Perception is in the eyes of the beholder.
And for McPherson High football coach Jace Pavlovich, his perception of Augusta has drastically changed in the past year even if others still see the Orioles as a downtrodden program.
The Orioles had won only six games in five years before Jason Filbeck came to town in 2014. He brought immediate legitimacy to the program, as the Orioles went 5-5 and qualified for postseason play, where they were edged by Andover Central.
The Orioles have carried that momentum over to this season, as they’ll bring a 2-0 record to town on Friday to face the 1-1 Bullpups.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“They’re not the Augusta of old,” said Pavlovich, whose team was pushed for much of last year’s game before coming away with a 32-20 victory. “It’s a new program, a new coach and they play hard. They’re a very, very good team. They remind me a lot of us in 2006 and 2007 when people really didn’t respect McPherson because we traditionally lost. People see it’s Augusta and they say, ‘OK, it’s finally a letup. But that’s not the case at all.’”
The Orioles opened their season with a 25-14 victory over Wellington and then vanquished El Dorado 40-6 in a game that wasn’t played until Sunday because of an unsubstantiated terroristic threat.
The Orioles have a huge advantage in experience as they welcome back 11 starters, including seven on the offensive side. Pavlovich said their speed is a concern as Augusta will be the fastest team MHS has gone up against. Raef Hilt is a dynamic presence and coming off a four-touchdown game against El Dorado, while Cole Howerton is a multi-purpose player.
Augusta runs the flexbone, made famous by the Hutchinson Salthawks during the Randy Dreiling days.
“They have quite a few very skilled players,” Pavlovich said. “They’ve got some sophomores who are very speedy and they’ve got some offensive threats.”
As for MHS, it is trying to find its identity. After playing a near-perfect game in a 14-7 upset of Salina South, it went to Andale and dropped a 29-8 decision, as the defending Class 4A Division II champs dominated both lines of scrimmage. Pavlovich said his team has to get back to being physical and play with efficiency.
“We were one block away from a big play, that seemed to be the theme all night,” he said. “Against Andale, we would have one kid miss an assignment or miss a cut that would cost us.”
Pavlovich said his team is “getting back to work,” as he believes maybe it got caught up in the hype of beating Salina South and didn’t have the same edginess against Andale.
“The great thing about this group is they’re going to work hard no matter what,” he said. “They’re back in the mode of playing with a chip on their shoulder. We’ve got something to prove. At the end of the day, maybe that loss wasn’t the worst thing for us.”
MHS will be without Week 1’s leading tackler Jack Reifschneider, who continues to be plagued by a back problem. Ty Goss should make his first appearance of the season, which should add depth to the offensive line. Drew Labertew (hip) is back, but would play probably just on offense should starting quarterback Casen Hoover need a rest.