This was straight out of Hollywood.
It couldn’t have been scripted any better.
McPherson High’s football team, playing its first game under new head coach Jace Pavlovich, shocked Class 5A power Salina South 14-7 Friday night before a wildly enthusiastic full house at McPherson Stadium.
Pavlovich now needs only 342 more victories to catch his mentor, Tom Young, who stepped down last season with 343 wins in 44 years. Young was on hand to watch his apprentice, who no doubt had him beaming with pride.
It was simply a stunning, near-perfect performance by the youthful Bullpups, who basically started a brand-new team as very few regulars returned from last year’s 7-3 playoff squad.
Meanwhile, South — which lost in the Class 5A state semifinals last year to eventual champion Carroll and went 10-2 — trotted out 25 seniors.
But the Bullpups converted two turnovers on South’s first two offensive plays into touchdowns, then turned the game over to their swarming, jet-propelled defense that pitched a shutout until midway through the fourth quarter.
“I told the kids before the game, ‘guys, don’t worry who your head coach is,’” said Pavlovich, Young’s defensive coordinator for what has been a golden age of football in McPherson. “You just go out and play for each other and they did that tonight. It means a lot to me personally, but the real story is those kids. The execution, the effort... to beat Salina South, a two-platoon team and we’ve got guys going both ways, and to beat them in the fourth quarter says something about their perseverance.”
Spenser Wine’s interception on the first play of the game set the tone, as MHS then powered right down the field and converted that pick into seven points. Taylor Kynaston capped an 11-play drive with a 4-yard run and Tyson Stites boomed the PAT.
Wine then came up with a fumble recovery on the next South offensive play and bell cow Noah Jirgens pounded it in from 9 yards. Less than 5 minutes into the game the Bullpups had a 14-0 lead.
MHS had a chance to go up three scores on its next possession, but a fumble on the South 4 had the Cougars breathing a sign of relief.
South had a chance to score just before the half, but Stites’ one-handed interception in the end zone squelched the threat.
MHS massaged that 14-point lead into the fourth quarter when the Cougars finally bowed their backs and muscled 87 yards in 13 plays, with Sam Carona going in from the 4 with 7:19 left. South had one more chance when it took over with 4:53 to go, but a Jack Reifschneider fumble recovery at the Bullpup 12 stopped the threat. MHS then converted on a key third down on a pass from Casen Hoover to Wine and Jirgens completed the upset with a 20-yard bolt that allowed MHS to go into the victory formation.
“That (creating turnovers) was what we put a big focus on during the offseason,” Pavlovich said. “At Pitt State (summer camp) we were able to play pretty competitive games... we played great defense and took the air out of the ball. We relied on our defense and our great offensive line to move some people.”
In addition to the defense, Jirgens was the other big story. He carried a yeoman 38 times for 223 yards and only once had a carry for negative yardage.
“I’m incredibly proud of Noah,” Pavlovich said. “It never has been a physical thing when it comes to down to Noah, he just needs to get his schemes down and he did tonight.”
The Bullpups finished with 305 yards of total offense to 269 for the Cougars, who rang up 62 points on MHS last year. The vaunted South passing attack managed only 75 yards, as the secondary, led by Wine, Stites, Reifschneider and Casey Cheek, scotch-taped the South receivers.
MHS will try to come down from Cloud Nine next Friday when it makes its first road trip of the year to defending Class 4A Division II state champion Andale, which lost to Buhler 16-0 in a clash of titans on opening night.
• STATS •
• MHS Listed First •
First Downs — 14, 16. Rushes-Yards — 50-253; 40-194. Passing — 4-6-0-52; 7-18-2-75. Punts-Avg. — 5-25.0; 4-35.8. Fumbles-Lost — 2-1; 2-2. Penalties-Yards — 4-30; 2-25.
• INDIVIDUAL LEADERS •
• Rushing •
MHS — Jirgens 38-223, Reifschenider 2-17, Goering 3-11, Kynaston 1-4, Hoover 4-(-2).
South — Turner 15-85, Corona 10-52, Smith 5-34, Becker 3-13, Yarochowicz 7-10.
• Passing •
MHS — Hoover 4-6-0-52.
South — Yarochowicz 7-18-2-75.
• Receiving •
MHS — Wine 2-24, Stucky 1-25, Jirgens 1-3.
South — Becker 4-29, Marcotte 3-46.