McPherson High football coach Jace Pavlovich had just emerged Wednesday from watching last year’s game film of the Bullpups’ 61-32 loss to Salina South for what he called “the thousandth time.”
And his opinion of the Cougars was just the same from the first time he watched it to the 1,000th.
Pavlovich, taking over as head coach for the retired Tom Young after serving nine years as defensive coordinator of nothing but playoff teams, is well aware the Bullpups are facing a monumental challenge when the 2015 season unfolds Friday night at McPherson Stadium.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
The Bullpups were right there with the Cougars last year until the closing moments of the first half when South scored to go up 34-25. MHS, thinking it was going to be down by just two, came out deflated in the second half and also committed a spate of turnovers that blew the game open.
The Cougars went on to finish 10-2 and have 25 seniors back from a team that could very well find itself in the Class 5A state championship game after coming up one win short last year, losing to eventual champion Bishop Carroll in the semifinals.
“They’re very good. They will expose you right off the bat and they did that to us last year,” said Pavlovich, as the Bullpups got down early before clawing their way back into it. “We look at it as a real positive challenge.”
Ready or not, Pavlovich says the Bullpups are excited to tee it up.
“We’re tired of hitting each other and practicing against ourselves,” he said. “Our scout teams have been doing a great job, but you can’t replicate the environment, the intensity and the pressure of a Friday night.”
The game figures to come down to just how much the Bullpups can slow down what should be a thrill-a-minute offense for the Cougars. Standout quarterback Dalton Wassenberg graduated, but stepping right in and not expecting to miss a beat is Jason Yarochowicz, a strapping senior who has perhaps the best duo of receivers in the state to throw to in Dylan Becker and Jacob Marcotte.
Becker ran unbated last year in the MHS secondary on his way to a huge game. DeAngelo Turner was a back-up last year at running back to Eric McCullough, but he’s expected to be every bit as good as he was just biding his time until his number was called.
“Pick your poison. They have two of the best receivers in the state,” Pavlovich said. “We know they’re very good. Their quarterback is very solid. He’ll put the ball where it needs to be. And their running game is still Salina South’s running game. They refer to it as ‘a bowling ball of razor blades. It’s coming downhill on you.’”
South returns nine total starters and coach Sam Sellers, now in his sixth year, has been quoted as saying this is perhaps the fastest team he’s ever had.
The Bullpups, who finished 7-3 last year after starting 0-2, have a myriad of unknowns. Casen Hoover is being asked to supplant all-everything Kyler Kinnamon at quarterback, while Noah Jirgens is relatively inexperienced as the lead running back as Ty Hart and Nathan Nutter received most of the totes last year. The Bullpups will have a huge offensive line and it’s Pavlovich’s hope that they can hold their own and allow MHS to control the clock to keep the ball away from South’s fast-break offense.
“I feel really good about Casen Hoover, he’s done a tremendous job,” Pavlovich said. “He’s putting the ball on the money and making good decisions. Noah Jirgens, physically, is capable, he’s more than capable... if he can get his schemes down he’ll be a very good tailback.”
Klayton Goering and sophomore Tyson Stites also could get some carries. Goering is more valuable on defense as he should be a mainstay at linebacker, but can get some short yardage in bursts. Stites is the back of the future as he’s turned a lot of heads in workouts.
Pavlovich is happy with what he’s seen during the preseason.
“I’m really impressed with the chemistry,” he said. “We have a really close-knit group, which is great to see. We don’t have just ‘that guy.’ We don’t have a Kyler Kinnamon. Practice has been fun and we’ve been trying to limit it to 2 hours. The guys do a really good job of focusing in.”
Pavlovich said it’s pretty simple what his team has to do to spring what would be a huge upset in the eyes of those around the state.
“We have to do everything right,” he said.