Time may be right for MHS to play South

By Steve Sell
August 29, 2014

Notes while looking forward to the three-day weekend...

• BEST TIME TO PLAY SOUTH? — McPherson High’s football team has taken on the unenviable task of opening its season next Thursday — that’s right, a Thursday night special — at Salina South, which came within a whisker of winning the Class 5A state championship last year. The Cougars lost by one point in the title game against Blue Valley when they failed to convert on a late 2-point conversion that probably would have won the game.

South must replace some tremendous players, among them the three-headed offensive monster of masterful quarterback Justin Stonebraker, blazing running back Mike Jones and Shrine Bowl star receiver Zach Nachbar, who were the heart and soul of the team.

The Bullpups, coming off a 6-5 playoff season, probably couldn’t have scheduled a better time to play the Cougars. I liken this much to the years when MHS traditionally began its season against Hutchinson when the Salthawks were reveling in their glory days and piling up state championships. The Bullpups often gave Hutch one of its toughest games of the year. 

Tom Young’s very first game as MHS coach in 2006 resulted in a 22-12 loss to the Salthawks. The following year, the teams went toe to toe before Hutch emerged with a 17-7 victory.

The point I’m making is that MHS is playing South before the Cougars have gotten a chance for all their new players to get up to game speed. Conversely, the Bullpups have a wealth of experience, which should make the game far more competitive than some people might think.

I saw a preseason analysis of the Cougars and they return just three starters on both sides of the ball, though that’s somewhat misleading. They had a number of players who saw time, but just weren’t starters for a senior-laden team.

The game could come down to MHS’ pass defense, which last year was a weak area of the team. New South QB Dalton Wassenberg reportedly has a big-time arm and does have some experience as he led the Cougars on a game-winning drive in last year’s season opener against Derby when Stonebraker was sidelined.

I’m looking forward to this opener. I’m sure the state’s pundits are giving the Bullpups virtually no chance, but I have a feeling it’s going to be close.

• GOOD TIME HAD BY ALL — The American Legion Post 24 “Night of Champions” Thursday night was an event to remember.

Some 100 people turned out for the event, which honored the McPherson American Legion state championship teams of 1954, 1975 and 2014.

Highlights of the evening were speeches by 1975 coach Vance Carlson and 2014 coach Tony Schmidt. It was good to see Vance, who was one of the first persons I met when I moved to McPherson in 1979. “The Surgeon,” as I used to call him for his putting prowess on the golf course, now resides in Hays and reports he still plays nine holes now and then at age 88. I hope I look and feel half as good at that age as he does.

Schmidt gave a lot of credit for his love of baseball to the late Kermit Hawley, who was a driving force for the sport in McPherson. Hawley was inducted into Babe Ruth Hall of Fame last year and did as much for the organization as anybody in state history.

The 2014 team received its state championship patches during the evening, something they can wear proudly.

• BLUE BLOODS SHUNNED – It’s not often college basketball royalty Kansas and Kentucky are given the short shrift by a top prospect, but a report today indicates that’s the case.

Diamond Stone, a 6-10 center from Milwaukee who is ranked No. 5 by Rivals.com  , has said thanks, but no thanks, to both the Jayhawks and Wildcats.

Stone reportedly has narrowed his final five to Duke, UConn, Oklahoma State, Maryland and Wisconsin. I’m guessing Duke has the inside track, while Maryland, Oklahoma State and Wisconsin are surprising possible destinations.

I’m sure Kansas and Kentucky won’t be hurting. Both schools certainly will be high on a lot of lists by Top 50 players. In that same report, No. 3-ranked Malik Newman has both KU and Kentucky on his list. 

• DON’T CALL HIM KENNY FOOTBALL — Move over “Johnny Football,” make room for “Thrill Hill.”

There was much wonderment how Texas A & M would survive in the post “Johnny Football” era.

Thursday night, the Aggies showed they’re going to be just fine, thank you.

By the end of their 52-28 road humiliation of No. 9-ranked South Carolina, Aggie fans were probably saying “Johnny Who?”

All Hill did was complete 44 of 60 passes for 511 yards and three touchdowns. His yardage broke Manziel’s school record.

A & M scored touchdowns on seven of its first 11 possessions as the Gamecocks obviously were feeling the loss of pass rushing star Jadeveon Clowney, who was the top pick in the 2014 draft.

It will be interesting to see if Hill was a one-game wonder or if he’s the real deal. I have a feeling Aggie fans are going to have a much more enjoyable season than those in Cleveland, who may not get to see much of their prized NFL rookie Manziel since he’s going to start the year on the bench.