I correctly predicted that McPherson High’s football team would be 1-2 at this point in the season, but the route it has taken to attain that record has been somewhat of a surprise.
In my preseason picks, I had the Bullpups losing their first two games to Salina South and Andale, respectively, before righting the ship with a victory over Augusta.
My prospects for the season were heightened when MHS knocked off longtime 5A power Salina South, but then were somewhat tempered by a 29-8 score against Andale, a game that I figured would be much closer.
While I knew Augusta would be a stern test for the Bullpups, I believed they would dominate the line of scrimmage and muscle their way past the Orioles.
However, we have to remember this Bullpup team that lost to the Orioles has been thinned by numerous key injuries.
MHS went into last Friday’s game without top tacklers Jack Reifschneider (back) and Klayton Goering (concussion). Then when Britton Bate went down with a freak knee injury in the first half and did not return, that left MHS without arguably its most three important defensive stalwarts.
The Bullpup coaching staff was forced to reshuffle the defensive deck. By the time the game reached its zenith in importance, there were as many as six or seven sophomores on the field trying to keep Augusta from winning the game at the end. While those sophomores are talented, they were trying to stop an experienced Augusta offense that returned seven starters.
Give the Orioles a ton of credit though. Their once-woebegone program has flourished under second-year coach Jason Filbeck, who has brought the same legitimacy to it that Tom Young did to McPherson in 2006 when he reversed the losing culture. Augusta hosts Buhler this week in probably the biggest game that town has seen in years and the state-ranked Crusaders may be all that stands between Augusta and a 9-0 season. Honest.
After this week, Augusta should be highly favored in its final five games as its schedule resembles Charmin, though Coffeyville could give it a good game simply based on tradition. But from what I’ve been told, this is not the same ‘Nado team that was a state contender just a few years back.
The Bullpups, meanwhile, aren’t in any position to take a team lightly. Rose Hill comes to town on Friday and judging from the first third of the season, the Rockets appear to be the weakest team they will play all year. They were destroyed by 75 points by Wichita Collegiate, crushed by a rebuilding Winfield team by four touchdowns and then edged last week by El Dorado in the game that most believe will determine which team finishes in last in Division III.
The Bullpups need a breakout offensive game, if for nothing else, confidence purposes. We’ve gotten spoiled the last nine years of MHS regularly putting up 30 and even 40 points a game, but so far they have scored 14, 8 and 13, which averages to 11.7 a game.
This is an MHS team without a true home-run hitter and has put a heavy burden on running back Noah Jirgens. He already has 505 yards, a 1,515-yard pace for the regular season. He also has carried the ball a whopping 98 times and you fear he could wear down, though it helps he doesn’t play on defense.
Taylor Kynaston has been a short-yardage specialist — he has three one-yard touchdowns on seven carries — and might get a few more touches this week on traps. Tyson Stites is a back that the coaches really like, as he has the burst through the hole that others don’t have, but he starts on defense.
Casen Hoover is developing at quarterback and has thrown the short ball really well. The coaches have tried to limit his rushing attempts since backup Drew Labertew has yet to play this year because of a bad hip, which hopefully will be 100 percent by the time the Bullpups reach district play.
Spenser Wine has been targeted more in the passing game the last couple of weeks and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more short passes going his way. Casey Cheek and Mikey Saverino have shown promise, but again, there’s not a Christian Ulsaker, Jordan Hart or Keaton Sorenson in the group, all of whom were 1,000-yard receivers, with Ulsaker and Hart making the Shrine Bowl.
We still have a long way to go in the season and the coaching staff also knows the REAL season isn’t until the final three weeks. MHS has made the state playoffs each of the last nine years and hopefully the team will be close to 100 percent health by then since the Bullpups again could be in the toughest district of any in Class 4A Division I.