"It was an experience, probably one of the funnest games I've played in."
EL DORADO — Playing before a capacity crowd at BG Products Veterans Sports Complex on the campus of Butler County Community College in El Dorado Saturday night, McPherson's Jack Reifschneider and Jared Ruth were part of an amazing one-point victory by the West squad in the 2017 Kansas Shrine Bowl. With just one minute left in the game West's Zach Helbing, with an assist by Tanner Orand, sacked East's quarterback Brandon Mlekus for a safety to give the West a dramatic, come-from-behind victory 22-21.
Reifschneider and Ruth were alternate selections to the game but that did not keep them off the field, as both former Bullpups started and played a majority of the snaps on offense throughout the night, with Reifschneider also manning a spot on the kickoff team. Reifschneider finished the game with three catches for 38 yards, while Ruth was credited for his outstanding effort protecting the West quarterbacks from the blindside, left tackle position.
"It was an experience, probably one of the funnest games I've played in," Ruth said. "It was an honor to play in that game, being an all-star game and doing it for a good cause."
"It was crazy, so amazing," said Reifschneider. "We practiced hard all week and we didn't want the game to end on a fumble when we were driving down to win. Luckily they had some unsportsmanlike conduct calls so it pushed them back and our defense didn't give up and it felt great that we came out on top."
The West opened the scoring with 5:55 left in the first quarter on a 41-yard touchdown pass from Jacob Murray to Kaden Davis. The Murray run for the two-point conversion failed and the West led 6-0.
Four and a half minutes later Zach Esau would score on a one-yard quarterback keeper capping off an eight play, 35-yard West drive. Esau's pass to Murray for the two-point conversion was good to give the West a 14-0 lead with 1:25 left to play in the first quarter.
The East struck back with just before halftime as Dalton Cowan would find Cuttar Huss on an 18-yard TD pass on a four play, 25-yard drive that took only 24 seconds. The Bryce Steffens kick was good for the point after touchdown for a halftime score of 14-7 West.
Just under two and 1/2 minutes into the third quarter the East would tie things up on a 73-yard run by J.J. Letcher on their first play from scrimmage in the second half. Steffens kick was good to knot the score at 14.
The East would took their first lead of the game five minutes later on a Mlekus 3-yard run on the eighth play of a 68-yard drive that took just 3:19 off the clock. Once again Steffens point after touchdown kick was good to give the East a 21-14 lead.
Hesston's Esau led the West on an eight play, 79-yard drive topped off by a 7-yard TD pass to Dylan Foos with 1:37 left to play in the third quarter. Esau's rush for the PAT failed and left the West a point back going into the final period.
Neither team would score over the next 12 minutes, despite the East getting inside the red zone before an illegal chop-block pushed them back and ultimately ended their drive on a turn over on downs. After the West fumble and two dead ball unsportsmanlike calls against the East, the stage was set for the dramatic finish.
With too much time left on the clock to run it out, East's quarterback Mlekus would line up in the shotgun formation in his own end zone and barely get out on the what fans thought was a safety on the first play. A bad snap on the next play would send Mlekus scrambling to his left before being caught by Helbing, who was credited with the sack and the safety, to give West its game winning margin.
"This was the wildest finish I have even seen in a Shrine Bowl," said McPherson head football coach Jace Pavlovich. "I couldn't be more proud of how Jack and Jared played all week. They are examples of what our program stands for and there was a ton of McPherson people there to cheer on our Bullpups in action one last time."
Other than the West win, the highlight of the Shrine Bowl week for the players, cheerleaders and band members was to meet some of the Shriners Hospital for Children patients, as well as, participate in the Shrine Bowl parade through the streets of El Dorado.
"It helped to actually go to the hospital and actually put faces to the cause," stated Reifschneider. "you can think about some of the kids that you met and during the game you know you're not going through what they're going through. They have it way worse than we do and it just puts it all in perspective more getting to know them."
Proceeds from the 44th Kansas Shrine Bowl game once again went to raise funds and awareness for the for the network of 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children. Since it's inception, the Kansas Shrine Bowl has not only been promoting Kansas talent but has raised over $2.5 million for Shriners' kids. Next year's game will be hosted by the East squad and take place in Pittsburg.
Contact Matt Cole by email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @MacSentinel.