The Augusta Orioles probably look at their home football game this Friday against McPherson High as the defining point in their season.
Are they as good as their 3-0 record and No. 8 state ranking indicates? Or has it been a by-product of a tissue-soft schedule that includes lesser-lights Winfield, Clearwater and Circle, which are a combined 1-8 with the only win being Winfield over Circle?
Augusta arrived at this fork in the road last year 3-0 and brimming with confidence when it came into McPherson Stadium. But the Orioles encountered early disaster and were never in it, dismantled 32-0 by halftime and it ended up 41-0.
I chalk that up as somewhat of an aberration. The Orioles were hit with Murphy’s Law as everything they touched turned to lead, as for the Bullpups everything they touched turned to gold.
Like the Bullpups, the Orioles were flush with junior and sophomore starters last year and MHS coach Jace Pavlovich said on film he can see the year’s difference in maturity. And he has stressed over and over to his team that last year’s game has no bearing on Friday, that this is an Augusta team worthy of its state ranking.
The Augusta offense is going to have to help its defense. The Orioles barely moved the ball last year against an MHS unit that also is a year older and more mature. Take away the 65-second meltdown against Maize South and the Bullpup starting D would have back-to-back shutouts. It was sensational last week against Winfield, departing after three quarters after allowing minus-2 yards and no first downs.
Augusta does have a playmaker at quarterback in athletic Chance Whitehead, but if the Bullpups take away his running ability, that forces him to the air where he’s not as effective. MHS, of course, has a dynamite, ball-hawking secondary that permitted just one completion last week.
The Bullpups also have to get over the stigma of struggling in Augusta. The last time they played there they started slow, up only 17-14, before finishing the game strong for a 32-20 victory. Augusta then came into McPherson in 2015 and pinned a 19-13 loss on the Bullpups, which is why last year’s 41-0 score was such a head-scratcher.
I have no doubt the Bullpup defense will be its usual stellar self. This game will be on the MHS offense, which must continue the improvement it showed last week in the rout of Winfield. It was the first time all season it had displayed the desired balance with 248 yards on the ground and 236 through the air.
MHS unveiled a three-headed monster at running back last week with Jace Kinnamon, Austen Hunt and Jakob Feil all taking turns gashing the Winfield defense. But the Orioles’ defense will provide much more resistance and MHS must prove its ground performance last week was the norm after having been silenced for the most part the first two weeks.
The other key is for Kyler Hoppes to get the time he had last week, though I expect much more of a rush. When he gets set, he’s pinpoint. When he’s forced to break the pocket, that’s when things can go wrong.
Given that MHS should be a prohibitive favorite the next two games against Circle and Rose Hill, that’s why this game is so meaningful. The Bullpups want to build up a head of steam heading into district play.
As for the district teams, Abilene is just 1-2 and its defense has been shredded the last two weeks. Wamego also is 1-2 and gave up 50 points last week to Marysville. Hays, at this point appears to be the top contender as it’s 2-1, coming off a 20-0 blanking last week of Liberal. Its lone loss is 29-8 to Scott City.