If this were 2018, McPherson High and Buhler would not be playing in the first round of the Class 4A Division I football playoffs here Friday.
No, both teams would be playing an opponent that would provide little more than first-round fodder.
The state will implement a seeding system next year after an eight-game regular season and if in place this year, the Bullpups and Crusaders would have been high seeds.
But the antiquated system we have now has given us a game on Friday at McPherson Stadium that is worthy of the semifinals.
I really don’t have to hype this game. It does that all by itself.
The Bullpups are 8-1, the loss to Maize South when the Mavericks scored all 9 of their points in 65 seconds on a safety and touchdown. Buhler is 7-2, with losses to MHS and Andale and a win over Maize South.
Say what you will, I still believe Buhler is a better football team than Maize South. It has far more weapons and since giving up 33 points to the Bullpups, has settled in defensively. In the loss to Andale, the Buhler defense was hit early, then held the undefeated Indians in check in the second half as Andale was a 17-6 winner.
This game is going to tell us a lot about the Bullpups. Since playing two state-ranked teams to open the season, they’ve steamrolled everything in their wake as the quality of opposition fell off. Their defense amazingly has given up only 109 yards a game, just 36 yards a game on the ground. The defensive starting unit has not allowed a point since giving up a TD on the last play of the first half against Maize South. It’s a defense that almost seems insulted when a team puts together a long drive.
In games against Rose Hill and Circle, the Bullpups gave up long drives to start the game, though neither resulted in points. After that, it was total shutdown.
Wamego had a nice drive against the Bullpups on the opening series, but again all that did was light a fire.
Buhler’s offense, though, is a different breed of cat. You can bet super All-State running back Dalton Brown can hardly wait to touch the ball as he was swarmed by the Bullpup defense in the season opener. The Bullpup defense time and again made life miserable for quarterback Ben Epp and had double-digit plays where it held the Crusaders to minus yards. I’m guessing the Crusaders have made the proper adjustments in their line calls. They did score 21 points, mostly set up by Bullpup turnovers.
The McPherson offense has come a long way since that opener, especially the offensive line. The Bullpups could not run the ball at all as Buhler had seven defenders in the box. But that allowed the speedy MHS receivers to get open and quarterback Kyler Hoppes was pinpoint. Again, I’ll be surprised if the Crusaders totally stack the box and dare MHS to throw.
I believe the Bullpups have to run the ball to win. I don’t think they can prevail if they total just 20 yards on the ground. This is a challenge to the offensive line to create some holes for the backs to run through.
Buhler figures to rely almost exclusively on Brown, but don't be surprised if Epp throws the ball a little more. How Brown goes, Buhler goes. If he has a pedestrian game, the Bullpups should prevail.
The intensity level will be a key. Buhler is going to come to town with a chip on its shoulder after losing to the Bullpups at home as it almost never loses on its home turf. It's up to MHS to match that intensity and then some.
Hopefully the game matches the hype. If it does, it's a game we'll be talking about for years.