McPherson High’s football team has never started 0-3 under coach Tom Young.
It doesn’t want to start now.
For only the second time in Young’s nine years, the Bullpups have opened the season with back-to-back losses, albeit against teams that harbor state championship aspirations — Salina South and Andale.
The Bullpups can avoid ignominious history in the Young era on Friday when they travel to AVCTL Division III newbie Augusta, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. Coverage begins on 96.7 KBBE-FM at 6:30 with Nick Gosnell, who will be joined later on the call by Steve Sell.
Before the season it was thought that Augusta would be the perfect opponent for the Bullpups after their two-game gauntlet. The Orioles entered the season having won just six games in the last five years.
Enter new coach Jason Filbeck. He had been on staff at Shawnee Mission East, which lost to Derby in last year’s Class 6A state championship game, so he knows what success is all about.
Perhaps Filbeck is going to be to Augusta what Young has been to McPherson. Sometimes it just takes the right coach at the right time to kick-start a reversal of fortunes. After losing 27-13 in their season opener to Wellington, the Orioles sent gasps throughout the region with a 39-0 throttling of El Dorado, which itself was coming off a huge upset win of Mulvane.
Young said the score has definitely caught the Bullpups’ attention.
“That opens everybody’s eyes,” Young said. “They’re just a hungry team. You can tell it watching them play. They haven’t won for a long time. They play with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. We must be able to match them emotionally.”
The Orioles have taken to Filbeck’s flexbone offense. Quarterback Dustyn McEachern was highly efficient last week against El Dorado, hitting 8 of 12 passes for 115 yards and two scores. Raef Hilt, only a sophomore, is carrying the load at running back.
The Bullpup defense has faced two high-powered offenses so far and while it had its moments last week, Young would like to see the effort sustained play in and play out.
“On defense we’ve got to be more consistent,” Young said. “We showed signs last week that we could play good defense. Andale had eight really good plays and if we could have cut that in half, it would have been an outstanding defensive game for us. Four plays we either missed tackles on or misread plays.”
MHS’ offense at times has moved the ball with aplomb. Nathan Nutter has ripped off back-to-back 100-yard games, with most of his effectiveness right up the middle. Salina South and Andale both keyed greatly on quarterback Kyler Kinnamon, who has averaged only 52 yards through two games after being well over 100 a game last year.
“We’re running the ball inside pretty well, but we’ve got to be able to run on the perimeter and we’ve been working on that,” Young said. “Our pass protection, we really had a total breakdown last week. We have to be better. We just didn’t get our blocks and messed up some assignments.”
Injuries have hit the Bullpups like a runaway truck. Spenser Wine is now gone for the year as he’ll have shoulder surgery next week. Casen Hoover already was lost for the year with a broken leg and Kolby Reed has been out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. Jason Anderson is a game-time decision because of a hip, which means four defensive backs who would get a lot of reps could be missing. Corbin Davis, an offensive line mainstay, has a bad ankle and will be limited.
“We’ve got a lot of injuries right now,” Young said. “It really limits us.”
Young will make a few changes this week, with Payton Stephens playing a wide out while Luke Stucky will play tight end, meaning he’ll go both ways. Kinnamon and Luke Williams may have to see more time in the secondary.
Young has tried to warn his team throughout the week that it has to be ready to play mentally. Just because “McPherson” is on the jerseys, that doesn’t guarantee success like previous years. The past is just that, the past, and the Bullpups must come out strong and not allow Augusta to gain confidence. This rivals last year’s Chapman game when MHS was a heavy favorite before the game, only to come out flat and lose.