Tom Young has been coaching football for 44 uber-successful years, so don’t expect him to reach for the panic button following McPherson High’s 61-32 loss Thursday in the season opener at Salina South.
First of all, the Cougars were not 29 points better than the Bullpups. Young knows that as does anybody who attended the game. There wasn’t that much of a gulf in the talent level.
The Bullpups gift-wrapped three touchdowns with a pretty red-and-white bow. A team like the Cougars doesn’t need help anyway, but they were only happy to accept the gifts MHS bestowed upon them.
Young admitted after the game the Cougars were probably better than he expected them to be. They were coming off a year in which they finished second in Class 5A, losing to Blue Valley in the championship game when they failed to convert on a potential game-winning 2-point conversion. But the Cougars — especially the offense — had been gutted by graduation and the Bullpups were hoping their experience advantage would give them the edge.
However, it was the Bullpups — in Young’s words — who looked nervous. They had problems at times getting people in the right place, especially on the defensive side. There were some calamities on special teams, which led to timeouts being burned.
Young will use this game as a teaching tool. He knows dazzling quarterback Kyler Kinnamon will probably not throw four interceptions in a game for the rest of his life. He also knows his defense — which had excited him so considerably during the preseason because of its ability to pursue — will not continue to leak like a sieve. He’s certain there are a lot of quality pieces to work with and it’s just a matter of execution.
The Bullpups and Cougars were trading blows for most of the first half, with MHS down only 27-25 with the ball deep in its own territory as time was running short in the first half. I’m sure if Young had to do it over again, he would have just milked the last two minutes and gone in content down a deuce.
But a Cougar pick and the Bullpups’ failure to hold South out of the end zone on the final play of the half from 6 yards swung the game’s fortunes. An MHS stop there and it might have been a different game.
The Bullpups didn’t come out with the same intensity to start the second half and the game got away in a hurry. The Cougars may not be the quality of the last two years, but certainly will be solid.
The biggest area of concern for MHS had to be the secondary, as South quarterback Dalton Wassenberg looked like an All-Stater in his first start. Young said the Bullpups tried to play the Cougar receivers with single coverage, but Wassenberg and new star receiver Dylan Becker looked like the next big thing, with Becker latching on to six balls for 173 yards and three scores. It didn’t help that MHS starting corner Jason Anderson was ejected from the game early on for reportedly what was termed as “targeting.” That forced Kinnamon to have to go both ways, which reduced his effectiveness at quarterback and sapped some of his energy on a hot night. Anderson also is a top receiver, as evidenced by his 48-yard TD grab early in the game.
The Bullpups will play a team of similar ilk here Friday when Andale comes to town. The Indians are everyone’s choice to win Class 4A Division II and honestly could probably be one of the best teams in 4A D-I. If the Bullpups can’t defend the sweep any better than they did against South, Andale star Hunter Knoblauch may be looking at a 300-yard night.
But we all know Young and his staff will tear down the South game film frame by frame and make the proper adjustments. They have led the Bullpups to eight straight playoff appearances, so they know what they’re doing.
Don’t forget, Young generally treats the first six games almost like an exhibition season. He’s not hung up on league championships — which the Bullpups won in his first seven years before the streak ended last year — instead focusing on what he considers the “real” season — the district. Nobody remembers who wins the league, but who makes the playoffs.