This is it.
The big one.
Tonight is the third time McPherson High’s football team has played for a spot in the state championship game. The Bullpups host Andale in the Class 4A Division I semifinals at McPherson Stadium, with kickoff at 7 p.m. Gates open at 5:30.
After a double-check, I had forgotten that MHS had played in the 1987 semifinals against Kapaun. What threw me off is that there was one less round that year, so teams had to only win one game to make the semis as the playoffs were eight-team affairs, not 16 as they are now.
The Bullpups also advanced in 2008, losing to Hutchinson after upsetting Bishop Carroll in the quarterfinals.
Both of those previous playoff appearances were in Class 5A.
The Bullpups have Class 4A’s No. 1-ranked scoring defense. Andale has the No. 2 scoring offense, trailing only mighty Bishop Miege, which averages 50 points a game even though its starters often haven’t had to play deep into games.
So tonight it’s strength vs. strength. Andale lines up and runs the ball right at you. Teams have been trying to do that all year against the Bullpups, but find themselves ramming their heads against a wall.
Oddly, one of the most potent plays for the Indians is the quarterback sneak. They often break the huddle, run to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball on first sound. They try to catch the defense before it’s set.
Also, Andale has the propensity to throw the halfback pass, which it may do two or three times a game. It is hoping to lull the defense into thinking it’s running a sweep, then the back pulls up and throws. MHS’ outstanding corners Ben Nikkel and Tyson Stites are going to have to be aware as it’s a play that’s been an Andale staple for years.
I believe the key to MHS’ success isn’t going to be its defense, but its offense. The Bullpups scored just one touchdown in regulation two weeks ago against Buhler, then last week was held to less than 200 yards against Maize South, taking advantage of turnovers and special teams to score 28 as its four scoring drives didn’t even total 100 yards.
MHS was able to run the ball effectively last year against Andale. Then-quarterback Casen Hoover had the best rushing game of his career with 161 yards and this year’s 1,000-yard rusher Jace Kinnamon added 141 as the Bullpups chewed up 334 yards on the ground. MHS also had 102 yards through the air as it pierced the Andale defense for 436 yards. It ran a whopping 73 plays to just 50 for Andale and accumulated 25 first downs to just 9 for the Indians.
Yet even with the wide statistical edge, MHS needed a 27-yard Drew Labertew field goal with 13 seconds left for a 21-20 victory, moving the Bullpups into the second round where they lost to Maize South, 35-27.
I think MHS having played two games where the outcome was in doubt until the fourth quarter gives it an edge going into tonight. Andale hasn’t been tested yet and you just wonder how it will react if it falls behind.
I look for a game very similar to last year. But there just seems to be something magical about this Bullpup team this year.
Prediction: McPherson 21, Andale 14.