Buckle up, folks. This is going to be a wild night.
Not only is it the beginning of the high school football season on Friday, but it’s McPherson High against Buhler at McPherson Stadium.
Nothing more really needs to be said.
Kickoff at what should be a packed house at McPherson Stadium is 7 p.m. For those who can’t make it, all the action will be carried on 96.7 KBBE-FM with Voice of the Bullpups Matt Cole on the play-by-play. The pre-game airs at 6:45.
The anticipation for this game has been palpable. Both teams have been ranked in various Class 4A Division I polls and it’s also a huge game from an AVCTL Division III standpoint as little separates the Top 5 teams.
Second-year MHS coach Jace Pavlovich’s team has worked hard in preparation for this game, including 7-on-7 team camps in the summer and coming up on three weeks of preseason practice.
The teams have staged some classic shootouts as the defenses haven’t been able to stop the offenses. The last time MHS hosted the Crusaders two years ago, Kyler Kinnamon had hand in six touchdowns as the Bullpups upset the Crusaders, the defending state champions at the time, 44-42. He had 340 yards of total offense as well as a pick-six. Buhler pulled away late in last year’s game in Buhler for a 44-28 success.
Pavlovich has no qualms about playing Buhler in Week 1 as opposed to Week 8 as the case was in district play.
“Right now is as good a time as any to play them,” Pavlovich said. “If we get to play them again, it means we’re moving along deep in the playoffs. They’re a very talented team and they’ve got a lot of size and speed. We’re looking forward to it.”
There will be few surprises. Pavlovich and Buhler coach Steve Warner have exchanged scrimmage film and both know the other’s starting lineups. There will be no stones unturned and it’s going to come down to the better team.
“We feel like there are some things we can take advantage of,” said Pavlovich, whose team won a low-scoring season opener last year 14-7 from Salina South. “Defensively, they’re huge up front. We’re going to have to make some adjustments, some in-game adjustments, to attack where they may be hurting us.”
The Crusaders lost the amazing triumvirate of quarterback Jace Williams, running back Dillon Engelland and lineman Jaden Abernathy, but Pavlovich expects them to hardly skip a beat. Ethan White is a nifty operative at quarterback and could have started for about any team in the state last year. The running back stable is stocked and ready as there are a number of backs who could share the carries after a couple of years of Engelland being the workhorse. And there must be something in the water in Buhler as the Crusaders will dwarf the Bullpups in terms of size.
White, 5-9 and 150 pounds, is a polar opposite of Williams, who was 6-5 and 220 pounds. White is a darter who can make plays with his feet.
“In many ways he scares us even more,” Pavlovich said. “He reminds us of Kyler Kinnamon. He’s not big in stature, but the kid can just run around and make plays. We’ve got to be option-sound.”
Pavlovich says his team’s speed on defense, which should be its strength, will be tested as the Crusaders have some sprinter-types in the backfield. Jack Goertzen, Dalton Brown and Jordan Hawkins are expected to get touches, with Hawkins a burner. Pavlovich likens him to former Buhler All-State running back Riley Allen as if you give him an inch, he'll take a mile.
The MHS offense is expected to rely on a quick tempo. Throwing the ball shouldn’t be a problem, but the Bullpups are going to have to get a push up front to open up some holes for the running backs. There’s a lot of talent in the skill positions, one reason this game could keep the scoreboard busy.
“The preparation for this first game has been tremendous,” Pavlovich said. “But you just never know when it comes down to a 16- or 17-year-old kids. It’s going to come down to which team makes the least number of mistakes.”
Here is a probable MHS lineup:
• OFFENSE •
Quarterback — Casen Hoover
Backs — Tyson Stites, Wyatt Seidl
Receivers — Jack Reifschneider, Jeff Reed, Sam Arbuckle
Tight end — Thomas Diggs
Line — Clayton Gerbrandt, Britton Bate, Dylan Baldwin, Jared Ruth, Raine Reitsma
• DEFENSE •
Line — Seidl, Bate, Baldwin and Caleb Spaich
Linebackers — Jayse Alexander, Luke Koehn and Kollin Goering
Secondary — Drew Labertew, Mikey Saverino, Ben Nikkel and Gunnar Reiss
• SPECIALISTS •
Punter — Hoover
Kicker — Stites