District lead up for grabs here Friday

By Steve Sell
October 23, 2014
File-Kendall Shaw

The winner of Friday’s McPherson High-Buhler football game at McPherson Stadium will be crowned as the AVCTL Division III champion.

But that is a mere footnote to the real matter at hand, an afterthought.

Sure, league championships are impressive. But making the playoffs carries far more weight. Nobody remembers year to year who wins the league, but playoff appearances last forever, something the Bullpups have done each of the last eight years.

The winner of MHS-Buhler basically punches its ticket to the Class 4A Division I playoffs, as both teams are 1-0 in district play. The loser will be trying to earn the second spot, which means opening the playoffs on the road.

The Bullpups moved into prime position with their 17-6 victory last week over previously undefeated Abilene, while the Crusaders caused jaws to drop by turning previously undefeated Hays inside-out with a 55-21 lambasting that no doubt caused considerable damage to the Indians’ psyche.

Kickoff Friday is set for 7 p.m. Pre-game on 96.7 KBBE-FM with Nick Gosnell starts at 6:30 and he’ll be joined on the game call by Steve Sell.

Both teams have been rockin’ after early stumbles. Buhler opened its season with a loss to Andale, but since then hasn’t been tested in reeling off six wins in a row. MHS lost to Salina South and Andale to begin its season, but has rattled off five wins in a row.

Buhler, however, could be the most complete team the Bullpups have played. It appears to be on a mission to repeat as a state champion

MHS coach Tom Young admitted the Crusaders’ utter demolition of Hays caught him off guard.

“I thought it would be a great game, a really close game,” Young said. “Buhler came out and really executed their offense. Especially the sweep option. That’s the play that really hurt Hays.”

When you talk Buhler, you talk first about junior quarterback Jace Williams, who figures to be the No. 1 recruit in Kansas next year. A physical freak at 6-5 and about 200 pounds with great speed, Williams rushed for 321 yards on 27 carries against Hays, but also threw for 163 as the Crusaders are incredibly diverse. Running back Dillon Engelland also is a horse as he runs extremely hard, including a four-touchdown effort last week. And it all starts up front, as the Crusaders have been muscling and mauling teams with a nasty offensive line that rockets off the ball.

“This year they’re predominantly a (shot) gun team,” Young said. “They’re running just a lot of quarterback plays. Just designed power plays.”

In other words, the Crusaders line up and say, “try to stop us.” And nobody has been doing that lately.

Young said it will be important for the Bullpups to get off to a good start and try to match the Crusaders’ physicalness. MHS dominated Abilene physically last week despite giving away some size, but Buhler is at a whole different level. If MHS allows the Crusaders to get up a full head of steam, it could be a long night.

MHS put up only 17 points last week, but left about that same amount on the field. The Bullpups hurt themselves several times with penalties that stalled drives. They must play error-free football to have any semblance of a chance.

Another key, Young said, will be pass protection. The Crusaders’ front four has been blasting through the line and creating havoc. MHS quarterback Kyler Kinnamon is going to need time to throw, although top target Payton Stephens is a game-time decision because of a quad injury.

Kinnamon went over the 3,000-yard career-rushing mark last week as he’s now at 3,002. He needs 180 the rest of the season to equal the thought-to-never-be-approached record of Dwayne Chandler, who had 3,182 in his career, including a then-record 1,536 his senior year, since broken by Kinnamon, who had 1,662 last year.

Ty Hart is going to have to continue his recent good running, as he had 122 yards last week on 23 carries. He’ll need to run with the same ferocity as last week when he was hitting the hole hard and not hesitating. Nathan Nutter came back last week to provide relief and Collin Baldwin returns this week after a one-week absence because of a concussion as MHS is the healthiest it’s been in the backfield since the first week.

Hays and Abilene meet in Hays in the other district game. The loser is out of contention.