper. Rillo called his own number and got the yard needed to convert the first down.

The Wildcats then received the benefit of two horse collar penalties against Princeton for two first downs. Rillo came up empty on two straight passes, but senior running back Caden Schmitt scorched the Tigers for 25 yards. He took it in the final couple yards to finish was he started and closed the gap to 17-14.

The defense came back and shutdown the Princeton offense, forcing them into long downs and breakdowns in their system. They were soon forced to punt and Milligan returned it to the Tigers’ 17-yard line.

After that, all it took was a quick hookup from Rillo back to Milligan, and Jasper suddenly found themselves up 21-17 with 1:08 left in the second quarter.

But the team had one more trick up its sleeve. In the ensuing kickoff, junior defensive back Kadon Hurm was able to lock in on junior receiver Jarrett Market and seperate the ball from the returner to create a 10-yard scoop-and-score touchdown. That was all Jasper would need to close the game, as both teams didn’t score in the second half.

“We all got down there real quick and once my teammates held him up I just went in for the strip,” Hurm said. “Pulled it out, got it, and ran it back.”

Overall, Jasper was excited to finally be back in the win column after a three game drought, and the team has hope they can finish out the season strong and bounce back from the tough start.

But Ahrens said the boys have to learn from this game and repeat the synergistic effort they produced in order to finish better than they started.

“Everybody leaned on each other and played together tonight,” he said. “It was much better than what we’ve been doing. It takes an entire team to win, so they’re showing signs of doing that.”

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