Tyson Stites opened last Friday’s McPherson High football game at Winfield by returning the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. He then kicked the point after, his first of many on the night.
Moments later, defensive end Wyatt Seidl scooped up a fumble and roared into the end zone to make it 13-0. Before the first quarter was mercifully over, Austen Hunt scored as part of a 27-0 Bullpup explosion.
In the second half, Drew Labertew lofted a 48-yard TD pass to Thomas Diggs, who bounced off several Viking would-be tacklers like a pinball. Finally, the icing on the cake was contributed by Andrew Powell on a slashing TD scamper as the final score reached 61-0.
What do all these players have in common?
They’re all sophomores.
And don’t forget, 10th-grader Jayse Alexander was coming off a game against El Dorado in which he totaled 16 tackles, but the front line was making so many plays in front of him Friday that he seldom got a chance to join the party.
All-in-all, about a dozen sophomores have made their mark at some point in the season. They are a perfect complement to the senior and junior classes, who are still the leaders of this team, and providing leadership and encouragement to the neophytes.
That’s why I find myself with one eye on this year and another looking anxiously ahead to next year. Sure, there’s still a lot of football to be played this season, hopefully into the playoffs. Granted, MHS is going to have to knock off at least one current 6-0 team to advance (Abilene and Buhler are both undefeated), and never discount Hays, even though the Indians have struggled this year in the PAD era (Post Alex Delton).
MHS coach Jace Pavlovich said before the season that his sophomore class would have to step up, but I don’t think he ever imagined it would be to this extent. It has really helped on the defensive side, where in the Augusta game at least six or seven were on the field in crunch time due in part to injuries.
This group is no stranger to success. As eighth-graders, they tore through their schedule allowing only one touchdown in seven games. That was back in the day when there were 50 players on the team, though the class has been halved over the last two years. They have encountered very little resistance, except last year from Buhler.
Seidl and Stites have been there from Day 1 against Salina South, and Labertew would have been if not for a back injury that kept him out until Week 4. Alexander burst on to the scene when Klayton Goering and Britton Bate went down with injuries and now that both are back, that has made the MHS defense even stronger. Hunt has been a revelation at running back, going over the 70-yard mark each of the last three weeks to take the load off senior workhorse Noah Jirgens, who was on pace for about 270 carries after three weeks. He actually was rested against Winfield as he had a tender ankle, but the way Hunt and Powell filled in, along with Goering, he was able to rest his body for the stretch run.
Diggs is going to see more and more time now with Luke Stucky moving from tight end to tackle. He gives the Bullpups some speed at tight end and the ability to get downfield.
Except for Spenser Wine, gone for the year after shoulder surgery, the Bullpups are about as healthy as they’re going to be. They’ve still got some bruised players, but are mostly stocked for the stretch run, which begins on Friday. MHS has made the playoffs nine years in a row and while it’s thought to be the third-best team in the district this year, don’t forget that’s what most thought last year when it went through the three games unscathed, including wins over ranked teams Buhler and Hays.