Onward! MHS storms into semifinals

By Steve Sell
November 10, 2017
Kendall Shaw

MAIZE — The McPherson High mystery against the Maize South Mavericks has finally been solved.

MHS, losers to the Mavericks in three straight games over the last two years, turned into a turnover-creating machine on Friday as it gave the term “opportunistic” a whole new meaning during a 28-7 victory in the second round of the Class 4A Division I football playoffs.

The 10-1 Bullpups, winners of nine straight, will host undefeated Andale (11-0) on Friday in the semifinals, the first time MHS has ventured this far since 2008. The Indians barely broke a sweat in dispatching with Andover Central, 40-10.

MHS’ defense caused five turnovers and the special teams were indeed special as the Bullpups advanced despite accumulating just four first downs offensively the entire game.

“Our defense, again, was lights-out all night,” said MHS coach Jace Pavlovich, uttering a familiar refrain. “Offensively, we’ve got to get a lot better. We weren’t as physical as we wanted to be tonight. We didn’t execute real well, that’s why the lack of production. But at the end of the day, we got the win. Our special teams were outstanding all night, that’s what kept us in the game early.”

It also was special teams that turned the tide. After Maize South had sped 87 yards in just four plays to tie the game at 7-all with 3:27 left in the first half, MHS’ Ben Nikkel rocketed 85 yards with the ensuing kickoff to set up a 5-yard blast by Jace Kinnamon for a 14-7 lead, which MHS took into the break.

“He (Nikkel) is special,” Pavlovich said. “He has that burst and is very physical along with it.”

MHS’ first points came right out of the chute when Gunnar Reiss recovered the fumble of a high Maize South snap over quarterback Ryan Grabman’s head at the Maverick 3 on the third South play of the game. Drew Labertew plunged in from the 1 for the 7-0 lead.

Remarkably, the Bullpups took their 14-7 lead into the half despite the fact the offense never recorded a first down as the touchdown drives were 3 and 5 yards.

But the second half the Bullpups created their own luck.

It started early on when long snapper Gabe Hoover hustled down the field and recovered a fumbled punt. MHS scored two plays later on a 27-yard pass from Kyler Hoppes to Chandler Wiard, who was left uncovered, for a 21-7 lead.

Nikkel then stopped the Mavericks’ next drive with a pick, but MHS couldn’t do anything with it. However on South’s next play, Wyatt Seidl recovered a fumble at the Maverick 18 and Austen Hunt wiggled up the middle for an 8-yard score and 28-7 lead.

Game, set and match as the Bullpups’ defense was a fortress, even though it was on the field for a season-high 70 plays.

“It wasn’t pretty at all,” said Pavlovich, whose defense also received another fumble recovery from Reiss, who also came up with a recovery of an unplanned onside kick. “But we’ll take it. We’re going to correct our mistakes tomorrrow again and get ready for next week.”

MHS was held to a season-low 157 yards on 44 snaps. Kinnamon, limited to just 19 yards on 9 carries at the outset, ripped off three big runs in the second half and finished with 91 on 22 carries. Hoppes was actually 9 of 11 through the air, but for just 46 yards as most of the attempts were short screens.

“Looking back at it, I should have probably opened it up a little bit earlier and thrown the ball a little bit earlier,” Pavlovich said. “But when we’re up and our defense is playing lights-out, I just want keep moving the chains and keep the clock running.”

For all the 70 plays the Mavericks ran, they had only 253 yards. All-State candidate Max Domnick picked up 84 yards, but needed 27 carries to do it. The Mavericks did hit for 183 yards through the air and MHS was fortunate that a couple of potential huge plays in the passing game didn’t connect as the Mavs had some receivers open in the first half.

Of course when the Bullpups and Andale played last year, it was Labertew who kicked a game-winning 27-yard field goal with 13 seconds left in the game to give the Bullpups the 21-20 victory.