Andale is generally considered the best football team in Class 4A Division II as evidenced by its sparkling No. 1 state ranking.
Forget Division II. The Indians may very well be the best team in Class 4A — period — even though the Miege Stags might have something to say about it.
If you need proof, all Andale did in its season opener last week against defending Class 4A champion Buhler was stomp a 22-0 first-quarter mudhole in the Crusaders before trading scores the rest of the way in a 41-20 eye-opener.
Andale brings its considerable offensive arsenal to McPherson Stadium Friday night for the Bullpups’ home opener as the teams continue a rivalry that has mushroomed over time. The teams have split playoff games in the last two years and this is the first time they have met in the regular season.
Kickoff is 7 p.m., with pre-game on 96.7 KBBE-FM starting at 6:30 p.m. Nick Gosnell will be on the call, assisted by Steve Sell.
The Bullpups will be trying to restore some semblance of confidence after being whipsawed 61-32 by Salina South in their opener last week, though it was a 27-25 game before the Bullpups started being generous by handing out turnover after turnover, which the Cougars converted into points.
Andale may be even more impressive than South from the standpoint of its lineup of home-run hitters, which in addition to All-State super back Hunter Knoblauch includes Anthony Capul and Hank Eck, not to mention massive tight end Jeff Ast.
“It’s always tough playing any really good opponent,” said MHS coach Tom Young, who lost a season opener for the first time since 2007 when it was defeated 17-7 by Hutchinson. “We got two really good ones back to back to open the season. As the old expression goes, it is what it is. We’ll work hard to get ready.”
Andale ended MHS’ season with a thud last year with a 36-7 playoff rout and returns most of its galaxy of stars. Knoblauch ran for 228 yards last week in the rout of Buhler and Eck added 94. Because of the running prowess, new quarterback Lucas Walstad didn’t see much need to throw with just two attempts.
“They’re probably not quite as physical up front as South, although they’re very good,” Young said. “Andale has even more speed in the backfield than South with Knoblauch and this Eck kid, who is really fast. They’re more run-oriented than South, though last year they ran it most of the year but then hurt us with the pass.”
Knoblauch is getting a lot of looks, reportedly even Kansas State is in the picture.
“He just accelerates through the hole,” Young said. “If you give him any seam at all, he’s liable to break it. He just runs past people.”
Preparing for Andale has been tough enough, but correcting last week’s errors have taken a lot of practice time as well.
“Our run fills, we struggled with that,” said Young, who emphasized it was more technique that led to the onslaught of South points rather than talent differential and that the mistakes are correctable. “Especially on the perimeter. We had enough people there that we should have been making the plays, but we didn’t. We just filled in the wrong lane, so to speak, and took ourselves out of the play.”
Offensively, Young is hoping to establish the ground game to keep the ball away from the Indians. Nathan Nutter ran for 128 yards last week on 26 carries as he seemingly got better as the game went along. Ty Hart ran for a 20-yard touchdown on his only carry and could be slated for a few more attempts, but he’s been battling sickness, something that also has afflicted some other team members.
Kyler Kinnamon ran only 13 times last week, but averaged more than 7 yards a carry and broke off a pair of his patented weaving touchdown runs on his way to 94 yards rushing. He might keep it a few more times this week, especially in the wake of Buhler quarterback Jace Williams going for 212 yards on 19 keepers last week. Kinnamon did throw four interceptions in the opener, but Young said the Bullpups will have to keep putting the ball in the air to keep the defense honest.
MHS will be without backup quarterback Casen Hoover, lost probably for the year with a broken leg, with the prognosis 6 to 8 weeks. That leaves freshmen Mason Alexander and Drew Labertew as backups, though Cody Starkel has quarterback experience if need be.