And you thought that McPherson High’s first-round playoff win over Andale last year at McPherson Stadium was exciting.
Folks, you hadn’t seen nothin’ yet from the battling Bullpups.
For one year that was talked about as the greatest finish ever to a Bullpup playoff game.
Well, it may just have to move over and make room for the new greatest finish ever.
The Bullpups topped that with the most improbable victory in their playoff history here Friday when they pulled a rabbit out of their hat on a 2-point conversion in overtime for a 15-14 victory over arch-rival Buhler in a defensive slugfest that was instant classic worthy.
MHS coach Jace Pavlovich had no hesitation to go for the win after the Bullpups’ Drew Labertew — the hero of last year’s last-second win over Andale — scored a touchdown to pull MHS within 14-13 as Buhler had scored on its possession and kicked the PAT.
It was a play that left Bullpup fans delirious and Buhler defenders crestfallen. It was one the team has worked on every day in practice, but never used in a game.
Quarterback Kyler Hoppes was in the shotgun, but then motioned out, leaving running back Jace Kinnamon to take the snap. Receiver Gabe Hoover came in motion and received the ball from Kinnamon for an apparent reverse.
All the while Hoppes had snuck into the corner of the end zone all by his lonesome and Hoover stopped and popped. All that stood between the Bullpups and a second-round date at Maize South next Friday was him catching the pass.
“It took forever to come down,” Hoppes said. “The season was on the line and I had to make a play and I did.”
“I talked to the guys in the huddle and I said, ‘gentlemen, this is your team and what do you want to do?” Pavlovich said. “They said we want to win. We decided that we want to go with a play called ‘Jade,” and it’s a trick play that obviously worked very well. We knew they were going to be in man coverage on the goal line and you’re not thinking of taking the quarterback out of the backfield in that situation. Our guys executed it so well tonight. Proud of our guys, their effort was tremendous all night.”
The expected defensive struggle came to fruition. It was a 7-7 game at the half, as MHS scored first on a 6-yard TD pass from Hoppes to Talyn Huff, but Buhler quickly answered on a 5-yard run by All-Stater Dalton Brown.
From there, it was a total headknocker.
Labertew had two picks for the Bullpups, one of them in the second quarter to stop a potential Buhler score. Dalton Smyres, who had a tremendous all-around game for Buhler, matched him with two picks, while totaling 81 yards in receptions.
Kollin Goering also had a pick for the Bullpups, giving them a chance to take the lead, but the Crusaders came up with the second of two blocked field goals with just over 3 minutes left to play.
The game thus went into OT and the Crusaders scored on third down on Brown’s second TD of the game. MHS also needed just three plays to score as Labertew banged in from the 1 after picking up six yards the play before.
The two blocked field goal attempts made Pavlovich’s decision somewhat easier, not to mention the fact this was the best time as any to win.
“I don’t want to lose on a missed PAT or blocked PAT,” he said. “We decided we’re going to end it right now, good or bad and be the hero or the goat. It (Hoover’s pass to Hoppes) scared me. I saw he was wide open. It wasn’t the play call (that won it). We look really good as coaches when the kids execute a play call very well and we did that tonight. The offensive line did a great job (on the play). To be honest, I’m just excited to get another week of practice with them.”
The numbers bore out the defenses’ domination. MHS had 219 yards of total offense and stifled one of the state’s best offenses to just 153, just 60 on the ground. Brown, a probable first-team All-State running back and maybe a Top 11 selection, was stopped in his tracks with 20 yards on 15 carries as he had a bullseye on his back all night.
MHS ran 63 plays as it dominated time of possession and Buhler snapped it 46 times. The Crusaders totaled just 13 yards rushing in the first half on 15 attempts.
Kinnamon pounded out 66 hard-earned yards on 23 carries. Hoppes was 12 of 24 for 91 yards. Wiard had 4 catches for 29 yards and Thomas Diggs had 3 for 25 yards.
Now comes the rematch with Maize South, a team MHS lost to 9-0 in Week 2 and lost to twice last year.
“Ever since Week 2, this is something we wanted to get back to and we’re there,” Pavlovich said. “Right now we’ve just got to seize this opportunity and get better in film tomorrow. We owe them three games now. We’ve got to execute well next Friday and get a win.”