McPherson High football coach Jace Pavlovich dropped by on Tuesday for an appearance on the “According to Jim” show, a few days removed from his team competing in a 7-on-7 tournament hosted by perennial Class 6A power Blue Valley North.
You could just sense his excitement. While the Bullpups went only 2-3 against bigger-class competition, the experience was invaluable. And with high school football practice to get under way in less than a month — Aug. 13! — he was chomping at the bit as the Bullpups will have 18 days to prepare for the season opener Aug. 31 when they host Salina South before the usual full house at McPherson Stadium.
In the tournament, the Bullpups twice knocked off a 5A St. James team that was 7-3 last year. They played Blue Valley right down to the wire and stayed right with Shawnee Heights. While they lost by 14 points to defending Class 6A champion Blue Valley North, they hardly embarrassed themselves. I’m sure North didn’t think of MHS as that “little school” from out West.
The Bullpups have been going to this event for a few years, twice playing in the championship game. The MHS program, which until 2006 had experienced very little success with only two playoff appearances, now has respect around the state. Pavlovich received many compliments about the Bullpups’ performance.
The Bullpups were 10-2 last year, losing to Andale in the Class 4A Division I state semifinals. Had they found a way to win that game, they would have been matched against Bishop Miege, which was probably the best team in any class.
Pavlovich said goodbye to arguably the greatest MHS senior class for football. Much of that talent was on the defensive side, where the Bullpups gave up only 8.6 points a game, allowing just 96 yards a game passing and 139 rushing. The first-team defense went 2 months without allowing a touchdown. It allowed opposing offenses to convert on third down just 24 percent of the time and just 22 percent on fourth down.
Perhaps overshadowed during this dominating defensive season was the fact the offense was dynamic as it averaged 35 points and 325 yards per game. The balance was evident by the fact the Bullpups rushed for 164 yards a game and passed for 162.
It’s hard to imagine the Bullpups being better this season, given the graduation hits. But they could be close to being on par with last season, given the offense returns most of the skill-position players.
Kyler Hoppes threw for 1,936 yards and 23 scores last year in his first season as a starter. Jace Kinnamon rushed for 1,079 yards and 17 touchdowns. Gabe Hoover caught 45 balls for 541 yards, while Talyn Huff had 33 for 472 and Chandler Wiard had 29 for 444. They combined for 17 TD catches.
Dawson VanGoethem should be among the best linemen in 4A (there’s no longer 4A I and 4A II). And Pavlovich always manages to cobble together an efficient line, even though it seems every year it’s a new cast.
The key for MHS will be injuries. It had very few last year and will pray that will be the case again this year. There’s simply not the depth of the 2017 team, another reason it was so successful.
If the Bullpups avoid major hurts, I think this is a team that could run the regular-season table, at the most lose one or two games at the most.