McPherson High School found out the hard way why Andale is in the conversation for the Class 4A State Football Championship just from the opening kick off.
The Bullpups could only watch in shock as Andale Junior Hunter Knoblauch raced down the right sideline 96 yards for the game’s first score only 15 seconds into the game.
“They’re very, very good,” MHS coach Tom Young said of Andale. “And very physical. They’ve got skilled people that, if you don’t get a great tackle on them, you don’t grab cloth, they’re going to break tackles and score some big ones.”
Knoblauch and senior quarterback Jared Smarsh would combine for 236 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, as the Indians ended McPherson’s season in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs 36-7.
“I thought our kids fought hard,” Young said. “We had a lot of good defensive plays. Unfortunately, we could probably figure seven or eight where they got loose on us.”
The Indians (11-0) scored twice more in the first half, both off short runs of one and seven yards by Smarsh, though those scores were more of a result of field position than any big plays given up by the Bullpups. At the end of the first half, they had held Smarsh and Knoblauch relatively quiet, with only 19 and 30 yards, respectively.
The Indian defense did what they could to contain junior quarterback Kyler Kinnamon, but the explosive back managed to find a hole and blast loose on a 39-yard touchdown run with 5:19 left in the first half for what turned out to be McPherson’s only score of the game.
MHS had an opportunity to close the gap to 12 points with 90 seconds to go before the intermission after a defensive stand on their own 11, but a TJ Stites 30-yard field goal missed its mark and went into the locker room down 22-7.
Andale put the dagger in with consecutive long touchdown runs in the third quarter, as Knoblauch raced in to the end zone from 57 yards out and Smarsh added a 63 yarder not 90 seconds later.
“We kind of fell apart a little bit in the third quarter,” Young said. “It just seemed like we were a half-step slow. I don’t know if we were getting tired or what it was. But credit [Andale]. They’re a very good team, and they probably played one of the better defensive games against us.”
The Indians now move on to face Holton in what is, perhaps, the true Class 4A championship game, as the two teams are Nos. 1 and 2 in the state. That sectional game will be played in Holton Friday night.
Page 2 of 2 - Andale out-gained the Pups on offense 408-323. The rush game was the bread-and-butter of both teams, as McPherson picked up 266 yards, while the Indians claimed 330.
Stites finished out his Bullpup career with 123 yards on 23 carries Saturday, the majority of which came in the second half.
For the season, he garnered 1,170 yards on the ground on 167 carries with six touchdowns, an incredible feat in only seven games.
Kinnamon added 121 yard on 14 tries, including a long run of 56 yards. He also had 57 passing yards on 6-of-15 completions. For the season, Kinnamon finished with 1,662 yards rushing, solidifying his hold on the single-season MHS rushing record that he had broken Nov. 5 against Clay Center. He also had 1,154 yards passing total.
McPherson finishes the year at 6-5 after something of a rollercoaster season, both on the field and on the injury front.
“There were times we really played well,” Young said, “and other times we didn’t. I thought [the team] really learned a lot, and really learned a lot about competing. They really competed hard here at the end.”
The Bullpups will say goodbye to 11 seniors, including most of the offensive line in Garrett Larson, Andy Zeitlow, Devon Ronsee and Kyler Jost. Junior Michael McKinney will be the lone returning lineman in 2014, when the Pups will make the shift to Class 4A Division I.
Also graduating after this year will be Daniel Dick, Collin Harvey, Jose Gloria, Anthony Jarvis, Jermyn Bryant and Daniel Weins.
“This is a really good bunch of kids,” Young said. “I’ve said that all year. Sometimes we weren’t playing great football, but I’ve never been upset at them for attitudes or anything like that. They’ve been a hard working bunch and they’ve always strived to get better.”
And get better they did, as Young pointed out this was a senior class that had only won one game as freshmen.
“If you think about it,” Young said, “that senior-led team was competing for a regional championship. That’s not a bad accomplishment. They’ve come a long ways.”
Contact Chris Swick by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @SwickSentinel.