SALINA — Back-to-back.
It has a nice sound to it for the McPherson fifth-grade football team.
The Jr. Bullpups captured their second straight Super Bowl championship on Saturday with a thrilling 20-13 comeback victory over the Salina Junior Mustangs.
McPherson finished the season 8-0, just as it did last year as fourth-graders.
This one summoned up all of the team’s willpower. Down 13-0 at the half, McPherson started its comeback early in the second half with a weaving 65-yard TD run by quarterback Kaiser Kanitz.
Kanitz then came up with a key defensive play late in the third quarter when he intercepted a pass. That led to a drive that was capped by a 9-yard Cooper Reves TD run.
The game wound up going into overtime. McPherson was on offense first and scored on third down when Kanitz vaulted into the end zone from the 3, sprung by a crushing block by Reves.
Then on defense, the Junior Mustangs couldn’t score as cornerback Jett Pyle made a game-saving tackle at the 2.
“We didn't have the greatest game all season, we came out flat and were punched in the mouth early by the Mustangs,” McPherson coach Trapper Buettgenbach said. “The boys were faced with some adversity for the first time all season and we got to see just what they were made of in the end. This is a special group of kids who never seem to give up and always continue to fight through everything.”
He said the team had a soul-searching halftime conversation and came out with a purpose.
“We talked at halftime about having heart and finishing the season by putting it all out there on the line,” Buettgenbach said. “They did that in the second half and were able to get what they have been talking about all season long and that was a championship. Ultimately they went out and took back what was theirs on Saturday and that is special to see at any age level. We believe our boys have taken that next step, they aren't just hungry to play regular-season games, they are hungry to win football championships and that is a huge for any youth program."
Kanitz finished the season with more 1,800 yards rushing and more 1,000 yards passing to go along with his 25 touchdowns. Cade Strathman finished with more than 300 yards rushing, almost 500 yards receiving and 6 touchdowns. Reves and Aaron Winter had almost 300 yards rushing on the season and Reves had 3 TDs of his own. Pyle was second on the team receiving with almost 300 yards, doubling his total from last year. The Junior Pups also had 11 players with multiple receptions this season.