There's nothing quite like opening night

By Steve Sell
September 01, 2016

Just as a precursor, I am in no way slighting the other fall sports because I enjoy covering them all.

But there’s simply nothing quite as exciting as the opening night of high school football.

The pomp and circumstance all kicks off on Friday and even though it’s going to be my 41st opening night as a writer (38th McPherson High football opener), even an old dog like me gets an extra pep in the step.

It doesn’t hurt that for McPherson High it has a marquee matchup. Like those years when the Bullpups used to open with Hutchinson, MHS has a blue-ribbon opponent as arch-rival Buhler comes to town.

The teams had been meeting in district play, but Buhler has been replaced by Wamego, which reportedly has one of the better teams in Class 4A Division I.

If nothing else, the MHS-Buhler games in recent years have been wildly entertaining. The 2014 game, won 44-42 by the Bullpups, probably ranks in my Top 10 of all-time MHS football games to have covered. I still have MHS’ playoff win over Carroll at the top, with the Bullpups’ loss to Bubba Starling and Gardner-Edgerton right there with it. That 49-42 classic left everyone breathless and Starling’s performance is still one of the best I’ve ever seen.

But perhaps my all-time favorite memory of MHS football occurred more than 20 years ago in 1988. In a game at Great Bend, Bullpup All-Stater Dwayne Chandler ran for a school-record 408 yards and MHS needed everyone of them as it barely escaped the Panthers that night. Chandler simply could not be stopped on that night, including a 99-yard touchdown run.

Let’s hope Friday’s MHS-Buhler game can approach that excitement. The Crusaders have to replace Jace Williams and Dillon Engelland from an offense that seemingly moved the ball against air, but Bullpup coach Jace Pavlovich warns that the Crusaders’ offense will still be potent. New quarterback Ethan White presents a different dimension than Williams, who relied on power and speed to rip off big yards, not to mention he had a bazooka arm. White is just 5-9 and 150 pounds, but has the ability to make defenders miss with his nifty feet. And the Crusaders, Pavlovich said, have no less than three talented backs they can unleash.

This year’s Bullpup team is going to look a lot like last year’s. The big key, I believe, is MHS has to be able to run the ball. There’s no question with Casen Hoover at the helm, MHS can fill the air with footballs. He’s looked extremely sharp in the preseason and even though injuries have hit the receiving corps, it’s one area where the Bullpups have considerable depth. Don’t be surprised if MHS hits on some big pass plays as Jack Reifschneider and Jeff Reed are back after finishing last season strong. Tight end Thomas Diggs is like another wideout as linebackers will have a hard time covering him.

I urge fans to get to the game early because I’ll be shocked if the stands aren’t full. The forecast sounds perfect and it should be a great night for football.

I can’t wait. Hopefully you can’t, either.