It’s “Statement Game” time for the McPherson High football team.
The Bullpups’ game tonight at McPherson Stadium hopefully will prove something not only to their detractors, but to themselves.
The Goddard Lions come to town with an unassuming 4-5 record, but anybody who follows high school football closely knows this is a toss-up game.
This is a rematch of last year’s Class 4A state semifinals when the Bullpups went up and down the field, but developed an allergic reaction to the end zone in the fourth quarter.
Goddard’s defense bent like a pretzel, but never snapped as the Bullpups walked off the field feeling like the better team even if that wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard.
That propelled the Lions into the state title game where they were defeated by mighty Bishop Miege, which will again be a prohibitive favorite no matter which team emerges from the West.
It’s been a strange season for the Lions, who started normally with a 2-0 record, but then had some injuries and lost five straight games against arguably the toughest schedule in Class 4A West.
What stands out on film to the MHS coaching staff is the Lions’ defense, which features no less than four players who can legitimately put in a claim for All-State honors.
In last year’s game, even with their high-flying offense, the Bullpups couldn’t put a lot of points on the board against the Lions. Kyler Hoppes had a field day passing as the Lions geared to stop Jace Kinnamon, who was held to less than 3 yards a carry. The Lions have many of their starters back on defense, with the two best perhaps being Zack Howell and Dhimani Butler.
Goddard’s offense revolves more around the passing game, as it struggles to rush the ball with less than 100 yards per game. MHS really has not faced a quality passing game this season, so its secondary will be tested like never before.
The Bullpups should come in highly motivated. They hear the whispers that their 9-0 record is partially the by-product of down times in AVCTL Division III. Games with Circle and El Dorado don’t make you a whole lot better, nor do games with Abilene or Rose Hill, though the Rockets were better than I thought.
The Bullpups basically had just a few sweats this year, down 10-0 early at Salina South before roaring back to win by 17, letting Buhler melt a 21-0 lead to 21-14 late in the fourth quarter and then a first quarter against Augusta where the Orioles raced up and down the field before the light went off for the MHS defense.
Bullpup coach Jace Pavlovich never has a conversation about his team without bringing up physicality. The Bullpups have been the more physical team in every game they’ve played, but tonight the playing field will be level, perhaps even tilted slightly in favor of the Lions. They have some “dudes” who are tough and nasty.
The game will be won up front, more specifically can an MHS offensive line that includes three underclassmen starters hold up against Goddard’s pressure defense? MHS has to be able to find a way to run the football to keep the pressure off quarterback Kaleb Hoppes, who has done a good job of breaking in a young group of receivers who were greener than the Astroturf they play on at the start of the year.
A decisive Bullpup win would send a message they’re more substance than style.