It’s going to take a miracle.
McPherson High needs to pull a rabbit out of its hat if it’s to extend its state football playoff streak to 10.
The Bullpups, who have advanced every year since 2006, put themselves behind the 8-ball here Friday night as they couldn’t sustain a 17-7 lead, as Abilene scored the game’s final 19 points for a 26-17 victory.
Abilene joins Buhler as 1-0 teams in the district, while MHS and Hays are 0-1. The Bullpups have the unenviable task of going to Buhler — a 46-14 winner over Hays — on Friday with a team again ravaged with injuries as Spenser Wine, Noah Jirgens, Luke Koehn and Casey Cheek had to sit it out and Luke Stucky tried but couldn’t go.
Credit, though, goes greatly to Abilene, as the flying feet of Harley Hazlett and Trey Bender hit MHS with a devastating 1-2 punch to end the first half and start the second and that totally shifted the game’s momentum.
Hazlett ran 61 yards on the next-to-last play of the first half to pull Abilene within 17-13, then Bender took the second-half kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown and 20-17 lead. Hazlett later scored on a 28-yard halfback pass from Ryan Wilson to put the finishing touches on its first win over McPherson in the last four years.
“Two plays... two plays kind of told the tale of the game,” MHS coach Jace Pavlovich said. “We just weren’t able to overcome it. I was proud of our kids, they fought like crazy up until the very end.”
MHS scored 17 unanswered points in the first half after Hazlett had charged the Cowboys down the field 89 yards on their first series. He darted 19 yards for the score and gained 82 yards on the drive.
Curiously, the Cowboys went away from him the rest of the half and MHS went to work. Casen Hoover hooked up with Thomas Diggs for a 24-yard TD strike to tie the game and Taylor Kynaston put MHS ahead 14-7 on a 1-yard run after MHS had come up with a great defensive stand. Tyson Stites kicked a 31-yard field goal with 18 seconds left in the half for the 17-7 lead, but then Hazlett dropped his thunderbolt from the sky on just a super individual effort.
The Cowboys carried that momentum over as Bender took the second-half kickoff and raced long distance and MHS never could get the game back in its control.
MHS, which never punted in the first half, spun its wheels somewhat in the second half, including two turnovers on pass thefts by Bender.
“We had a hard time running the ball,” Pavlovich said. “We had to go to the passing game and put the ball a little more in the air. Upfront, we just couldn’t get it done when we needed to.”
Sophomore running back Austen Hunt had another strong game with 89 yards on 20 carries, while Hoover ran it 14 times for 51 yards. Jack Reifschneider had a terrific all-around game, rushing for 30 yards on four jet sweeps, catching five passes for 54 yards, as well as having some nice punt returns.
Thankfully for the Bullpups, Hazlett ran only 11 times but rolled up 161 yards, more than half of that in the first drive.
While Hazlett gets much of the pub, Pavlovich was impressed with the entire Cowboy team.
“They’re very good, they’re good up front and they’ve got the Hazlett kid,” Pavlovich said. “He’s very special and makes a lot of good things happen for them.”
The Bullpups hope to get some bodies healthy by next Friday as Buhler will be out for revenge after last year’s 44-42 stunner.
“There’s no rest for us, they’ve got a lot of great players,” Pavlovich said. “We saw a lot of great players tonight and we’re going to face a few more great players on Friday.”