It’s a matchup that quite honestly should be taking place later in the playoffs.
But the way the districts fell this year, perhaps the best first-round game of Class 4A Division I will take place on Friday at McPherson Stadium when the Bullpups host Andale. According to prepowerindex,com, a power poll that takes all kinds of variables into consideration, Andale is the No. 3 team in the class, just above the Bullpups.
There probably will be no empty seats by the time the game kicks off at 7 p.m., and for those who don’t want to beat the crowd, tune in at 6:45 to 96.7 KBBE-FM and join Voice of the Bullpups Matt Cole for all the action.
Andale has won eight of nine, the only loss a 28-21 setback to Buhler. In that game, Andale starting quarterback Taylor Richter was lost on the first series and never came back. Buhler had a 14-0 lead before the Indians rallied to eventually get the game tied.
The Bullpups are 7-2, having won seven straight since a couple of close losses to Buhler and Maize South to open the season. Both of those teams are 8-1 and in the bottom half of the eight-team bracket along with the Bullpups.
“We feel good going into the playoffs,” MHS coach Jace Pavlovich said. “We are pretty healthy and are really executing well. The only area of concern for coaches at this time of the year is how much your players still want to play the game. Sometimes kids lack motivation to practice and continue playing at this point in the year. I don’t really see that as being a problem with our guys. I’ve said it before, but our guys love playing football and they really have come together as a team. When that happens, you have a chance to do something special.”
Andale has been perhaps the best-coached team MHS has played in recent years as the teams have met up on numerous occasions. And for Indians coach Gary O'Hair, the next loss is his last at the school as he's leaving his post after the season, which gives his team extra incentive to send him out on top.
“We have to be physical and get our eyes on our keys,” Pavlovich said. “Andale speeds the game up and has a tendency to get kids out of position as a result. We just have to play our brand of football and match their intensity.”
Richter is a dynamic and skillful quarterback with great ballhandling and quickness. Pavlovich is expecting him to be ready to go.
“I’m sure Richter is going to play,” he said. “They have some really good skill guys as well as some physical kids upfront. The (Devon) Spexarth kid really jumps out on film as a kid that loves contact. The (Tristan) Dagenais kid is a pretty special athlete that will not shy away from contact, either. Their D-Coordinator's son (Mason Fairchild) is a man for being only a sophomore at D-end.”
Pavlovich said he’s pleased to see such representation from the AVCTL in the playoffs. Six of the eight teams in the bottom bracket have ties — MHS, Andale, Buhler, Augusta, Mulvane and Maize South.
“Yes, our league is stacked,” he said. “Some of the best football in 4A takes place right here within an hour radius of us. It's tough on your record, but a heckuva lot of fun on Friday nights when you get to play teams like that every week.”
The Bullpups are making their 10th playoff appearance in the last 11 years as they are returning after a one-year absence.
“It feels great to be back,” Pavlovich said. “The way the state sets districts up you are really at their mercy every 2 years. We had a great run of going to the playoffs. We had a good team last year, but were in with Abilene, who had plenty of talented seniors, and Buhler, who was very good, too. We have had years where we were down a little and drew a favorable district and were able to move on. Last year was tough on all of us. I certainly hope that 4A will adopt the 5A-6A format (where the teams are seeded after eight games) in the next cycle. Every coach I have talked to in 4A is supportive of it.”