JASPER, Indiana — Grant Young had been hearing the same question all summer: How good was this Jasper football team?
There was no ill intent in the subject. The Wildcats went undefeated in the regular season last year but completed a deep and talented senior class. It was an undisputed fact. Did they have the parts to reload instead of rebuilding?
That’s the thing about Jasper Football. It always thinks it will fight for championships. The Wildcats didn’t bite when the same talks took place in the offseason. They went to work. The first result was an important statement.
Jasper, No. 8, put on a near-complete performance with a 34-10 win over Memorial No. 7. A new group with new players in key positions. The same winning design.
“We’ve always felt that with a good program, you can keep things going,” said Jasper coach Tony Lewis. “Our children have an idea of what we expect. It’s a game… but we’re going to play against a good team next week, next week and the week after that. This is a good start.”
The Wildcats said the right things after the game and focused on what didn’t go to plan. This was certainly an “A” on the rating scale with no curve.
The offense extended for more than 300 yards, with Carter Holsworth and Bralen Bair emerging as dynamic threats. Young looked like a senior quarterback with the way he reads the line or plays with his feet. The offensive line bullied the Tigers in the second half.
Jasper’s starting defense kept Memorial out of the end zone. It limited the opponent to 102 rushing yards and forced two turnovers. Add it all up and you win a three point win over a top 10 team.
“No one knew what we were going to do,” Young said. “The seniors realized that we have to play together if we want to do something good this year. That was a good start. That starts with our coaches. They have prepared us excellently for this game.”
Lewis didn’t look like a coach celebrating an exchange win in the injury round. That’s because he focused on what he called “several glaring issues.” Jasper was unofficially called up for 11 penalties. Kickoff coverage was lacking and an 85-yard return was given up to start the second half. Several players also limped to the sidelines with cramps.
The coaches mentioned reintroducing push-ups into practice if these mistakes persisted. They are also correctable errors.
“It takes discipline,” Lewis said. “Other than that, our defense brought us back and played pretty well. To play a really good team and field 34, our offensive line started late to take the lead.”
It was also significant how Jasper (1:0) reacted in the second half. The Wildcats were “deflated” as Hugh Pearce’s kickoff score cut the lead to 14-10. Memorial also forced a punt on next possession.
Jasper has scored on his last three possessions. Holsworth finished with 107 grounded yards and two touchdowns. Bair was dynamic in the first half with both Jasper touchdowns: a 4-yard pitch and a 19-yard reception with 10 seconds left in the second quarter.
Having the right characters like Bair in the right places could make this Jasper team stand out. The senior was exclusively a defenseman a year ago and earned the first-team all-conference. Now he has evolved into a two-way player.
“We worked very hard over the summer,” Bair said. “They came out a little shy and we took it to them. We were the attackers. Our linemen outperformed them. I like getting the ball. It’s every child’s dream.”
Memorial (0-1) has the potential to field another quality team. Some of his issues — particularly the ability to play big on offense — could be addressed with the return of multiple starters. The Tigers couldn’t stop the Wildcats in the second half either. Younger defensive starters need to learn fast.
Jasper knows there aren’t high-end athletes like some teams. It showed once again that it has the preparation and culture to continue playing football at a high level. The system works regardless of the names sent on the field.
“The option offense is a balance for us,” said Lewis. “You build up some depth in different positions. We cramped up to the second and third string. These guys did plays.”
“We have to dial in mentally during practice,” Bair added. “We have a lot of new guys. We were expecting some hiccups. You have to hit and defend the ball. We did that.”
Follow Courier & Press sports reporter Kyle Sokeland on Twitter @kylesokeland.