As far as McPherson High football coach Tom Young is concerned, you can throw out the comparative numbers here Friday night when his 7-2 Bullpups host 3-6 Mulvane in the first round of the Class 4A Division I playoffs.
If you go strictly by the numbers, the Bullpups should roll by a considerable margin when the teams get it on at 7 p.m. at McPherson Stadium.
The Wildcats were just 1-2 in their district while MHS was 3-0, including triumphs over state-ranked powers Buhler and Hays as well as Abilene, which had just broken into the rankings the week they lost to the Bullpups.
"It's been kind of unbelievable," Young said of the district run against teams that came in a combined 17-1. "I'm really proud of our kids for hanging in there. After Game 4 we were 2-2 and even in our two wins we were unimpressive. At that time I didn't even want to think about playing the last three. We knew we had three really good opponents at the end of the year, but we've really improved and kept getting better every week."
Mulvane qualified by winning a tiebreaker from Rose Hill and Wellington, while Ulysses strolled to the district championship, only to earn a first-round game with Buhler.
Among the Wildcats’ losses were a 17-15 decision to El Dorado (a team MHS beat by 39 points) and a 34-6 setback to Buhler (MHS edged the Crusaders 44-42).
"Inexperience was probably their problem early in the year, but they've played better lately," Young said. "They've played some close ones, but haven't played quite well enough to win. We've had three real big games in our district and I guess we're a little worried that we might overlook this team because of their record. We've been warning our guys that we can't take these guys lightly. We've got to take care of business."
The Bullpups, who have won seven in a row since starting the season 0-2, are again expected to be without standout quarterback Kyler Kinnamon, whose separated shoulder has not healed as quickly as had been hoped. However, Cody Starkel eased some of the Bullpup consternation last week when he performed remarkably in leading MHS past Hays, 42-35. Starkel threw for 209 yards, with receivers Payton Stephens and Chris Stoppel both going over the 100-yard mark. Stephens has a team-leading 31 catches for 396 yards and four scores, while Stoppel has 17 catches for 277 yards and two scores.
Running back Ty Hart was in beast mode, plowing for 177 yards on a staggering 35 carries. It may take a similar workload this week, though Young might be able to give Nathan Nutter or Collin Baldwin a few more carries.
Hart now has 624 yards and 11 touchdowns even though he's played running back only half the season. Kinnamon still leads the way with 918 and 11 touchdowns. Nutter has added 371 yards.
Mulvane is no stranger to the Bullpups, as the Wildcats were in AVCTL Division III last year before dropping down to Division IV. The Wildcats had one of the state’s best running backs last year in Michael Mason, who ran roughshod against the Bullpups, but he’s moved on to the collegiate level.
The Wildcats’ chances rely on quarterback RJ Rieger, who has thrown for 1,601 yards and 14 TDs and is the top ground gainer with 564 yards. Control him and you control the Wildcats.
"He's a good scrambler, he's a threat," Young said. "That's the same as we have been facing the last three weeks in particular. I don't think he has quite the speed as the last two we faced, but he's a good quarterback, a good solid player. To stop them, you have to stop him, he's the playmaker."
Ethan Evans and Jaden Delaney have been excellent receivers. The MHS pass defense is no stranger to top passers, having faced All-State quarterbacks Jace Williams of Buhler and Alex Delton of Hays the last two weeks.
With a victory, the Bullpups would face either Topeka Hayden or Coffeyville next week. Hayden is a strong favorite in that game, though Coffeyville made it to the state championship game last year, only to lose to Buhler. The Nado, however, are only 3-6 on the year.
If Hayden wins, MHS would be the host. A Coffeyville win and it would be the host.