Wildcat romp is well received

Herald Sports Writer

WASHINGTON — Late in the second quarter of Jasper’s matchup against Big Eight Conference foe Washington, the Wildcats found themselves marching backward for the one of the few times Friday night.

On the play before, a penalty wiped away a Nick Hale plunge into the endzone and Jasper now faced a first-and-goal from the 16-yard line rather than the cozy 5.

Turns out, it didn’t matter where the Wildcats were.

Nolan Ahrens dropped back and threw a perfect fade route to Philip Huebschman’s right shoulder in the corner of the endzone on the next play for one of Ahrens’ two passing touchdowns in a 58-7 drubbing of Washington at Hatchet Hollow. The Jasper starting offense played just one series in the second half after entering halftime with a 37-point lead.

The Wildcats (7-1, 4-1) scored five of their eight touchdowns on the ground, but it was plays like the aforementioned one that carved up the Hatchet defense all night and have given the Wildcats one of their more exciting and versatile offense in years.

Huebschman is part of a Wildcat receiving corps that has embraced a run-and-gun offense. After a 2012 season in which leading receiver Jesse Schmitt fielded a team-high 21 receptions, the Wildcats already boast three players with 20 or more catches — including a 40-plus catch season from Zach Wood, who has proved to be one of the more integral pieces of the Jasper attack.

On Friday, Wood caught five balls for 27 yards and rushed once for 32. His 59 yards of total offense came on a screen pass, a double-reverse run, a few slant patterns and a catch in traffic on a third-and-8 when he was so smothered by Hatchet defenders that radio announcers spent two minutes debating who actually caught it.

“The best thing about Zach is that he wants the ball and that he goes after the ball,” Jasper coach Tony Ahrens said. “A lot of kids, when they’re receiving, they’ll just sort of wait for the ball to come to them and then try to catch it. You really need all of your receivers to be aggressive and attack the ball when they’re out there playing, especially in big games that are close. ... Zach just does a nice job of attacking the ball. And during the game, he doesn’t want to sit back and just be part of the offense, he wants to be an important part of the offense.”

Wood has certainly accomplished that. He leads the team with 605 receiving yards on 41 receptions and four touchdowns. But his teammates aren’t far behind.

“We have a long list of receivers and tight ends on this team,” Wood said. “I think we really have so much at the position, we could put tons of guys in at wide receiver and tight end and they’d be just fine. And you saw it tonight. We got a bunch of guys in there who caught balls, did what they’re supposed to do.”

Ahrens passed for 165 yards, spreading 13 completions among six receivers. Austin Alles, who also returned a partially blocked punt for a 30-yard score, caught three balls for 72 yards. On two of those receptions, he broke about three or four tackles before any Hatchet defender brought him down. Cody Jacob caught two passes for 19 yards. And Landon Jeffers caught Ahrens’ other passing score on a 15-yard strike, his first touchdown of the season.

“I think that this year we have a lot better receivers than we’ve had in the past,” Wood said. “Nolan does an outstanding job. I mean, he’s a real leader out there. I just think it would be a waste not to throw the ball with such a good quarterback.”

“We understand we’re not going to be able to just run the ball,” Tony Ahrens added. “We’re going to have to keep a balanced offense. And (offensive coordinator Geoff) Mauck did a nice job keeping that mindset.”

The balance was somewhat misleading; on the Wildcats’ last three scoring drives of the first half, they passed the ball 16 times to just four rushing attempts. Jasper finished the game with 30 runs to 22 passes, but only after a second half in which the Cats didn’t attempt a single pass.

When the Wildcats did run, it was extremely effective. Hale carried the ball 14 times for 88 yards and three touchdowns. Fullback Ian Songer added the other score with an 11-yard rumble.

For Tony Ahrens, beyond the win, one the best aspects of the game was allowing the bottom half of his roster of 70-plus see the field. After the referees initiated a running clock with five minutes left in the third quarter, only fresh Jasper faces headed onto the field. It wasn’t until facing the second, and even third defensive units that Washington (0-8, 0-6) finally scored.

“No matter what you do, you’re not going to play all of (your team),” Tony Ahrens said. “Every coach, if at all possible, wants to show his team respect and get as many kids on the field on a game night as he can. That’s hard to do, but I tell you, in this situation when you can get that opportunity, it’s good the kids can get out there and play.”

Contact Joseph Fanelli at jfanelli@dcherald.com.

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