This was a special McPherson High football team

By Steve Sell
November 20, 2017

We’ll never know how McPherson High’s football team would have stacked up against Bishop Miege, which by all accounts is not only the best team in Class 4A Division I, but 5A and 6A as well.

But it would have been fun to try.

In the “Best of the West” game this past Friday at filled-to-the-brim McPherson Stadium (there were 2,897 who officially paid, fourth-largest ever), the honor went to undefeated Andale, 20-13. The Indians, not the Bullpups, get the pleasure (?) of trying to slow down the Miege machine, which has trampled everything in its path. Andale will go into the game on Saturday in Topeka a definite David against the Goliath-like Stags.

The Bullpups won the statistical battle on Friday, but the big number was 5 — as in turnovers. They are now 0-3 in state semifinal games, but this one to me offered the best possibility of advancing to the finals for the first time.

Three interceptions and two fumbles forced by the opportunistic Andale defense decided the outcome. The Indians hit on two big pass plays in the first quarter and then added a third score in the second quarter when a back slipped out untouched to catch a screen pass.

Other than that, Andale was stoned by the MHS defense, which came into the game ranked No. 1 in Class 4A Division I in terms of points allowed.

In the final analysis, if the teams played 10 times I think they could play hot potato with the outcome. There was just very little that separated them.

The loss ended one of the most memorable seasons in Bullpup history. They galvanized the community with a tough-as-nails defense and balanced offense that was difficult to defend. A huge senior class, many of whom were starting for the third year, led the way and there some terrific juniors and sophomores who will carry on the tradition next year.

As most people know, this year’s defense will go down in MHS lore. While the Bullpups  gave up size to most teams, they were like heat-seeking missiles and almost insulted when they allowed a team to score. Even in their two losses during the 10-2 campaign, Maize South and Andale had to work hard for every yard they gained. They were loaded with senior stars and it was a unit without a weakness. It was the best MHS defense I have covered in my 39 years. 

Wyatt Seidl, Cody Stufflebean, Khalil Lisbon and Luke Thompson made up a nice front, while linebackers Jayse Alexander and Kollin Goering were the best 1-2 duo in 4A D-I. Michael Mendez was the most underrated player on the team as a rover, while the secondary of Drew Labertew, Ben Nikkel, Gunnar Reiss, Tyson Stites and either Honestee Whittker and Kaleb Hoppes played with great continuity.

But the offense was better than I expected. The brand-new offensive line made great strides despite being on the light side. First-time starting quarterback Kyler Hoppes developed nicely in his junior year. Receivers Gabe Hoover, Tayln Huff, Chandler Wiard, Nikkel and Thomas Diggs spread the wealth, with Hoover, Huff and Wiard all back next year. The complement came in the form of 1,000-yard rusher Jace Kinnamon, who will only be better next year, and the capable Austen Hunt.

This is a team that really never had a bad game. Sure, you’ll say that the 9-0 loss to Maize South might be considered an off night, but the defense was suffocating in that game and the offense just couldn’t convert in the red zone when it had the chance. Maize South’s defense was tremendous and did to other teams what it did to the Bullpups.

Seidl was named the league’s Offensive MVP, an amazing accomplishment when coaches tend to only look at the skill position players. Seidl was a force on both sides of the ball and don’t be surprised if he makes one of the All-State All-Class teams.

Alexander was the Defensive MVP as he was a tackling machine. That honor was richly deserved as he played sideline to sideline every game. He, too, can expect to back up the truck to cart home All-State honors. 

There should be some other Bullpups who reap state honors, but Seidl and Alexander will be among the highest.

Jace Pavlovich was named Coach of the Year and who can argue? His team defeated Buhler twice and split with Maize South, winning the game that mattered. A break here or there and it would still be playing next Saturday in Topeka.

The Bullpups locked up 10 spots on the AVCTL first team, which showed how much of a TEAM this was. It wasn’t one or two individuals, it was a passel of players.

The senior class is going to be missed tremendously. I can still remember the final game of 2015 in Hays on that rainy night when the Bullpups, out of the playoff picture, won that game in the final minutes to earn a winning season, even with seven sophomores starting on defense. I can remember talking with Pavlovich about how good this team would be in two years. And it was.

Next year the winds of change blow through high school football. MHS plays eight regular-season games, then the ninth week is for the first round of the playoffs. The Bullpups are going to flip the script next year as they’re probably going to rely on the offense, as six starters return, seven when Mason Thrash was in the game at fullback. Again, retooling the offensive line will be a key, but at least second-team AVCTL pick Dawson VanGoethem is back to build around and he should be among the best in the state.

Defensively, the team will be gutted by graduation. But Stufflebean and Lisbon should be devastating linemen, and Whittker and Kaleb Hoppes are other returning starters. I think unlike this year when the Bullpups were a two-platoon team, you’ll see more players going both ways.

Bullpup fans should soak in this season and enjoy it for a while. This team provided a lot of thrills along the way and what a ride it was.