McPherson and Maize South have played three times within the last year, with all three games going the distance, and all three games going to Maize South.

MAIZE SOUTH — McPherson and Maize South have played three times within the last year, with all three games going the distance, and all three games going to Maize South.

After Friday’s 9-0 loss at Maize South, the Bullpups have an extremely manageable schedule the rest of the season. The loss to Maize South no doubt left its mark on the team, but this veteran group knows exactly how to respond.

Last season, the Bullpups dropped their first two games before rallying off eight straight wins en route to the quarterfinals of the playoffs. With many of the same faces on this year’s team, expect the Bullpups to respond positively starting with Winfield next Friday.

But as head coach Jace Pavlovich emphasized, his team still has a long way to go in reaching its potential.

“Bottom line was we weren’t ready to play, and that’s my job,” Pavlovich said. “We have to get better offensively, particularly up front to give ourselves a chance to beat a team this good. Our defense was amazing; we put them in bad positions all night and they responded well.”

There were both positives and negatives in Friday’s loss. The McPherson High defense was phenomenal and gave the team every chance they could to win the game. The McPherson High offense had its moments, but was too inconsistent and failed to put points on the board.

The Bullpups had their best scoring chance of the night on their opening possession, as they marched right down the field, converted on two third downs, and found themselves inside the Maize South 10-yard line. However, the Bullpups were stuffed on fourth and goal, and the Mavericks took over at their own six-yard line.

After a couple Maize South first downs on the ensuing drive, Drew Labertew picked off his second pass of the season in Maize South territory. The Bullpups were unable to cash in on the turnover, as Labertew’s 40-yard field goal sailed left, despite having the leg.

It was a battle of field position from there, as neither team had any scoring chances until late in the second half.

The biggest sequence of the game came with under two minutes remaining in the half. Facing fourth and five from the McPherson 40, Maize South elected to punt the ball to pin the Bullpups deep. They did just that, as they were able to down the ball at the one-yard line. However, it wasn’t without a little controversy, as the Maize South player who downed the ball clearly had one foot in the end zone when he made contact with the ball. Pavlovich pleaded with the officials for a touchback, but the call on the field stood.

Two plays later, quarterback Kyler Hoppes was tackled in the end zone on a quarterback sneak for the game’s first points with 1:05 remaining in the half. If the Bullpups could have made it to halftime only down 2-0, the second half would have taken on a completely different complexion.

But that was not the case. Maize South marched down the field to the McPherson 11-yard line with five seconds remaining. The final play of the half ended up being the dagger as Maize South scored on a touchdown pass with no time remaining on the clock. The extremely important extra point connected, making it 9-0 and a two possession game.

It’s not often one punt has such a large impact on a game, but but in this case it certainly was a game-changer.

“I thought the tip of the ball got in the end zone, and [the referees] thought otherwise,” Pavlovich said. “We got beat in all three phases of the game tonight. Defensively we played well enough to win the game — those guys played tremendous all night with the one exception right before halftime.”

The second half was headlined by a gutsy performance from the McPherson High defense, but the offense simply was not able to pick up the slack. The Bullpups reached the red zone only once in the second half, but the drive stalled on a costly personal foul penalty.

Pavlovich credited a great Maize South defense, but also admitted his offense played nowhere near his expectations.

“We’ll put our nose to the grindstone tomorrow and get better,” Pavlovich said. “A lot of times we put ourselves in a passing only situation, and their defensive line is very good.”

At 1-1, the Bullpups are still in great shape for the rest of the year. The Bullpups should be favored in the remainder of their games, but Pavlovich will no doubt have his team focused solely on next Friday’s home opener against Winfield.

“Our guys understand that we have to get a lot better for Winfield on Friday,” Pavlovich said.

The Bullpups host Winfield at 7 p.m. on Friday. Winfield is 1-1 on the year with a loss at Augusta and a win vs. Circle.