"It's a good win for us and a great win for our program."
BUHLER — Punch, counterpunch, punch again. No, it was not a heavyweight title bout, it was McPherson versus Buhler to open the 2017 high school football season. This game lived up to its pregame hype, and then some, with McPherson prevailing 33-21.
After a scoreless first quarter, the second quarter was all McPherson, as they scored three times while making one point after touchdown to lead at halftime 19-0. The Crusaders came out of the locker room and grabbed the momentum back from Mac with a touchdown drive that ate up almost six minutes off the clock and another quick scored two minutes later after an interception to close the score to 19-14.
McPherson would answer back just before the end of the third quarter and again four minutes into the fourth to extend the lead to 33-14. Buhler was not done yet as they took less than three minutes to put another touchdown on the board to close within 12 points at 33-21 but that was all the scoring there'd be from either team as Pups fans celebrated the road victory.
"It was a great win," exclaimed McPherson Head Coach Jace Pavlovich. "A lot of these kids have been playing since their sophomore year and it's just a great win. We executed when we needed to execute. Offensively we didn't take care of the ball the way we should but when a team stacks the box like they did we knew we were going to have to throw the ball and get them out of it. We did that tonight. Defensively the whole night we just played so well. It's a good win for us and a great win for our program."
McPherson's first score came on a 6-yard pass from Kyler Hoppes to Ben Nikkel just over a minute into the second quarter. Drew Labertew's point after kick was good and the Bullpups led 7-0.
Eight minutes later Hoppes scored on a quarterback keeper from inside the one. An errant snap caused holder Ben Nikkel to try to run in the point after but he failed and McPherson's lead stood at 13-0.
The Pups then got the ball back with just 19 seconds left in the half and most people thought they down it and go into the locker room satisfied with a 13-point lead. But Pavlovich called for a short screen pass to the left, Hoppes got it to Tayln Huff, who then raced 50 yards down the Mac sideline, crossing the goal line with just six seconds on the clock. The two-point conversion failed as McPherson extended their lead to 19-0 at the break.
Buhler would receive the kick to start the second half and whatever coach Steve Warner said to the Crusaders in the locker room must have had an impact. Buhler marched down field on a 69-yard scoring drive that ate up over five and 1/2 minutes off the clock, capped off by Dalton Brown 1-yard run. Braden Rose's point after kick was good, making it a 19-7 Bullpups lead.
Two minutes later, after a Ben Epp interception, the Crusaders went to Brown again, who scored on a 1-yard run. Rose's kick was good and Buhler was within five at 19-14.
Another McPherson turnover, this time on a fumble, gave Buhler the ball and a chance to take their first lead of the night. They marched down inside the one yard line, where they faced a fourth down and goal. A Brown run to the right side was stuffed by McPherson and the Crusaders were denied the lead.
McPherson, facing a third and 10, with the ball still sitting inside the one yard line, completed a 94-yard pass to Chandler Wiard down the Buhler five. Hoppes then found Gabe Hoover in the end zone on a short pass as the momentum swung back to Mac. Labertew's point after was true and McPherson's lead was 26-14.
McPherson's defense forced a Buhler punt on their next possession and Chandler Wiard made them pay. He took the Rose punt and raced down the right side 59 yards for the score. Another Labertew point after kick gave the Pups a 19-point lead at 33-14.
The final score of the night was by the Crusaders. Ben Epps called his own number and scampered 12 yards into the end zone on a draw play. Rose's kick was good to make it 33-21 Pups. Each team touched the ball once more but, the clock ran out and the visitor's celebration began.
Hoppes was 11 of 18 for 260 yards throwing, with three touchdowns and two picks. He also had seven yards on four carries with a TD on the ground. Jace Kinnamon was the workhorse back for Mac, though he only had 14 carries for 12 yards. Many of his early carries were for plus yardage, keeping the Crusaders honest and allow Mac to pass. Several of his late touches were to possess the ball and eat up the clock, but resulted in negative yards on the stat sheet.
Wiard led all Bullpups receivers with five catches for 154 yards. Nikkel had two receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown, while Huff added two catches for 48 yards and a score. Gabe Hoover was the leading scorer for McPherson with a five-yard reception and a 59-yard punt return for touchdowns.
Drew Labertew as good on three extra points and had a key interception late in the game to seal the victory for the Pups. No other defensive stats were available at press time.
McPherson travels to Maize South next week for another top-five match up. Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Maize South High School.
Contact Matt Cole by email at email@example.com and follow him at Twitter @MacSentinel.