After his McPherson High football team was edged 14-6 by Maize South in Week 2 — its second straight loss to start the season — Bullpup coach Jace Pavlovich said on his postgame radio show that he knew he still had a good football team and thought it could run the table the final seven games.
Turns out he was so right.
Pavlovich’s faith in his team never wavered. It had lost to Buhler 27-13, a defeat that was as much self-inflicted as it was the Crusaders were a good football team. The Bullpups had a couple of defensive miscommunications in that season opener, like most teams do, and Pavlovich knew it was just a matter of tweaking to make things right.
The loss to Maize South might have had some in Bullpup Nation doubting the process. MHS had put so much time into the summer and was a ranked team in the preseason, but had nothing to show for it.
The Bullpups simply got nothing going offensively, but again did a lot to hamper themselves. Maize South has gone on to post an 8-1 record, so the loss didn’t exactly come to chopped liver.
Since then, the Bullpups have been a juggernaut. Once they broke the seal against Winfield, they were on a mission. The Augusta game was supposed to be a measuring stick as the Orioles came to town with a perfect 3-0 record and the knowledge that they had knocked off the Bullpups last year.
But the game turned lopsided early as the Bullpups crushed Augusta 41-0, which was a turning point that they were a darn good football team.
Rose Hill and Circle were crushed in successive weeks. Hays clearly had the MHS coaching staff concerned in Week 7’s district opener, but the Bullpups’ defense played lights-out and the Indians didn’t have a first down until late in the third quarter. Meanwhile, the offense had piled up 34 first-half points.
MHS was sluggish offensively in the district games against Wamego and Abilene — scoring seven points in the first half of both — but then put three touchdowns on the board after intermission in both games for comfortable victories.
Now comes Andale. The Indians’ only loss is 28-21 to Buhler and in that game quicksilver quarterback Taylor Richter was lost for the night on the opening series. Had he gone all the way, there’s many who believe the Indians would have won.
With apologies to Buhler and Maize South, Andale will be the best-coached team MHS will play. The Indians’ offensive line is quick and plays with incredible intensity. Andale plays with unquestionable confidence and trusts the system.
The Indians also know that their next loss is the last for coach Gary O’Hair. He already has announced that this is his final season and Andale will play with a lot of emotion. It’s going to be important for MHS to match that intensity.
Something to watch for from Andale is the halfback pass. It runs it at least twice a game, sometimes more. Other than that, the Indians’ passing game doesn’t scare you, simply because it runs the ball so well.
This is a big test for the MHS offense. It can’t afford to score just a single first-half touchdown for the third week in a row. Quarterback Casen Hoover has been amazingly efficient with 22 TD passes against just 2 interceptions. Jack Reifschneider has been the big-play receiver since district play started, but you can’t forget Jeff Reed and Thomas Diggs. They have been quiet recently, but all stops will be pulled out tonight. Expect Reed to run the jailbreak screen at some point and for Hoover to look for Diggs on the seam pattern.
The Bullpups have a litany of running backs to attack with. Tyson Stites started last week and went out early with an injury, but Jace Kinnamon emerged with a 123-yard game, the fourth MHS back to hit the century mark. Hopefully Andrew Powell, who has not played much recently because of a bad ankle, is getting closer to a clean bill of health. He averages nearly 6 yards a touch and has that stop-and-start ability to make something out of nothing.
The offensive line of Britton Bate, Clayton Gerbrandt, Jared Ruth, Dylan Baldwin and Raine Reitsma has come a long way. But they’ll be matched against an Andale defense that is much like the Bullpups’ in that it counts on speed. As often is the case, who wins the battle in the trenches will win the game.
It’s a shame this game is so early in the playoffs. At this point in the season these are probably two of the best five teams in 4A Division I, with Miege in a class by itself. But the Stags are in the East and if the Bullpups would run into them, it wouldn’t be until the finals.