Wildcats wash out Warriors, 34-12October 20, 2018
By JONATHAN SAXON
JASPER — The rain came pouring over Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium on Friday but that didn’t stop the Jasper football team from starting off sectional on the right foot as the Wildcats defeated the Evansville Harrison Warriors 34-12 to advance in the postseason.
“We have a tremendous attitude right now about how we’re playing,” said Wildcat head coach Tony Ahrens. “The kids feel good and they’re strong with their attitude. It’s the way you want to be right now.”
Harrison would be the first with the ball after Jasper deferred, but they couldn’t get much going early. A three-yard rush for sophomore running back Jerryon Adams was the only positive play for the Warriors in their first drive. A negative rush and incomplete pass on 3rd-and-14 forced a punt to close their three-and-out.
The Wildcats made their job a bit harder with an illegal procedure penalty to start the drive, but they were able to make it up after a 27-yard hook up between junior quarterback Nathan Rillo and senior wideout Reece Milligan. The running back stable of Zachary Flynn, Lance Dawkins, and Caden Schmitt moved the ball into the red zone. From there Dawkins was able to truck the last nine yards for Jasper’s first score.
Harrison once again wasn’t able to get much going offensively. They had a couple of plays that set them up with a short third down, but back-to-back false start penalties backed them up to a 3rd-and-11 situation. Sophomore quarterback LJ Oxley was forced to pass, but was picked off by senior cornerback Isaac Bartley. Unfortunately, the Wildcats weren’t able to make the Warriors pay for the turnover, and punted the ball away four plays later.
Both teams traded three-and-out possessions going into the second quarter before there were any further changes to the scoreboard. After receiving Harrison’s third punt at their own 33-yard line, Jasper leaned on Dawkins and their offensive line to move the pile and the chains. Dawkins took three straight carries for 19 yards, and, after a brief interlude for Milligan, Dawkins was able to cross the final 11 yards for his second score of the evening.
The Wildcats were able to catch the Warriors sleeping on the following kickoff and recovered their onside kick on Harrison’s 48-yard line. The Wildcats once again turned to Dawkins to carry most of the load, and he was able to find the goal line for the third time with a little less than five minutes remaining in the second quarter. The Wildcats then converted a 2pt point-after pass play to junior kicker Jackson Kabrick in order to make up for the blocked kicked on their second touchdown.
But Harrison was able to break through on their next possession. After it looked like another drive would be stalled behind another offsides penalty, the Warriors broke out some of their own tricks and converted a fake punt for 17 yards to keep the drive going. From there, senior wide receiver Collin Hancock and senior running back were able to drive Harrison inside Jasper’s five-yard line. But the Warriors were flagged on the next play for trying to push Hancock over the goal line when his initial rush look stuffed at the line of scrimmage. But they recovered on third down as Oxley linked with senior wideout Trey Whipple for a five-yard touchdown. They failed to convert the PAT, but nonetheless closed the gap 21-6.
Jasper didn’t muster much offense on their first drive in the third quarter, but the defense came up big once again when they recovered a fumble from Hancock during Harrison’s next series. The Wildcats started their new drive with a bang after Rillo was able to find Milligan on the run and connect for 34 yards. Dawkins, Schmitt, and junior runner Elliot Hopf carried the pigskin down to the one-yard line, and once again Dawkins was able to ring the bell and put Jasper up 28-6 with less than two minutes in the third quarter.
Harrison produced another three-and-out, but on the flipside Jasper was unable to punch it in after a 43-yard run by Hopf which set them up with first and goal. Hopf was stuffed twice and Rillo was unable to find Milligan, which forced a 40-yard field goal attempt. The kick would not meet its mark.
Oxley completed a strike to Whipple for nine yards to start the Warriors next drive, but it took another fourth down conversion to keep the chains moving. But Oxley was able to connect with Whipple on a route across the middle of the field which went for 70 yards and a score, bringing the Warriors to within 28-12. That was as close as they would get.
Jasper was able to score once more behind a 6-yard rumble from Flynn, and they were able to kneel out the game after Bartley stripped Hancock on Harrison’s last possession.
Jasper was able to gain 339 yards of total offense. Rillo finished three-of-six for 64 yards. Dawkins led all runners with 100 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries. Hopf had 88 yards on eight rushes, Milligan had 62 yards on four carries, and Flynn finished with 23 yards and a score.
“It all starts with our offensive line. Whenever they start pushing guys, I’m going to be pushing guys too,” said Dawkins. “We’re all going to play as hard as we can for each other.”
“It was the utmost importance,” said Flynn when he talked about the defense, which forced four turnovers, being able to contain Harrison’s speed. “Those guys were fast. You just had to do your assignments and keep everything in front of you, because if they got in the open they would be gone.”
Ahrens was proud of the physicality the Wildcats, who gained 275 yards of offense on the ground. He feels it’s important to set the tone of the games at the line of scrimmage, especially now in the season where every possession is precious.
“Our kids can play,” he said. “Our kids are enjoying being physical. They’ve developed themselves, and we have a physical line of scrimmage. They’re strong with their approach and it puts us in a good direction going into our next game.”
Jasper will have to face conference rival Boonville in the next round of sectional. Their earlier meeting with them ended in a 28-14 loss earlier this season.
They will get a chance at redemption next week, but they can’t get too caught up in the emotions of the moment and forget about the mindset that has allowed them to be successful over the last few weeks.
“(We) just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing the past four, five weeks,” said Milligan. “We’ve had a pretty good stretch of games here. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing and come out physical.”
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