There was a time when Arkansas City was the last team McPherson High wanted to see on its football schedule.
In the first 19 meetings between the teams, the Bulldogs were 18-1 – the only loss a 10-0 shutout in 1983, which actually wasn’t a banner season for the Bullpups, who won only two other games that year.
I can remember my very first year covering McPherson High in 1979 when the Bulldogs rolled into town and I thought to myself, “My God, this looks like a college team.” They would wind up going undefeated and took down Liberal in the Class 5A state title game.
The Bulldogs had the late Darren Daulton at quarterback (he would go on to be a Major League Baseball All-Star), the terrifying Harvey Fields at running back (he would later start for KU) and tough-as-nails fullback Doug Regnier, who was a powerful runner that at the time was on Nebraska’s radar when the Cornhuskers were terrorizing college football. Fields and Regnier were both All-State, All-Class that year as it’s a rarity when a school has two players on the first team and the Bulldogs’ Ron Hill also was the Kansas Coach of the Year.
The linemen were massive and dominated the Bullpups on both sides of the ball. If I recall correctly, MHS had almost no total yards of offense as the Bulldogs were a 55-0 winner. I think the Bullpups had several players get hurt in the game and all I wanted was for it to get over. To this day, it’s still the best high school football team I have seen.
Amazingly the next year, the Bullpups lost only 14-7 at Ark City even though Fields was still the Bulldogs’ bell cow. Again -- and my memory has become fuzzy after so many games -- the Bullpups reportedly broke Fields’ nose in that game but he solidered on.
But like everything else, the Bulldogs’ success was cyclical. MHS, which was 4-21 at one point in the series against the Bulldogs, now has won 11 straight to close the gap to 21-15. The last loss was in 2002 when the Bulldogs held off MHS at McPherson Stadium, 14-6. The last time MHS and Ark City met during the regular season was 2011, MHS’ last year in AVCTL Division II.
If the Bullpups can make it 12 straight against the Bulldogs tonight, they’ll play for a state championship for the first time in state history. Given MHS’ athletic success in all sports, it’s hard to believe it hasn’t played for a state title, but has come close so many times.
You look at the last three years and it’s like a black cat must have been on the MHS sidelines. The losses for MHS have been beyond disheartening. But this year’s team is the one that hopes to plant the flag in the ground.
Here’s a look at the last three semifinal losses, all at home:
2019 -- The Bullpups lost a 7-0 decision to Andover Central, even though all the numbers were in MHS’ favor except on the scoreboard. In the second quarter, a high snap on a punt attempt by Aiden Hoover sailed over his head and the Jags’ Kyren Parrott picked it up and ran it in for what proved to be the game’s only score.
Other than that, MHS’ defense was beyond dominating. Andover Central managed just 4 first downs for the game and 83 yards of total offense. The Bullpups wound up having the ball four times down near the goal line, but could never score.
MHS ran 76 plays in the game without scoring. The Jags did stifle the passing game, as MHS was just 14 of 39 through the air, though Jakob Feil did rush for 96 yards and Aaron Powell made 11 catches.
2018 – To me, this was the Bullpups’ best shot, a 15-14 loss to Goddard. This was a game the Bullpups were inside the Lions’ 20 four times in just the second half alone and each time the Goddard defense had an answer.
MHS led this game 14-7 at the half, but a key play was again a bad snap on a punt that led to a Goddard safety, which proved to be the difference in the game. Goddard’s two touchdowns came on big plays, a 67-yard TD run by Ben Bannister on the second play of the game, and a 47-yard pass to set up a 1-yard run by Bannister.
MHS twice was stopped on the Goddard 2-yard line and a 20-yard field goal attempt also was blocked as the Lions broke through to deny the Bullpups 3 points.
MHS again won the total yardage battle, 305-268. To me, this was perhaps the most complete Bullpup team in school history.
2017 – The Bullpups committed 5 turnovers in this game and Andale scored all its points in the first half before holding off MHS, 20-13.
Twice in the first quarter, now-KU tight end Mason Fairchild went right down the middle and the MHS defense didn’t go with him as he scored on catches of 45 and 62 yards. Right at the end of the half, the Indians hit on another TD pass as again there was a breakdown in communication as running back Andrew Mohr flared out and nobody picked him up.
But MHS stormed back in the second half after being down 20-6. It scored once and had two other chances in the red zone, but was bedeviled by a fumble and interception.
The MHS defense gave up only 11 yards in the second half after three huge plays led to Andale racking up 223 in the first.
MHS again won the total offense battle as it accumulated 328 yards to 234 for the Indians.
So maybe the trick for the Bullpups might be to have less yards tonight. But the common thread in the losses is MHS making mistakes and not finishing drives.
Tonight, I think they finally clear the last hurdle and will get a shot at Miege next week in the state championship game.