McPherson High’s football team has a chance to venture where no Bullpup team has ever ventured before.
The Bullpups will be playing for a spot in the Class 4A Division I state championship game here Friday when they host Andale in the semifinals.
Kickoff at McPherson Stadium is 7 p.m., with gates opening at 5:30. For those unable to make it, catch all the action on 96.7 KBBE-FM with Voice of the Bullpups Jim Joyner on the call, with pre-game at 6:30.
In 2008 MHS participated in a semifinal game, losing to Hutchinson 42-21 in a 5A clash after outlasting Bishop Carroll and future NFL player Blake Bell 20-14 in the quarterfinals.
But with grind-it-out wins over Buhler (15-14 in overtime) and Maize South (28-7 despite just 4 first downs), the Bullpups are one step away from probably meeting Bishop Miege for the state championship on Thanksgiving weekend Saturday in Topeka.
“We’ve had a great week of practice,” said MHS coach Jace Pavlovich, whose team has won nine straight to improve to 10-1 overall. “The guys are focused and excited. We’re ready to go. This has been a long week for everybody. We just want to get out there and play a game.”
Andale is 11-0 (including a 17-6 win over Buhler) and has been a prolific offensive team. It has scored at least 50 points on four occasions and hasn’t been tested in its first two playoff games, routing Wamego (64-13) and Andover Central (40-10).
“It’s no secret what makes Andale so good every year. They have a bunch of tough kids that work very hard,” Pavlovich said. “They are very well coached. It should be a great football game.”
It’s going to be strength against strength. Andale crushes it on the ground and has a bevy of backs it employs, the best being Sawyer Simon, who needs 30 yards to reach 1,000. Strangely, Andale also uses two quarterbacks, but Ethan Baalman will get the call, with Easton Hunter his caddy. Hunt also plays wide receiver.
“Offensively, it’s a unique beast and it’s strange, but their quarterback sneak play is one of their best plays,” Pavlovich said. “They force you to plug “A” gaps up and that helps them off tackle then.”
MHS, of course, has been one of the best teams in the state against the run. Teams have very seldom cracked the 100-yard barrier, with most success against the MHS defense coming with the pass. Baalman has thrown for 609 yards and 7 scores, while Hunt has thrown for 234 yards and 5 scores.
“We can’t tell the difference between the two, they’re both very good,” Pavlovich said. “They’re both great athletes and make great decisions.”
Last year’s first-round playoff game between the teams was memorable as a 27-yard Drew Labertew field goal with 13 seconds left in the game decided the outcome, 21-20. It was a hammer-and-tong game throughout with both teams delivering haymakers.
Pavlovich said a key will be for the MHS offense to run some clock. The Bullpups were held to less than 200 yards last week and also scored just one touchdown the week before in regulation against Buhler.
“Defensively they’re a 3-4. They’ve changed, they’ve been a 4-3 for years,” Pavlovich said. “They changed to a 3-4 and I believe they’ve made that change in preparation to play us. It’s a good change and they do some really good things out of it. We’re going to have to be ready to run the football. We’ve got to have success on the ground.”
Pavlovich said with a balmy forecast in the offing, the crowd could be one of the biggest in MHS history.
“We’ve had so many great games in the last 13 years,” Pavlovich said. “This one has to be the best atmosphere on Friday. We expect a huge crowd. The community has been great all year and our kids deserve to play in an atmosphere like we’re going to play in Friday night.”
A bonus for MHS is that starting defensive back Honestee Whittker is back after missing several games with a broken thumb. Kaleb Hoppes has been outstanding in his stead and Pavlovich said both will play on Friday.
The other semifinal game matches Miege and DeSoto, but that figures to be little more than a formality. Miege already has routed DeSoto this season and many of those “in the know” believe Miege could win any class, be it 5A or 6A.