It’s McPherson High-Buhler, Round 2.
This time it’s to see whose season is extended, while the other team puts the gear away until next year.
It’s playoff football at its finest Friday night at McPherson Stadium as a standing-room-only throng is expected to be on hand for the rematch of the season opener. It also may be the most intriguing matchup in Kansas as both teams have been highly ranked at times in Class 4A Division I during the season.
Kickoff is 7 p.m., but fans should be in attendance long before that as maybe the biggest crowd since MHS entertained Gardner-Edgerton and Bubba Starling is expected.
Hear wall-to-wall coverage on 96.7 KBBE FM with Voice of the Bullpups Jim Joyner on the call, with pre-game starting at 6:30.
At stake is a berth in the second round of the playoffs, most likely a date with Maize South.
MHS won the season opener with the Crusaders, 33-21. The Bullpups then lost to Maize South 9-0 in Week 2 and have not been tested since.
Buhler, 7-2, reeled off five wins in a row after losing to the Bullpups, then were stifled by undefeated Andale 17-6 in the first game of district play.
“I don’t expect anything different from these guys,” said MHS coach Jace Pavlovich, who has had his staff preparing for this game for weeks. “They just play good, hard-nosed football and do what they do and they do it very well. I don’t anticipate a bunch of changes on their side schematically. We expect more of the same. They hang their hat on being physical and you’ve seen that out of coach (Steve) Warner’s teams for the last 10 years.”
In the first meeting, the Bullpups’ running game was totally shut down as the Crusaders stacked the box, but MHS quarterback Kyler Hoppes — who was making his first career start — picked the Buhler secondary apart for 261 yards. Hoppes has gone on to throw for 1,518 yards with 20 touchdowns and just three interceptions — two of those on successive passes against Buhler. He’s also shown nimbleness, having been sacked just two times behind an offensive line that has made rapid improvement.
The MHS running game is led by Jace Kinnamon, who has 854 yards, and Austen Hunt, who has 368. The Bullpups have valued the football as they have hardly turned it over this season. Talyn Huff has 26 catches for 406 yards, while other targets are Gabe Hoover (25-329), Chandler Wiard (19-356), Thomas Diggs (14-183) and Ben Nikkel (12-129).
“The team that takes better care of the football will most likely win,” Pavlovich said.
Buhler operates behind a veteran-and-stout offensive line and its success rides with running back Dalton Brown. Since rushing for just 49 yards on 18 carries against the Bullpups, Brown has run wild and now has 1,412 yards and 20 touchdowns, while averaging 6.6 yards a carry. Jhet Burkhart doesn’t run it much with 360 yards, but averaged just under 9 yards a carry. Quarterback Ben Epp, who was under siege by the MHS defense in the first meeting, has 1,077 passing yards, with Dalton Smyres easily his top target with 38 catches for 581 yards and seven scores.
“Offensively, they have spread the ball a little more,” Pavlovich said. “They try to take advantage of the skill guys they have. Even though they hang their hat on being physical and running the ball downhill, they have a ton of very good athletes who can run and catch, too.”
This is a challenge the MHS defense has not had to face in a long time. The defensive starters have not allowed a touchdown in their last seven games, as all points given up have come against the junior varsity.
Jayse Alexander and Kollin Goering lead the team with 59 and 55 tackles, respectively, while Michael Mendez has 46. Wyatt Seidl has 7 quarterback sacks and 12 tackles for losses. MHS has allowed only a mind-boggling 109 yards a game.
It almost seems unfortunate the teams are meeting this early as they have been among the Top 5 teams in the class all season.
“Atmosphere-wise, I’m going to expect it to be like Gardner-Edgerton,” Pavlovich said. “The people in McPherson have been awesome and always have been. I know Buhler is going to bring quite a few folks. It’s going to be awesome and both teams are deserving of it. Unfortunately somebody is going to be at home next week. If it’s Buhler I feel bad for them because they’re a tremendous team and if it’s us, that’s obviously a tough way for it to end.”
Pavlovich does have a concern that his team might be too amped up at the start and the Crusaders might use the overaggressiveness against them.
“That happened two years ago, our guys were out of control almost,” Pavlovich said. “Our guys were ready so ready to play. But this group is focused and relaxed and that’s how they’ve been all season.”
Friday’s winner will most likely play Maize South in the second round. The Mavericks are solid favorites to defeat Wellington. Other games on the West side include Wamego at Andale and Andover Central at Mulvane.