I still consider McPherson High’s 20-14 victory over Blake Bell-led Bishop Carroll in the 2008 playoffs as the watershed moment in Bullpup football history.
But as far as the most defining regular-season victory, the nod now goes to Friday’s 44-42 heart-stopper over arch-rival Buhler.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t think the Bullpups would win, as evident by my 38-21 prediction for Buhler posted on Thursday. I pick games the way I truthfully see them, not to score points from local readers. If I had picked MHS, it would have been a homer pick because deep down I thought the Crusaders simply had too much in their arsenal.
Buhler, the defending 4A state champion with many of its key components back from last year, had sent shockwaves throughout 4A D-I with a 55-21 dismantling of then-undefeated Hays the previous week. The Crusaders’ engine was firing on all cylinders coming into the game and their legion of fans no doubt expected a similar result against an MHS team that has been beset by injuries and has a general lack of depth.
I really didn’t think the McPherson defense, even as well as it had played for the past four weeks, could get a handle on the Jace Williams-led offense. And to be honest, the Bullpups really didn’t stop the Crusaders, who piled up 375 yards in the first half and finished with 550 for the game. That’s normally good enough to win.
What the Crusaders didn’t count on was MHS being so prolific offensively. The Bullpups’ line, which at the start of the year was barely passable, had been improving every game. But going up against the quick-and-powerful Crusader defensive line that had received so much acclaim figured to be too tough of a task for the interior five that for the most part includes Corben Davis, Michael McKinney, Jake Nikkel, Ross Regier and Derek Hall.
However, Bullpup quarterback Kyler Kinnamon was given enough time to throw for 191 yards. And when he wasn’t throwing, he was running all around the Buhler defense for 143 yards and now needs only 37 to tie Dwayne Chandler’s all-time career rushing record, which is a great accomplishment when you consider he’s a quarterback. Some of his runs were simply breathtaking and it’s obvious how much stronger he’s gotten by a couple of runs where he simply put his back to the Buhler defense and pushed the pile back five to eight yards by keeping the legs churning.
Ty Hart augmented Kinnamon with 87 key rushing yards and also slipped out of the backfield for a 48-yard TD catch on a play MHS had kept under wraps the entire year, breaking it out for a special occasion just like using only the finest china for Christmas dinner. It was the first time we had seen Hart really out in space and he was Chandler-esque with his long strides.
The Bullpups played without leading receiver Payton Stephens, who was ruled out just before the game because of a quad injury. But Chris Stoppel was clutch, as both of his catches went for touchdowns. He made a couple of the hardest catches you’ll ever see — he had nobody around him and sometimes being so open causes a receiver to short-arm the catch. Stoppel is one of 4A’s fastest receivers and he’s finally figuring out a way to use that ability to his advantage.
Cody Starkel and Luke Williams also made some tough catches as the passing game took pressure off the running game. Buhler could not load up in the box and has to respect the entire field.
The victory was the Bullpups’ sixth straight, which also exceeds what I had picked for them. Before the season, I pegged the team 5-4, with losses to Salina South, Andale, Buhler and Hays. Now, 7-2 is looking very much like a real possibility, though Hays comes in 7-1 and has what is considered by many to be the No. 1 senior player in the state in quarterback Alex Delton. However, at this point Delton and Kinnamon have to be considered a push, with the complementary players deciding the outcome.
MHS desperately needs to win to secure first-round home-field advantage. A loss to Hays would probably clinch the district title for Buhler by virtue of points and the Bullpups would then have to sweat out the margin.