They didn’t shock the world, but they sure shocked the state of Kansas.
McPherson High engaged in a heavyweight fight with defending state champion Buhler here Friday night and lived to tell about it.
The Bullpups hung on for a 44-42 victory over their most bitter arch-rival to take command of the district with a 2-0 record. Buhler and Hays are both 1-1, though the Indians barely survived their game with Abilene Friday as they pulled out a 34-33 victory. An Abilene victory would have clinched the district title for MHS.
As far as points under the 21-point system, MHS is a plus-13, Buhler is a plus-19 and Hays is minus-20. Abilene is out as it’s 0-2.
The Bullpups host Hays next week and an MHS victory secures home-field advantage for the first round of the playoffs. A loss and the various tiebreakers would come into play.
This had to go down as perhaps the best regular-season victory in Tom Young’s McPherson tenure. The uber-confident Crusaders were chockfull of returning state championship players and unleashed their incredible offense, which totaled 550 yards on the night.
But it wasn’t enough. And, oh by the way, MHS won the AVCTL Division III title with a 5-0 record while Buhler finished 4-1, but it wasn’t even mentioned by Young after the game.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Young, whose team has a great chance now to qualify for postseason play for the ninth straight year. “Even though we lost to a couple of really good teams (to open the season), the kids have improved a little more each week.”
The victory was MHS’ sixth straight since the losses to Salina South and Andale, but none of the other wins could come close to this.
The Bullpups were down 28-24 at halftime as Buhler accumulated a staggering 375 yards of total offense. A turning point, though, was a Kyler Kinnamon 58-yard pick six of Jace Williams. Kinnamon earlier in the half had thrown TD passes of 48 yards to Ty Hart and 20 yards to Chris Stoppel. Young said the play to Hart, which was wide open, was one the Bullpups have saved all year just for this particular game.
Nathan Nutter accounted for the other MHS points on a booming 36-yard field goal, but the Crusaders countered with four scores, three of them being runs by Dillon Engelland and the other a 15-yard pass from Williams to Dakota Wolf.
The teams swapped third-quarter scores, the Bullpups’ coming on a 45-yard strike from Kinnamon to Stoppel. Williams and Wolf hooked up again for the Buhler score as the Crusaders led 35-31 going into the fourth quarter.
But Kinnamon scored twice in the final period with some tough running to push MHS up 44-35, as the Bullpup defense came up with a key save to stop the ping-ponging of scores. The Crusaders did score late on a Williams 10-yard run, but Stoppel recovered the onside kick and the Bullpups iced it.
A big question mark going into the game was MHS’ offensive line going up against the tough Buhler front four. But the group of Michael McKinney, Jake Nikkel, Ross Regier, Corben Davis and Derek Hall helped produce 431 yards of offense.
“They played a great game,” Young said. “And that was by far the best defensive line we’ve faced.”
Kinnamon, who may need to stay in an ice bath for a couple of days as he took a fierce pounding, was a warrior with 143 yards on 22 carries, while throwing for another 197. He personally had a hand in all six touchdowns when you add in his defensive score. Hart added 87 yards on 14 carries. The Bullpups played with great discipline, with just one penalty in the game for five yards, that on a delay of game on their next-to-last possession.
The Crusaders lost despite some pinball numbers. Williams showed why he’ll most likely be All-State Top 11 (maybe with Kinnamon) and the state’s No. 1 recruit next year as he rushed for 140 yards on 23 carries and threw for 279. Engelland had 125 on 16 attempts, while Wolf caught eight balls for 180 yards and two scores.
“Hold on to your hat, they’re a great offensive team and they showed that,” Young said. “They make it really tough because they can throw the ball and they can run it. Their QB, he runs that option run-pass... and if you come up to take the run away, then he just dumps it to their fullback, usually that No. 3 (Wolf).”
• STATISTICS •
• MHS Listed First •
First Downs — 20, 26. Rushes-Yards — 39-234; 41-271. Passing — 9-15-0-197; 16-28-1-279. Punts-Avg. — 2-37.5; 2-36.0. Fumbles-Lost — 2-1; 2-1. Penalties-Yards — 1-5; 4-35.
• INDIVIDUAL LEADERS •
• Rushing •
MHS — Kinnamon 22-143, Hart 14-87, Nutter 1-4.
Buhler — Williams 23-140, Engelland 16-125, Wolf 2-6.
• Passing •
MHS — Kinnamon 9-15-0-197.
Buhler — Williams 16-28-1-279.
• Receiving •
MHS — Starkel 3-44, Williams 3-40, Stoppel 2-65, Hart 1-48.
Buhler — Wolf 8-180, Stiles 3-44, Ridder 3-40, Shantz 1-12, Engelland 1-3.