MHS, Buhler ready for titanic showdown

By Steve Sell
August 31, 2017
Kendall Shaw

It will be the irresistible force against the immovable object on Friday when Class 4A Division I football titans McPherson High and Buhler throw down on the Crusaders’ home field.

The game is slated for 7 p.m. and it will be broadcast on 96.7 KBBE FM with new “Voice of the Bullpups” Jim Joyner on the call.

Buhler has been ranked No. 2 in every preseason poll behind Miege, while the Bullpups have been anywhere from No. 3 to No. 5. Few games in Kansas should be able to approach the star power that will take the field for this clash.

This game has been circled on the calendar for months by both schools. In last year’s meeting at McPherson Stadium, the Crusaders bounced on a couple of early MHS mistakes to take a 20-0 lead in the second quarter before the Bullpups finally gained their footing and clawed within 20-13. But a late score by Buhler in the final 2 minutes clinched a 26-13 victory.

“I think we played a little anxious last year,” MHS third-year coach Jace Pavlovich said. “If you look at the first 50 plays, it was the worst 50 plays we had collectively all season. It was just unclean and we were making mental mistakes we normally don’t make and we had to play catch-up as a result.”

The Bullpups have been focused on Buhler ever since their season ended with a loss to Maize South in the second round of last year’s Class 4A Division I playoffs.

“We’re ready to play a game,” Pavlovich said. “We’re ready to figure out what we need to work on and we’re sick of hitting each other in practice. We’re up against a very good team, but it’s a matchup that I really like in the skill area.”

The storyline of the game is Buhler’s expected point-a-minute offense against the Bullpups’ block-of-granite defense. But a subplot is how the MHS offense, which is breaking in a new quarterback and new offensive line, can move the ball against a touted Buhler defense.

Pavlovich has many concerns when it comes to the Crusaders, but none more than their defensive line and linebackers.

“Their front seven on defense are the best that I’ve seen. I think they rank right up there with Hutch’s front seven in their heyday,” Pavlovich said. 

The all-senior Crusader defense is led by end Brendan Webb, a 6-4 and 210-pound wrecking ball and Lawson Schultz, a 235-pounder on the other end. Inside, the Crusaders have a pair of tackles who both are around the 230-mark.

“We’ve got to be able to run the ball effectively enough against their defense to help out the passing game,” Pavlovich said. “If we don’t make big plays in the passing game, we’re in trouble.”

Kyler Hoppes is going to get the start at quarterback, backed by Drew Labertew. Hoppes is regarded as the better passer, while the choice allows Labertew to concentrate on playing defense.

“We talked about it all summer long that somebody has to separate,” Pavlovich said. “If not, we’re going to give it to the guy we can talk to on the sidelines, we can show film on the sidelines and we can communicate with. But both kids are good, both kids are solid.”

The MHS running game will be led by Jace Kinnamon, who finished with a flourish last year with a couple of 100-yard games. Austen Hunt, returning this year after an injury, has a hip flexor  and will be a game-time decision. He was MHS' second-leading rusher as a sophomore.

The highly acclaimed MHS defense returns eight starters, many of whom have received preseason accolades. They include Wyatt Seidl in the defensive line, Kollin Goering and Jayse Alexander at linebackers and Labertew, Ben Nikkel and Gunnar Reiss in the secondary. They’ll be tested by the Crusaders’ vaunted running game, led by Dalton Brown. He rushed for nearly 2,000 yards last year and had a couple of big plays against MHS last year.

“He’s an amazing tailback and he has a front five that any back would like to run behind,” Pavlovich said. “Those guys are about 230 across the front and all big, physical kids.”

MHS fans are urged to get to the game early as there’s not a lot of seating on the visitor’s side.

“The environment is going to be amazing for a high school football game,” Pavlovich said. “It’s going to be awesome.”