I was a bit apprehensive before Friday’s McPherson High-Buhler football season opener that too much hype had been lavished on the Bullpups’ defense and that the bar may have been set unfairly high.
With most of the starting unit back, many of them three-year regulars, the Bullpups knew their success against the high-octane Crusaders would be predicated on how well the unit played.
As it turned out, the defense deserved every bit of the praise that had been heaped upon it.
I’ve covered season openers for more than 40 years and I don’t think I can remember a start to a game where both units were like walls of granite. Through the first quarter, the teams had a COMBINED 8 yards of total offense.
And these were two teams that had some key playmakers back that were part of offenses that regularly put up 30 points last year, in Buhler’s case more than 40.
But the MHS defense, despite giving away size to the experienced and farm-boy strong Crusader line, slugged it out toe-to-toe. Led by a 20-tackle effort by linebacker extraordinaire Jayse Alexander, the Bullpups gave up less than 4 yards a play and the Crusaders’ star running back Dalton Brown was bottled up except for a short stretch in the third quarter where he showed why he’s probably considered the best running back in 4A D-I.
As good as the MHS defense was, the Bullpups’ offense —most notably the passing game — was stunningly effective.
First-time starting quarterback Kyler Hoppes didn’t let turnovers on successive plays deter him. With Buhler loading the box with seven defenders and practically begging Hoppes to throw, he stood in and picked apart the Crusaders, normally for double-digit yardage. The big one, of course, was a 94-yard beauty to Chandler Wiard, who also had catches of 25 and 19 yards. Talyn Huff hauled in a 50-yard TD pass, taking a short toss on the left side and streaking down the field for the score. Ben Nikkel had a 49-yarder, plus a 6-yard TD pass, so the big play was definitely in the MHS arsenal.
With the deck stacked against the MHS running game — the Bullpups were held to just 20 yards, something that probably won’t happen again — it’s a comfort to know the passing game can be effective.
As much as MHS reveled in what some called a mild upset, the Bullpups know they’ll be on the road again this Friday to play an opponent of similar ilk. Maize South put a 47-0 whipping on Circle to begin its season and the Mavericks may have even more size than Buhler.
MHS coach Jace Pavlovich knows his team can’t win many games when it commits five turnovers. The Bullpups did put the ball on the ground three times and were picked twice, so that needs to be cleaned up. But the early part of the season is being used for the offense to start to catch up with the defense, most notably a brand-new offensive line. I thought for a first game the line held up well and all it will do is get better.
It was a special start to what hopefully is going to be a special season.