At the time it seemed like an innocent play.
But it could be one that determines whether or not McPherson High’s football team advances to the Class 4A Division I playoffs.
When Buhler’s Jace Williams scored in the final minute of last Friday’s game, an emotional 44-42 Bullpup upset of the third-ranked team in the state, standout MHS senior Kyler Kinnamon threw a shoulder into Williams as he attempted a tackle.
While nobody noticed it at the time since it was so late in the game and the Bullpups just took a knee for their final two plays in the “victory formation,” Kinnamon sprained the AC joint in his shoulder and it’s considered a mild separation.
It will be a game-time decision for Kinnamon, who could break the all-time MHS career rushing record if he does play. He’s 37 yards shy of Dwayne Chandler’s record of 3,182, but records as this point are inconsequential.
“That’s a good reason not to use a quarterback on defense,” said MHS coach Tom Young, whose team hosts Hays at 7 p.m. before what should be a jammed McPherson Stadium crowd. “But we’re in a situation this year where he’s such a good player and we were struggling at that (safety) spot.”
Young said he’s going on the assumption that the Bullpups will be without both Kinnamon and top receiver Payton Stephens, who missed last week with a quad injury and is still gimpy. Also out is Luke Stucky, who has started at tight end but suffered a concussion last week.
So it’s next man up and at quarterback that means Cody Starkel, who has played tight end and defensive end. Casen Hoover, the backup at the start of the year, was lost after Week 2 with a broken leg as the Bullpups have been on an injury merry-go-round.
“Cody is a good thrower, a good drop-back-type passer,” said Young, who has total confidence in his senior. “We’ll have a little less of the quarterback run-type things. That’s not where he’s dominant, but he will run some. He’s a good athlete. We’ve practiced well this week. Everybody’s kind of assuming we’re going to play without a couple of our guns and everybody else has got to improve a little more.”
The Bullpups may have to rely more on the running of Ty Hart and Nathan Nutter. The MHS ground game has exploded in the last month and it may be called on more than ever.
As far as the ramifications of the game, it goes like this:
• An MHS win and it clinches home-field for next Friday’s first-round playoff game.
• An MHS loss by 16 points or less and it still qualifies for the playoffs, most likely meaning a road game next week. A loss of 17 or more points puts Hays in, assuming Buhler beats Abilene as expected.
• If Abilene and Hays win, the Bullpups are in with the Indians, who would be the district champion by virtue of a head-to-head win.
Young, however, said little mention has been made about the point situation, as he says it detracts from the task at hand.
“You try and put it in the very back of your mind,” Young said. “We mentioned it right at the start of the week. We decided then we’re not going to talk about that anymore. You don’t want to go into any game thinking, “gee, if we lose by only this amount of points... you’ve got to go into it thinking about the win and that’s our approach.”
Hays comes in 7-1 — the loss 55-21 to Buhler — and most of the talk about the Indians centers on Kansas State quarterback commit Alex Delton. He rushed for 261 yards and three touchdowns last week in the Indians’ 34-33 escape of Abilene. He basically had the ball in his hands the entire second half when it appeared their playoff hopes were evaporating. Had Hays not come back to win that game, the Bullpups would have been district champions regardless of what happened this week.
“Delton, we had a tough time with him last year, both throwing and running,” Young said. “But particularly running. Delton is probably a little more elusive than Williams and he’s probably got a little more speed. They’re both pretty fast in the open field. They (Hays) run similar schemes (to Buhler), but there’s some differences, too.”