Sloppy play and miscues doom Cats in loss

Photos by Nic Antaya/The Herald
Jasper's Landon Betz tackles Boonville's Devin Mockobee during the second quarter of Friday's game in Jasper. The Pioneers defeated the Wildcats 28-14 for their first victory over Jasper since 2003. The Pioneers ground game (276 rushing yards) proved too much for the Cats to overcome. For more photos from the game, click here.


JASPER — Jasper had hoped to follow up their first win of the season over Southridge with another statement victory, this one against Boonville to give the home fans their first reason to cheer for the season. But the Pioneers didn’t get the message and instead rode their ground game to the tune of 276 yards as they chopped up the field and spoiled the Wildcats’ home opener by handing them a 28-14 defeat.

Jasper head coach Tony Ahrens was visibly disappointed in the effort of the Wildcats who again looked like they just couldn’t put anything together with consistency on the offensive end. This in turn left the defense tired and vulnerable as the game went into its later phases. They also didn’t do themselves any favors by fumbling the ball seven times and losing it late in the game while they were driving.

“It was a strange evening from the standpoint that I’ve never seen a game from us where we put the ball on the ground seven or eight times,” he said. “And mostly in times of critical situations. And no matter how hard you try or how good a team you have, you can’t win games like that.”

The game started out without a whole lot of fireworks from either team. Boonville (3-0, 3-0) chose to defer to Jasper (1-2, 0-1) after winning the coin toss, and after their kickoff went out of bounds the Wildcats started their opening drive from their 35-yard line. But after a pass and carry attempt for senior wide receiver Reece Milligan lost yardage and another pass attempt from senior quarterback Jacob Ahlbrand to sophomore tight end Andrew Wallace fell incomplete, the Wildcats failed to come up with positive yards and punted the ball away on a three-and-out opening drive.

Boonville didn’t fare much better in their chance with the ball either. Senior running back Luke Conner started with a four yard run, but junior signal caller Jackson Phillips missed on his first pass attempt and was sacked by senior linebacker Zachary Flynn for a six yard loss. The Pioneers are forced to punt.

Jasper looked to get something going on their second drive. Ahlbrand called his number on the first play from scrimmage and after a short gain junior running back Elliot Hopf was able to take the hand off and reel off ten yards to keep the chains moving. But on the next play Ahlbrand was off on his pass and instead found senior defensive back Ross Farmer, who picked him off and took it 30 yards the other way; a block in the back penalty on the Pioneers took 10 yards off of the return.

Thankfully the Wildcat defense was able to stand up and bail out the turnover. First, Conner was able to pick up 17 yards to start the drive, but almost fumbled the ball away on the ensuing tackle. Another short Conner carry and a holding penalty brought up 2nd and 19. Back-to-back incompletions for Phillips left Boonville looking at a 4th and 19 situation, and on the ensuing play Phillips fell short once again in his pass to senior wideout Rylan Hicks.

The third drive was the charm for Jasper. Hopf used two carries to gain seven yard, then Ahlbrand found Wallace for nine to convert the first down. A few more carries from Hopf netted another first, but sandwiched in between those two attempts was the first fumbled snap of the evening for the Wildcats. After three more Hopf rush attempts Ahlbrand was able to connect with Milligan on 3rd and 11 for 45 yards down to Boonville’s one-yard line. Hopf finished the drive with a one yard trot for the touchdown, but the PAT failed so the Wildcats finished the drive with a 6-0 lead with 2:04 left in the first quarter.

However, it wouldn’t take long for the Pioneers to respond. After returning the kickoff to the 16-yard line, Conner took it the rest of the way on the next play. The Boonville back showed off the wheels and broke off an 84 yard touchdown run with 1:44 left in the first. Junior kicker Jose Miguel connected on the PAT and put the Pioneers ahead 7-6. Jasper would have three more possessions after the touchdown, but bad snaps and fumbles at inopportune times killed their consistency and Boonville was able to hold onto their one-point lead when they went in for halftime.

The Pioneers came out swinging in the third, first with Devin Mockobee taking the opening kick back to the 30-yard line. Two plays later, Conner once again found daylight to the tune of 65 yards to put Boonville ahead 14-6 just 50 seconds into the second half.

Jasper’s offense wasn’t able to respond in kind, but their defense proved up to the task. After another sputtering Wildcat offensive series, Boonville found themselves starting their second drive of the third deep in their own territory. On their third play from scrimmage senior defensive back Isaac Bartley picked off Phillips inside of the Pioneers’ own 10-yard line and returned the ball to the end zone for a pick-six. Milligan scored on the following two-point conversion to tie the game 14-14 with 9:20 left in the third, but that would be the final highlight from Jasper.

Jasper's Jacob Ahlbrand scrambles during the first quarter of Friday's game against Boonville in Jasper. Ahlbrand was 8-of-23 with 108 yards passing and one interception before leaving the game late with a calf injury. For more photos from the game, click here.

The offense simply could not get out of their own way, as every time they looked to get something going the team would stall up or a fumble would kill any energy they had built up. Meanwhile Boonville would go on to score two more touchdowns: one from a Conner one-yard carry after a sustained third quarter drive and another from junior fullback Reed Overton after the Pioneers forced a turnover on downs late in the fourth quarter.

Jasper finished with a total of 259 yards of offense on 72 plays. Ahlbrand, who left the game in the fourth with a calf injury, finished going 8-for-23 passing with 108 yards and one interception. He also had 27 yards on 13 rushes. Hopf finished with 89 yards and one touchdown on the ground. Milligan finished with five catches for 92 yards.

“I think we could have done better,” said Hopf. “We practiced hard all week, when it came down to it we just didn’t execute. From the first snap of the game I don’t think we came out hard. We wanted to come out here for the fans and play well, but we didn’t get the job done.”

Conner finished with 200 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries for Boonville. Phillip went 2-for-9, with both completions going to Mockobee, for six yards and an interception. Mockobee also had 56 yards on four carries.

Ahrens didn’t sugar coat it after the game for his team: no one is going to feel sorry for them, and they have to use the next week of practice as an opportunity to make corrections for their next game. The team is going to have to exercise their short memories as they have the undefeated Class 3A No. 10 Heritage Hills Patriots (3-0, 2-0) coming to town next week as they look for that first win at home.

“The sun comes up tomorrow, and it’s time decide that there’s a way to win,” said Ahrens. “We got to figure that out by getting these kids to understand what it is that they have to do so they can play better, especially in tight situations. It’s back to the drawing board.”

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