NEWBURGH, Ind. — Jayce Perkins still had a video fresh on his mind that the Jasper football team watched following Thursday’s practice.
“Most people think that life’s going to get easier; it never gets easier,” Duke women’s basketball coach Kara Lawson says in the a that went viral over the summer. “What happens is, you become someone that handles hard stuff better… Then, whatever comes at you, you’re going to be great.”
Jasper coach Tony Lewis felt her message was one the Wildcats needed to hear. It seemingly worked.
Trailing by one against Castle in overtime, Perkins relayed that advice in his head. It felt relevant to what his team had already gone through, both in Friday's game and the season as a whole. But all that mattered was one play. The senior had a chance to perhaps change the trajectory of this stretch run.
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Perkins was handed the ball and punched through a game-winning two-point conversion as Jasper defeated Castle 43-42 in an overtime thriller. It was a fitting ending for a game that had plenty of twists and turns along the way.
“We knew our guys wanted it more than them. That’s exactly what we did, we got it done,” Perkins said. “That’s just a really big win.”
Following Max Bueltel’s touchdown pass to Tyler Atkins to put Jasper within one in overtime, the Wildcats called a timeout. It appeared to be debating between kicking the extra point to force another overtime period or going for the two-point conversion.
Lewis and his staff asked the players, "What do you want to do?" The answer was simple: take a chance and roll the dice.
“Go for the win, baby. We’re on the road, we had played well in spurts. Let’s freaking go for two,” said Jasper head coach Tony Lewis. “Our kids stepped up. It comes down to our line blocking and Jayce getting in. We needed this as a program.”
This game was all Jasper for three and a half quarters. After Castle's Max McCool scored a 57-yard rushing touchdown at the start, the Knights didn't find the end zone again until the third quarter.
Carter Holsworth scored a pair of touchdowns in the opening period. Perkins punched it in three times to go with his 142 rushing yards. The Wildcat defense took advantage of every Castle mistake, recovering two fumbles and using a lengthy interception to set up another touchdown to start the second half.
But slowly, the Knights found their way back. A 46-yard rushing touchdown from Brayden Bishop made it 35-20 in the third. After another defensive stop, the Knights marched again as Caden Gordon found Weston Aigner for a seven-yard score to get within one possession again entering the fourth.
Castle’s momentum carried over. Bishop zigged and zagged his way through traffic for a 31-yard score that put the Knights within two. A two-point conversion tied it. That 22-point Jasper lead had evaporated in what felt like a blink of an eye.
But the Wildcats never panicked.
“We talk all the time about when things aren’t going well, you have to pick up your buddy,” Lewis said. “We have to do everything together. If we have a chance to do something special, we’ve got to be together.”
Even when things looked bleak, Jasper found a way to stay alive. What would've been a 37-yard game-winning field goal attempt by Castle’s Aleyna Quinn was no good to end regulation. Then, a Knights touchdown on a 4th-and-1 of the first possession of overtime still didn’t dampen their confidence.
Through twists and turns, the Wildcats found a way.
“We’ve been facing adversity all season,” Perkins said. “This was just another rock in the road we had to get over. We bonded together and we got it done.”
Since Jasper joined the SIAC in 2020, the Wildcats have been near the top of the conference. A 7-3 campaign in their inaugural season was followed by a perfect 9-0 sweep of league opponents a year ago. But there have been plenty of challenges for the 'Cats in this go-round.
There was the stunning loss to Harrison, followed by a dismantling from Reitz. Injuries have popped up left and right. The Wildcats dressed just 36 players on Friday with Lewis estimating there were at least 10 on “injured reserve."
As Lawson says in the clip Lewis showed his team, "It never gets easier." Jasper knows that. It will face two tough opponents in North and Vincennes to close the regular season.
But all it takes is one game to get you back on track.
“This has to give us a little bit of confidence,” Lewis said. “Every week is a meat grinder in the SIAC. Just proud of our kids for persevering.”
Perkins added: “We can build a lot of momentum off this. We’re gonna be a lot happier at practice. We’re going to put our nose to the grindstone and get it done.”
Contact Courier & Press sports reporter Hendrix Magley via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @TweetsOfHendrix
This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: IHSAA football: Two-point conversion pushes Jasper past Castle in OT