Jasper gets back to 'Wildcat football' in first win

Traci Westcott/The Herald
Jasper's Nathan Rillo carries the ball into the end zone for a touchdown during Friday's game at Bennett Field in Boonville. Jasper defeated Boonville 35-0. For more photos from the game, click here.


BOONVILLE — The Jasper football team didn’t have the greatest of starts to their season. They were pushed around by Evansville Memorial in week one, and wound up on the wrong end of a Southridge comeback bid in their home opener. But instead of letting the early bumps crush their spirits the Wildcats chose to use Friday’s 35-0 win over the Boonville Pioneers as an opportunity to put the world on notice about just what Jasper can do on a football field.

“We’re just glad that little ole’ Jasper can play a little bit of football,” said Wildcats coach Tony Lewis as he invoked the spirit of West Coast hip-hop classic 'Forgot About Dre'. “Sometimes people forget that Jasper is a great football program. Our kids take pride in that and they came ready to play tonight.”

Jasper and Boonville came up empty after the first quarter of play, but it was clear at the start that outside of an early fumble and a few penalties the Wildcats weren’t playing like a football team that knew they were 0-2 at that point. The defense flew across the field and swarmed the bigger Pioneers line, and their use of the triple-option offense proved useful in moving the ball up and down the field. The Wildcats finally cashed in on the momentum they built up on the opening play of the second quarter, as senior quarterback Nathan Rillo capped a 71-yd drive with a six-yard scramble for a touchdown.

After the defense forced a three-and-out on the subsequent Pioneers drive the Wildcats used the opportunity to land another body blow on their Bight Eight conference foe.

Rillo and junior running back Lance Dawkins combined to operate as the ground crew which chewed up the field with every rushing attempt. Rillo also used his arm to power the campaign as he completed two passes to Cassidy both netted first down yardage. Once again the Wildcats found themselves in the Pioneer red zone and, following an eight yard rumble from Dawkins, Rillo capped the drive with a QB sneak to put Jasper up 14-0.

The third strike was landed toward the end of the first half. Junior running back Joe Wood collected three consecutive pitches from Rillo during the drive, and the third time proved to be the charm as he took the toss 39 yards down the sideline to put the Wildcats up 21-0 going into halftime.

“It was just normal for me,” said Wood. “I’ve always been an outside runner, just run to the sideline and keep going.”

Their defense did a thorough job of covering the field and stopping Boonville from breaking big plays in the first half, but in the second half they also got in on some of the scoring. The Pioneers started their first possession of the second half at their own 10, and initially it looked like they would be able to sustain their drive and come away with points. But it was not meant to be as junior defensive back Ross Peter got a line on Pioneers quarterback Jackson Phillips, read the play, and took a pick-six 45 yards the other way for the 28-0 lead.

“We prepared for everything, we just had good defensive coverage over the field,” said Peter. “It was there, I got it.”

Jasper's Nathan Rillo takes practice throws during warm ups before Friday's game at Bennett Field in Boonville. Rillo went 3-for-3 passing with 55 yards and rushed for 69 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. For more photos from the game, click here.

The Wildcats delivered the final blow via a 6-yard score from Dawkins after a two-play drive which sapped the last bit of fight out of the Pioneers. The clock was allowed to run and both sides sent in their replacements to play out the rest of the game time, but Jasper delivered their message loud and clear for everyone to see.

Rillo went 3-for-3 passing with 55 yards and rushed for 69 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.

Wood finished with 62 yards on five rushes and a touchdown, and Dawkins finished with 42 yards plus a score.

“It was good team win,” said Rillo. “I was really proud of our team. First two losses were on me, but it’s real exciting.”

“It was a big shift from what we did against Southridge and Memorial,” added Wood. “You could feel the energy on the sidelines and on the field. You could tell it was different.”

To get his team ready this week Lewis used a metaphor centered on a man hanging off the edge of a cliff with only his buddy holding up and keeping him from falling. Lewis wanted the boys to rally and hold each other close in that same way as they dealt with the reality of being 0-2. 

“We harped to the kids all week that we have to stay together. You got hold the rope,” the Wildcats coach said. “When somebody is hanging off a cliff, you have to be able to look around and see that guy you can trust to hold that rope no matter what. We had a lot of kids that held the rope tonight for each other.”

Friday’s night’s win over Boonville (2-1, 0-1) was only one game, but it was a statement win nonetheless for Jasper (1-2, 1-0).

The road doesn’t get easier as the Wildcats head to Lincoln City to take on Class 3A No. 3 Heritage Hills (3-0) next week.

But Jasper believes Friday night's performance is only a preview of things to come from their team in the near future.

“It’s important for our kids’ confidence,” said Lewis “Our kids want to do well, they work hard and we have to get back to work. (But) we’ll enjoy this win because little ole’ Jasper was able to win a football game.”


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