You can bet 160 miles away, McPherson High defensive coordinator Chet Harlin was bursting with pride.
Harlin was in Independence on Friday following the passing earlier this week of his father Tom. His defense responded by playing lights-out in a 33-14 homecoming victory over Rose Hill to even the Bullpups’ record at 2-2.
The Rockets ran 43 plays in the game. Two of them — a TD run of 55 yards by Gage Hollis and a 66-yard scoring pass from Grant Moore to Ross Nolan — accounted for 121 yards.
The other 41 plays, the Rockets had minus-4 yards.
“They did a great job again,” MHS coach Jace Pavlovich said. “We knew going into the season defense was going to be our strength. Coach Harlin would definitely be proud of his guys. He got them prepared despite some tough times, but they played well.”
It was a defensive play that swung the game and ignited a Bullpup team that had up to that time been somewhat flat due to an early injury to standout Spenser Wine, who may be out for the season with his second shoulder injury in two years.
Up 13-7 early in the third quarter, MHS had just fumbled the ball away on its own 25-yard line. The very next play, though, Drew Labertew intercepted a deflected pass and returned it 75 yards to set up a 2-yard TD run by Austen Hunt that pushed the score to 19-7.
“There’s no question, that (the Labertew pick) was a huge play,” Pavlovich said. “It was a great tip drill by Drew. If he’s healthy, he scores easily.”
Labertew was seeing his first action as he’s been out with an injured hip and ran out of gas on the long sprint.
Hunt scored less than 4 minutes later to make it 27-7 (Casen Hoover threw to Jack Reifschnieder for a 2-pointer), and Hoover then hooked up with Reifschneider for a 30-yard TD strike.
The Bullpups had led only 13-7 at the half, as Hoover threw a 14-yard scoring strike to Casey Cheek in the first quarter on a fourth-down play and Taylor Kynaston bulled in from a yard.
The Bullpups were finally able to take some of the offensive burden off Noah Jirgens, who still finished with 98 yards on 26 carries. Hunt did yeoman work in the second half and finished with 21 carries for 77 yards, after carrying four times for -3 yards in the first half.
“We knew he was very good,” Pavlovich said. “We were just waiting to get a look at him on JV, with that first game at South being cancelled. We saw that first JV game and we knew we had to get him the ball at the varsity level.”
There were several defensive standouts, including ends Kaleb Jost and Wyatt Seidl, who joined Luke Stucky to provide a rush on Moore that had him running for his life all night.
“When they’re pinning their ears back and going, they’re unblockable,” Pavlovich said.
There was a pall cast over the team, though, as the injury to Wine tempered its enthusiasm. He had gotten off to a great start, averaging 27 yards on three punt returns and also had caught a first-down pass of 17 yards.
“The prognosis is not good for him right now,” Pavlovich said. “We’re hoping for the best, but we’re missing a great player in Spenser Wine.”
MHS goes on the road the next two weeks, starting with a game Friday at El Dorado. The Wildcats outlasted Rose Hill 14-7 last week, but lost 26-16 to Winfield tonight.
• STATISTICS •
MHS Listed First
First Downs — 12, 4. Rushes-Yards — 62-169, 24-2. Passing — 4-10-0-68; 6-19-1-115. Punts-Avg. — 2-35.0; 8-37.8. Fumbles-Lost — 3-2; 1-0. Penalties-Yards — 5-40, 13-93.
• INVIDIDUAL LEADERS •
• Rushing •
MHS — Jirgens 26-98, Hunt 21-77, Stites 4-12, Kynaston 3-5, Saverino 1-2, Labertew 2-(-1), Hoover 1-(-4), Spaich 2-(-17).
Rose Hill — Hollis 9-48, Flanagan 2-(-1), Carney 3-(-8), Moore 10-(-37).
• Passing •
MHS — Hoover 4-10-0-68.
Rose Hill — Moore 6-19-2-115.
• Receiving •
MHS — Reifschneider 1-30, Cheek 1-14, Wine 1-17, Reed 1-7.
Rose Hill — Nolan 4-82, Wallis 1-23, Carney 1-10.