JASPER, IND. – The road to the playoffs just got a lot rockier for the Mt. Carmel Golden Aces.
After surviving a tentative start on Friday night in Jasper, the Aces steamrolled through the middle two quarters only to falter down the stretch in a 36-32 Big 8 Conference loss.
Mt. Carmel now stands 3-3 on the season. With five the minimum number of wins needed to get back into the IHSA playoffs after a one-year absence, the Aces must win two of the final three games of the season.
That means at least one win against the top two teams in the Big 8 standings, Vincennes Lincoln (5-2, this Friday’s guest at Riverview Stadium) and undefeated Boonville (7-0) to go along with non-conference finale Mt. Vernon, Ill. (1-5).
Jasper (3-4, 2-2) scored the game’s final 19 points in the fourth quarter to save its’ Homecoming game and avoid the first losing regular-season since 1989. In the process, the Wildcats spoiled some of Mt. Carmel’s best football of the season.
“The kids got better tonight,” said Aces coach Michael Brewer. “There was no moral victory, but we got better at stuff tonight. And kept battling until the end.”
The Aces were at their best in a 20-point second quarter that wiped out Jasper’s 17-6 lead, then again in the third quarter when they added to the lead, topping out at 32-17.
That amounted to a 22-point run that immediately preceded Jasper’s responsive run of points to the win.
Sophomore quarterback Kaleb Applebey threw four more touchdown passes in the game, on the heels of the five-spot he threw up against Washington the week prior.
Against a much tougher Jasper defense, he had to be more precise, and certainly was with two straight second-quarter TD passes to Austin Rager. The first, coming at the 5:23 mark, came after Applebey was forced to leave his feet while on the run, zinging a 20-yard pass that Rager had to jump to catch in a crowd as well.
It was a play you’d expect to see on Saturday or Sunday, more so than on Friday night. It was that good.
The Applebey-Rager tandem worked again for a 17-yard score not even two minutes later to give the Aces their first lead of the night, 20-17. That score held through halftime.
His 19-yard flip to Blake Kight at the outset of the quarter put the Aces on the board, stopping Jasper’s 10-point start to the game.
On the night, the 6-foot-5 righthander was 22-of-37 in the air for 285 yards.
Interceptions by Aden Gill and Cade Newkirk provided fuel for the Aces offense on those aforementioned drives.
“They were huge plays,” said Brewer of the takeaways. “As the year goes on, guys are working on pass drops, playing the ball in the air and breaking on the ball.”
However, it was a Jasper pick-6 by Isaac Bartley with 3:44 left that completed the game about-face and accounted for the final score.
Jasper outgained Mt. Carmel on the ground, 172-38, but for the most part it was a draw inside. The Wildcats seemed to do their damage on the edge.
Mt. Carmel is not out of playoff contention yet, so for Brewer’s team, it’s back to a work on Monday, with all goals still intact -- albeit with a smaller window of opportunity.
“We’ll keep fighting and battling, and keep getting better,” he said. “And, we’ll get the wins.”
ACES ASIDES… Junior RB Trevor Peterson suffered a knee injury early against Jasper. Family Facebook posts indicate that a Saturday MRI image shows an MCL tear and trauma to the ACL as well. They will learn more after a Monday meeting with doctors. For now, they are hopeful for a minimum six-week timeline, which would put him back in time for basketball… The game was the first for the Aces on Jasper’s artificial turf field, installed in 2017… The Wildcats now lead the all-time series, 12-4.