McPherson High’s football team will continue what feel like the playoffs on Friday when it goes on the road for the second week in a row to play a ranked team.
And the Bullpups probably feel like they don’t owe Maize South one, but two.
MHS and South clash at 7 p.m. in Maize after playing two times last year, both games won by the Mavericks. They squeaked out a 14-6 regular-season victory in Week 2 at McPherson Stadium, then doubled down — again in McPherson — 35-27 in the second round of the Class 4A Division I playoffs.
Catch all the action on 96.7 KBBE-FM with “Voice of the Bullpups” Jim Joyner, starting with the pre-game show at 6:30.
MHS is coming off an emotionally lifting 33-21 victory over then second-ranked Buhler, an outcome that very few outside of the Bullpup program probably expected.
But MHS coach Jace Pavlovich and his staff have done all they can to bring the Bullpups down from Cloud 9 and they realize they can’t bask in the afterglow of one of the best wins in recent memory.
“We’ve talked about past examples of how humbling football is,” Pavlovich said. “Three years ago we had a great win against a top-ranked Salina South team to open the season and then went down to Andale, a quality opponent, and they worked us. Our kids are pretty humble. They understand that Maize South is a team that beat us twice last year and they’re a very well-coached team with a bunch of athletes. Our guys are grounded and a lot of guys have been through the ringer for three years. They understand what it’s going to take.”
Maize South basically had a walkover in its season opener, a 57-0 hammering of Circle. The Mavericks had 303 yards on the ground, led by shifty Max Domnick, who had 179 yards on 25 carries and four scores. Ryan Grabman, replacing the graduated Shrine Bowler Ethan Richardson at quarterback, threw for 238 yards and two scores as the Mavs did whatever they pleased against the overmatched T-Bird defense.
It will be a different South team, though, as there’s a lot of new faces in new places.
“They lost 27 seniors off last year’s team, but do bring back six guys on defense and six very good players,” Pavlovich said. “Offensively, they lose their offensive line, but I don’t know where they grow these guys but they’ve got 300-pounders up front and they can move pretty well. Due to the nature of their spread passing attack, they can get you out in open space and make you miss. They have a lot of speed, but not a lot of size in the skill positions. But those guys can scoot. They’ve reloaded well. We’ve got to be ready to go.”
As for MHS, it wasn’t quite the perfect game last week as it committed five turnovers, but Pavlovich says his team has worked this week to clean up some of the miscues. Quarterback Kyler Hoppes never got down on himself after a couple of picks and a fumble, as Pavlovich said he moved on to the next play and piloted the team impressively.
“I was really happy with how Kyler responded,” Pavlovich said. “He’s got a California-type mentality. He just shrugs things off and that’s really what you need in a quarterback. He’s a first-year starter with no varsity experience getting thrown into very high-profile game and he responded well.”
Hoppes threw for 246 yards and three scores, with Chandler Wiard, Ben Nikkel and Talyn Huff all showing big-play capability. The big key this week is getting the ground game going as Buhler stacked the box and dared MHS to beat it with the pass, which of course it did with several “chunk” plays.
Before the season, it was thought the Bullpups would gladly take a 1-1 start in these two high-profile road games. But now that they’ve knocked off Buhler, they want to be 2-0.
“It would mean a lot,” Pavlovich said of a 2-0 start. “This group has no lack of confidence to begin with because they’ve been through the ringer for three years. If we start 2-0, it’s our job as coaches to make sure they are humbled with film session and Monday in the meeting realize we have to keep getting better.”