McPherson High’s football team committed five turnovers in its season opener against Buhler and lived to tell about it with an emotional victory that was the firestarter to a memorable journey.
Friday night, the Bullpups were again bit by the five-turnover bug, but this time it led to the finality of the season.
Undefeated Andale cashed in for 13 points off MHS mistakes and that was the determining factor in the Indians’ 20-13 victory in the Class 4A Division I state semifinals before an overflow crowd at McPherson Stadium.
The loss snapped a nine-game MHS winning streak and it ended the season with a 10-2 mark, tying the school record for wins in a season.
The Bullpups trailed 20-6 at the half, but they scored on their first possession of the second half to draw within 20-13. But despite numerous chances, they could never come up with the equalizer as Andale, now 12-0, fended off every comeback try to move on to next Saturday’s state championship game in Topeka against the Bishop Miege machine, which rolled to a 56-24 rout of DeSoto and is widely regarded as the best team in any class.
“They had no quit in them,” said MHS coach Jace Pavlovich, whose vaunted defense was stunned for three touchdown passes in the first half as Andale quarterbacks Ethan Baalman and Easton Hunter riddled the Bullpups for 212 yards before the break.
Andale scored twice in the first quarter, as both Baalman and Hunter threw a TD pass to running back Mason Fairchild on seam plays right down the gut, one of 45 yards on Andale’s third play of the game and the other covering 62 yards, the longest play MHS gave up all year.
“He (Fairchild) is one of their halfbacks and he ran right up the seam,” Pavlovich said. “We just didn’t see it. We had a corner right there and he (Fairchild) ran right past him. We didn’t do a good enough job apparently of preparing them and that’s on us. We corrected those mistakes at halftime and it didn’t happen again. It just goes to show how coachable our kids are.”
MHS had a score in between the two TD passes to Fairchild as Kyler Hoppes hit Gabe Hoover for a spectacular 13-yard hookup as Hoppes threw the ball only where Hoover could catch it and he reached out and made a sensational grab.
Both teams missed the PAT after the first score, but the second TD pass to Fairchild made it 13-6. Late in the half, Baalman threw a 20-yard screen pass to Andrew Mohr, who was wide open out of the backfield, to make it 20-6.
MHS charged down the field on its first possession of the second half, peeling off 79 yards on nine plays, capped by a determined 14-yard run by Jace Kinnamon that made it 20-13 with a whole lot of ballgame left.
But MHS was bedeviled by turnovers. A fumble and interception thwarted potential scoring drives in the fourth quarter, with the Bullpups giving the ball up at the Andale 21 on the former and MHS was at the Indian 23 on the latter.
“We did not execute in the red zone,” Pavlovich said. “We had a lot of turnovers. That was our Achilles Heel.”
The Bullpup defense resembled the lights-out unit it has been all season in the second half. After being gashed for 223 yards in the first half, the Indians ended the game with 234 as they did next to nothing in the second half. For the game, Andale managed just 7 yards on 35 rushes after entering the game sporting a nifty 298-average. The Indians had nine plays that lost yardage totaling minus-61 yards, including 14 yards lost when Hunter’s knee touched the ground as he going to punt the ball. Star running back Sawyer Simon was held to minus-8 yards on 10 carries.
“Our defense played very well in the second half, well enough to get us a win,” Pavlovich said. “We just committed way too many turnovers.”
The MHS offense was much better in the second half and finished with 111 yards on the ground for the game and 217 through the air. Hoppes was 17 of 28 for 215 yards, with Hoover having a remarkable night with 10 tough catches for 131 yards. Kinnamon ran for 58 yards on 19 carries and Hoppes added 34 on 7 tries.
It was just the third time that MHS had advanced to the semifinals.
“That’s what these kids are all about, they had no quit in them,” Pavlovich said. “This is the worst part of my job, saying goodbye to the seniors who have worked hard for the last four years. This is just a great group of guys. We wanted another week with these guys and unfortunately that comes to an end. They battled adversity all season long and kept battling and coming back. I’m really proud of this bunch. A 10-win season is pretty good, but it’s not where we wanted to end up.”