Reliable Wildcats reach good gracesAugust 30, 2014
By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor
HUNTINGBURG — Teenagers. They’re unreliable, unpredictable and unapproachable with their attitudes.
Er, well, scratch that. Not all of them. The Jasper football team seems to be beating the bad rap.
The Wildcats are earnest in spirit, consistent in effort and dependable as could be so far, coach Tony Ahrens praised Friday night in Huntingburg. After his Class 4A No. 5 Wildcats subdued the Class 2A No. 6 Raiders 43-14 to retain the Goal Posts Trophy for the sixth successive year, Ahrens talked with the sort of twinkle as if he had not just one golden child, but about six dozen of them. That’s the way he feels about a team that dictated the type of immaculate football that produced the third-most-lopsided outcome in the last 18 meetings between the county rivals.
“They were just exactly what we needed them to be. They were assignment-driven and they were physical, they hustled to the ball. It’s just a team right now that if they make up their mind to improve, they could be really good; a very, very good team,” Ahrens said.
“Right now, we’re very proud of how they’re handling themselves.”
The proof was in the numbers, which Wildcat defensive coordinator Nick Eckert rattled off as he beamed outside Jasper’s locker room. Raider wingback Connor Craig was leashed to a modest 25 yards on seven carries, a week after averaging 27.8 yards per touch between eight totes and three punt returns. And, as Eckert noted, Jasper (2-0) trumped Craig’s output by a factor of nearly 10 as Wildcat running back Ben Moore cranked out 222 rushing yards on 16 tries, including touchdown runs of 1, 7 and 12 yards.
Jasper’s maturity — as well as breadth of personnel and play-calling — resonated on the opposite sideline, too. When the first-teamers were playing through the first three quarters, the Cats produced points all seven times they had the football — even in the potential kneel-down moments late in the first half, when Jasper got the ball back at its own 47-yard line with 31 seconds left, then hustled downfield for Cal Krueger’s 36-yard field goal at the first-half siren for a commanding 30-7 advantage.
As Raider coach Scott Buening watched the Wildcats flex their control offensively (303 rushing yards) and defensively (3.3 yards per carry for Southridge), Southridge’s margin compressed bit by bit.
“Offensively, they can pound it down your throat, they can spread it out, and then you look at defensively, they play very hard, they’re strong, they get downhill, they’re very well-coached,” Buening said. “You can’t make mistakes. You have to beat them to beat them. You’ve got to get them blocked; they don’t miss tackles. And they played very well tonight.”
Even with a charging Raider defense after the first Jasper series, the Cats’ flexibility kept everything humming forward.
With Raider linebackers starting to stunt hard to reduce Nolan Ahrens’ window for playmaking, the Jasper quarterback still made the necessary checks to finish 13-of-16 for 174 yards, with Cody Jacob (six catches, 77 yards) the chief beneficiary. Screens, quick-hitters and dumps over the middle helped alleviate the pressure. There was more this-and-that with play-action, shotgun and trip-receiver sets all jammed into just the first two series, too. Handoffs to Luke Sermersheim (46 yards, one TD) and fullback Ian Songer (20 yards) only thickened the arsenal, and when a play blew up on third-and-10 late in the first quarter, Ahrens scrambled 10 yards and brushed the endzone pylon.
“It helps a lot when our offense can switch it up, switch formations, and have the defense guessing what’s going to come,” said Wildcat junior Grant Theil, who snagged a 14-yard TD reception in the third quarter. “Our offensive and defensive lines did amazing tonight, they helped the backs make plays.”
No more dynamically so than from Moore. Equal parts sturdy and slippery, Moore towed a would-be tackler with him over the goal line on his 12-yard TD, and the next Jasper series, he bolted from one 10-yard line to the other for an 80-yard gain. Craig flew step for step with Moore in a one-on-one footrace between fast-footed stars, able to nudge Moore out of bounds to momentarily prevent a touchdown before Moore scored two plays later.
“You love that guy. He’s reliable, tough, smart. He’s a terrific young man. He’ll be buying our lunch someday,” a grinning Tony Ahrens said of Moore.
Craig still made his mark, outdashing Jasper’s secondary on a 60-yard touchdown reception in the first half before Neil Messmer tacked on a 7-yard rushing score late. Raider QB Luke Stetter completed 9-of-13 attempts as progress was level between rush (115 yards) and pass (118) on a night where some of the struggles for the Raiders (1-1) were explained in context, Buening said.
“Most teams on our schedule don’t play an opponent this good. And I don’t know if we’ll see many people as good as Jasper for a while,” said Buening, whose team visits Forest Park (0-2, 0-0) next Friday. “You need these opportunities to see where you need to grow, where you need to get better. We’ve got some inexperience up front, so our guys, we’ll be able to coach and learn a lot from this.”
When it comes to that type of cooperation, the Cats sense they’ve got a head start there, as “in the end, it’s our kids’ attitudes. The kids are the ones that are making things happen right now. They’re just working well together,” Tony Ahrens said.
Key word: work. The Cats aren’t averse to it. Add that to the list of qualities that’s impressed their coach, as Theil sounded unbothered — upbeat, even? — about the prospect of some upcoming Labor Day labor.
“We celebrate tonight, we celebrate tomorrow, Sunday,” Theil said. “And then Monday, we’re back to work.”
Contact Brendan Perkins at email@example.com.
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