The McPherson High School football is on the verge of another 8-0 regular season as the Bullpups travel to Towanda to take on Circle High School on Friday.
Both offense and defense have been up and down all year, but what has been consistent, especially in the last three games, is the special teams. Something Bullpups Head coach Jace Pavlovich takes seriously, and it has been a momentum changer.
"We have great athletes, No. 1, across the board. We don't treat special teams as just a secondary group," Pavlovich said. We put some of our best folks out there. All of our special team units have been important to us."
The return game has been deadly for the Bullpups led by Jakob Feil and Aaron Powell. In two straight games, Powell has scored on a kickoff return. At Augusta High School, he ran 85 yards, and against Rose Hill, it was 88 yards.
"I think it's pretty big to have guys who can block for Jakob Feil and me," Powell said. Each week it has been a beautiful hole for me to run through. We're just going out there, having fun and doing our jobs.
Me and Jakob Feil, we take it as just wanting to do it for the team. Each week we said, let's take one back for each other. We're not looking at it as competition. We're just looking at it just to be fun and being in the endzone together as a team."
While for Feil, his only punt return touchdown was a memorable one when he broke tackles and ran 58-yards against Augusta. Yet, he still puts the offense in good field position while averaging 8.3 yards per return. As electrifying the two weapons are, the real MVPs goes to the rest of the 10 blockers in front of the two.
"We have great returners, obviously, in the kicking game, but what you notice on film is that they are not getting touched," Pavlovich said. "Our front 10 are getting the jobs done. It's one of those things where you may be on the frontline at kickoff, and your name is not going to get called for a big touchdown run, these guys have been pretty unselfish upfront, and they are taking care of their jobs, and that's allowing our athletes to simply be athletes in space."
Other memorable moments on special teams included two blocked punts by Stufflebean against Abilene and Winfield which result to a two touchdown drives. Mason Thrash caught an interception after Rose Hill went for a fake punt attempt.
We can't forget about McPherson's reliable placekicker, Drew Schrader. Last week he went 4-of-4 in PATs and nailed a 24-yard field goal with strong winds blowing late in the fourth quarter against Rose Hill. A soccer player at heart, but Pavlovich believes that Schrader should be a kicker on the football field as he continues to improve each week.
"He's relaxed. He's a gifted kid with a ton of talents, but I understand coming out on a football game on Friday night, it's a pretty big stage, especially at home," Pavlovich said. "He's a college kicker. He has the ability to be a college kicker if he wants to be. Had we had a kid like that last year, we're in the state championship game. He's a kid that has a football mentally, and the kids love him and love being around him. (I) Wish we had him for all four years."
Stufflebean a game-time decision
Cody Stufflebean sat out in last week's win over Rose Hill as he still recovering from a knee injury. Stufflebean has been practicing all week, but according to Pavlovich, he is still a game-time decision.
"Cody can play Friday. I'll tell you that right now," Pavlovich said. "Whether we suit him up or not, I'm not for sure, but he is available."
Stufflebean had a minor knee injury during the Augusta game. Stufflebean has been healthy for all four years with the Bullpups. The reason is because of his work ethic in the weight room.
"That's a credit to him in what he has done in SPS because if you look at our track record for our kids over the last 15 years, we only had two ACLs (injuries), and both of them were a fluke on contact situations. The work he has done in the last five years early at SPS is the reason he's already back on the field."
Whether or not Stufflebean suits up or not, the Bullpups have depth on the defensive line that can fill in. Jonah Clarke took more snaps on the defensive end and recorded two sacks against Rose Hill. Curtis Landrum, who earned the starting job on the opposite end of Stufflebean earlier this season, is fifth in tackles and has two tackles-for-loss. Add a healthy Matt Ramey in the mix, Pavlovich has no reason to rush Stufflebean back in the lineup on their season finale.
"We have guys who can get it done, and that's what puts us over the top is we got next guys," Pavlovich said. "Someone who goes own, we got two or three more guys that we can plug in there and they'll play the ball very well."
Circle is going into Friday's game with a 1-6 record. The first three games were shutout losses, and its' only win came against El Dorado High School, 25-12. Since then, the Thunderbirds struggled to put points on the board. Most can assume this will be an automatic win for the Bullpups, earning them their back-to-back 8-0 season. For the Bullpups, it's an opportunity to focus on themselves and look to stay sharp before the start of the postseason.
"For one, we know they are well-coached," Pavlovich said. "Coach (Logan) Clothier does a great job with what he gots. They don't have tremendous depth right now, but their top 11 is good. So it might be one of those things where they do well in the first half, but then we'll throw fresh bodies at you, and we'll have guys that are disciplined and are physically capable of doing things. So it might be a good game in the first half, but we really expect to roll in the second."
Kickoff for the McPherson-Circle game will begin at 7 p.m.
Contact Peter Holland Jr. by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@Petes_Picks_