No matter what happens here tonight with Buhler, McPherson High’s football team will still be in position to make the playoffs for a staggering ninth straight year.
The Bullpups will either be the district leader after tonight or hosting Hays next week in what would figure to be a winner-take-all game, provided the Indians don’t slip up at home tonight against Abilene, whose 6-0 start will be only a distant memory by the time next week ends.
The Bullpups host Buhler in the matchup of 1-0 district teams. MHS methodically moved forward with a 17-6 victory last week over Abilene, though the score didn’t reflect its true dominance. Buhler sent tremors throughout 4A Division I with a 55-21 whipsaw of Hays, which was run over by the overpowering Crusader offense.
Buhler, which was the last single 4A champion since the class is now split into two divisions, appears to have a team capable of making another deep postseason run. The Crusaders have shaken off a first-game loss to Andale to steamroll six teams in a row.
The Crusaders’ star quarterback Jace Williams gets all the headlines and deservedly so, but MHS coaches will tell you they whip teams because of their powerful offensive and defensive lines. Williams, who reminds me somewhat of Gardner-Edgerton’s Bubba Starling with his angular physique, figures to get a lot of yards, but the Bullpups would like to keep him to 150 or less.
The McPherson defense, after being buzzsawed by both Salina South and Andale to open the season, has settled in, once the switch was made to a more-personnel-friendly 3-4 to take advantage of its speed and lack of bulk. The Bullpups have allowed single digits each of the last four games, though only Abilene had a winning record. Still, it’s clear improvements have been made as the Bullpups are playing with more physicality.
As much as the key matchup is the Buhler offense against the Bullpup defense, MHS’ offense can keep this game winnable if it can control the football. But it’s going to take the best effort of the year from the offensive line, which coach Tom Young has said repeatedly is the unit that has made the most improvement. However, it must give quarterback Kyler Kinnamon time to throw, as last week it harassed Kansas State-bound Alex Delton of Hays into three interceptions and got him out of his rhythm.
The Bullpups finally have a healthy stable of runningbacks to complement Kinnamon. Ty Hart has improved rapidly, but his value is more on the defensive side, so Young may turn more to Nathan Nutter tonight. Collin Baldwin is back after missing last week and has run hard when given the chance. Young probably will ride the hot hand and at least now he has some options.
Another key for MHS tonight will be penalties. Against Abilene last week the Bullpups were their own worst enemy as drives were interrupted by false starts or other flags that turned 2-and-3s into 2nd-and-8s. MHS is going to have to play focused, physical and error-free football to allow the offense to stay on course.
With the Royals on tonight, you have to wonder what kind of crowd there will be. Buhler is hungry for a state repeat and will empty its town and fill the opposite stands. McPherson fans traditionally have filled their side, though terrible weather two weeks ago led the smallest crowd I’ve seen since the Young era began in 2006.