McPherson head coach Jace Pavlovich was most pleased with winning the game in all three phases — offense, defense, and special teams.
MAIZE SOUTH — During the past two seasons, only one team has scored more than 30 points against the McPherson High School defense. Friday night, the Bullpups sent that team home for the year.
During that two year stretch, McPherson was 17-4 entering Friday night. The last three McPherson losses have all come at the hands of Maize South, including the Bullpups’ only loss of this season — a 9-0 defensive battle on Sept. 8.
It’s safe to say the Bullpups were determined to give Maize South some payback.
For the second straight season, McPherson and Maize South squared off in the Class 4A-I quarterfinals, but unlike last year’s 35-27 season-ending loss, the Bullpups were in full command from the get-go.
The Bullpups scored 21 unanswered points to upend the Mavericks, 28-7, and book a ticket to the state semifinals. The Bullpups (10-1) will host undefeated Andale next Friday at McPherson Stadium. Maize South concludes its season with a 9-2 record.
While the defense will get most of the credit, deservingly so, McPherson head coach Jace Pavlovich was most pleased with winning the game in all three phases — offense, defense, and special teams.
“We’ve been riding our defense all season long,” Pavlovich said. “Our defensive coaches did a tremendous job putting our kids in the best position to win versus their schemes, and our guys executed it very well. We put a big emphasis on special teams, and we put our best guys out there. I was very pleased with all three phases of the game.”
The first Maize South possession set the tone for the McPherson defense. Lining up in the shotgun on third down, the snap went over the head of Maize South quarterback Ryan Grabman, causing a loose ball that was recovered by McPherson senior Gunnar Reiss at the Maize South three-yard line. It took McPherson three plays to gain three yards, but senior Drew Labertew was able to punch it in on third and goal to give the Bullpups a 7-0 lead with 7:35 remaining in the quarter.
Maize South would get a legitimate scoring chance later in the first quarter off a muffed McPherson punt return. Maize South recovered the fumble and took over at the McPherson 29. Maize South lost one yard over the next three plays, forcing a fourth and 11. The Mavericks went for it and gained 12 yards on a pass over the middle.
However, the McPherson defense stood tall from there, forcing another fourth and long that the Mavericks were not able to convert.
Midway through the second quarter, Reiss picked off Grabman in Maize South territory, and the Bullpups had a golden opportunity to go up two scores. But the Bullpups were only able to gain one yard, and elected to punt from the Maize South 38. Jace Kinnamon pinned Maize South at the 13-yard line, and with the way the McPherson defense was playing, it seemed the Bullpups were in good shape.
On the ensuing Maize South drive, the Mavericks completed a 65-yard pass play down the sideline on third down. The very next play, Maize South running back Max Domnick ran right up the middle, nearly untouched, for a 26-yard touchdown. The extra point was good, and the game was tied at seven with 3:27 left in the half.
What little momentum Maize South captured on the touchdown was soon lost on the following kickoff.
McPherson senior Ben Nikkel nearly took the kickoff back for six, but was chased down and tackled at the Maize South five-yard line. The next play, Kinnamon ran the ball in to give the Bullpups back the lead at 14-7.
Despite not gaining a single first down in the opening half, the Bullpups led 14-7 at the break.
McPherson added to its lead midway through the third, as junior quarterback Kyler Hoppes found junior wide receiver Chandler Wiard on a 27-yard touchdown pass. The drive was set up by a Gabe Hoover fumble recovery on a muffed Maize South punt.
Two minutes later, senior Austen Hunt took his first carry of the night for a touchdown on an eight-yard run. Up 28-7 late in the third quarter, the Bullpups rode their defense to the finish line.
“I should have opened [the passing game] up a bit more, but when our defense is playing lights out like that, we can just keep the clock running and count on those guys to get it done,” Pavlovich said.
The road to a state championship does not get any easier for McPherson. Andale (11-0) has not lost a game since Nov. 4, 2016, when Labertew kicked a game winning field goal to lift McPherson to a 21-20 playoff win over the Indians.
“We can’t wait to get back into the office tomorrow and get to work,” Pavlovich said. “It’s my wife’s birthday, but there’s no place I’d rather be and there’s no place she’d rather me be than in the office, getting our kids ready to play football.”
Game time at McPherson Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m. The winner of McPherson and Andale will face the winner of Bishop Miege (11-0) and De Soto (10-1) for a state championship.