• FROSH OPEN SUCCESSFULLY — I was beyond curious Monday prior to the start of McPherson High’s ninth-grade football game here with Salina South.
The Bullpups were coming off an eighth-grade season that was the most dominant I have seen in my 35 years of covering McPherson sports. In fact, I admittedly probably overhyped the team, but it was just so darn impressive.
That team gave up only one touchdown all season in steamrolling all its opponents. But a lot can happen between middle school and high school.
Last year’s team had more than 50 players. This year’s team has just over 30, which means approximately 40 percent of the team did not return.
Most of the core group, however, is back, though a couple of major contributors are no longer out, be it one reason or another, and their absence was quite noticeable.
I really wondered if this team could continue its dominating ways. While exceptionally gifted, it also was far more physically advanced than the teams it played. As the years go on, opposing teams could start to close the gap in maturity.
The Bullpups certainly had to be shocked and put on their heels when Salina South — a team they lambasted last year and throughout their younger days — scored on back-to-back cross-country runs totaling 140 yards before the game was 5 minutes old. MHS was down 12-0 before the fans had settled into their seats.
But once the jitters wore off, the Bullpups started to methodically dissect the Cougars and the disparity in talent level began to shine through. They scored 20 points before the half was over for a narrow 20-12 mid-game lead.
In the second half, however, the Bullpups returned to their dominating ways. They outscored the Cougars 36-6 over the final 20 minutes for their usual runaway victory.
That first quarter, however, served as a much-needed wake-up call. This group, probably for the first time in its career, was smacked right in the mouth. Staggered early, it cleared its mind and pounded out the impressive win. It learned, though, that it just can’t walk on the field and blow teams away without being focused.
The freshmen will no doubt need their A-game next Monday when they travel to Andale, This could be the biggest challenge of their young careers.
• DIVISION III STRUGGLES — It wasn’t a good first weekend for the football teams in AVCTL Division III in addition to McPherson High’s 61-32 loss to 5A power Salina South.
Current division kingpin Buhler was nearly run out of Andale by Class 4A Division II’s No. 1 team. The Indians scored 22 first-quarter points and eventually raced to a 41-20 victory over the defending 4A champions. Jace Williams did all he could for the Crusaders with a tremendous individual effort, but Andale is just so deep and has so many weapons. It certainly gave McPherson High’s coaching staff plenty to prepare for as the teams meet for Friday’s MHS home opener.
Winfield, a team considered on par with MHS, was run over by Arkansas City after halftime in the battle for Cowley County bragging rights. The teams were tied at the half, but it was all Arkansas City after that as the Bulldogs rolled to a 34-13 victory.
Rose Hill lost in convincing fashion to Division IV power Wichita Collegiate 28-6 and Augusta was more than doubled up in a 27-13 loss to Wellington, another D-IV team.
Preventing D-III from an O-fer was El Dorado, of all teams, as it kicked a field goal on the final play of the game to defeat Mulvane, 17-15. That tells me El Do might be a little better than I thought and that powerful departed running back Michael Mason’s loss is going to be difficult for Mulvane to overcome.
• STEENSON A KEY FOR BUTLER — Former McPherson High football standout Travis Steenson is a vital cog this season for nationally ranked Butler County Community College.
Steenson is starting at linebacker for the Grizzlies. He is second on the team in tackles with 23, including six solos. He has 4 1/2 tackles for losses totaling 17 yards and a fumble recovery.
Steenson also is the Wildcats’ place-kicker and has scored nine points through two games with a field goal and six extra points.
Butler, which has owned the Jayhawk Juco Conference for the last decade, is 1-1 on the year. It was defeated by No. 2-ranked Iowa Western 36-30 last week after opening with a 57-16 victory over Independence. Next up is a huge showdown Saturday with top contender Hutchinson.