Third times a charm.

The McPherson High School football team returns to the Class 4A State Semifinals for the third time in a row after a 26-6 victory over Arkansas City High School in the quarterfinals on Friday night.

The Bullpups didn't have a problem moving the ball offensively in the first quarter, especially being in a good-field position in the first two drives due to the Bulldogs punting no further than 20 yards near the 50.

Struggling to the reach the end zone, placekicker Drew Schrader had a busy night, making all four of his field-goal attempts. Three came in the first half as McPherson led the Bulldogs 9-0 at halftime in a defensive battle.

"It just takes a lot of pressure off of us, first off," McPherson's coach Jace Pavlovich said "When you've got a guy that's automatic there… he's a tremendous asset to have."

The defense once again made their mark as they held Ark. City scoreless in the first three quarters. The Bulldogs counted on their freshman quarterback Gabe Welch to rally on offense as he threw for 226 yards, completed 19 of 31 of his passes and a rushing touchdown late in the fourth quarter to avoid a shutout. Pavlovich was impressed by the freshman's performance, knowing that McPherson could likely see him again for the next three years.

"He doesn't have a lot of zip on it, but he was able to throw from the far hash to near sidelines. They're not too many guys that do that, let alone freshmen."

McPherson's also came away with two game-changing interceptions by Brycen Labertew. One of Labertew's interception came off a batted assist from cornerback Jayden Dukes in the second quarter. Labertew just happened to be in the right spot during that play.

"I was chasing the ball and (Jayden) Dukes literally passed it to my hands, and when I caught it, I was like 'shoot, I got to start running,'" Labertew said. "It was just an awesome moment."

McPherson's offense finally got going three minutes into the third quarter. Quarterback Kaleb Hoppes threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to future Kansas State tight end, Cody Stufflebean, to give the Bullpups a 16-0 lead.

With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Ark. City started to find life after a one-yard QB sneak by Welch but failed on a two-point conversion which could've made it a one-possession game. They then took a gamble on kickoff when they recovered an onside kick. As Welch tried to orchestrate another scoring drive, he got boxed in by Stufflebean and Ryder Peterson on third down at the 55-yard line. Stufflebean had two sacks at defensive end to go along with his touchdown catch on offense.

The Bullpups closed the deal with a one-yard run by Jakob Feil, who rushed for 97 yards on 23 carries. Frustration took a toll on Ark. City when two players got ejected for two minor altercations late in the fourth. McPherson handled it with ease, unlike NFL's Thursday night football game.

"I couldn't be more proud of the toughness and grit that we showed tonight." Pavlovich said. "We also handled ourselves with class, and that's something that we worked on. Our guys are smart enough to understand that we got a lot more to play for, and I know Coach (Jon) Wiemers is doing a good job on his end trying to control their guys. It's somewhat understandable."

The Bullpups will now face their toughest test of them all. After a 31-14 win over Buhler High School, Second-seed Andover Central High School will head over to McPherson Stadium in the semifinals next Friday at 7 p.m

Contact Peter Holland Jr. by email at pholland@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow him on Twitter@Petes_Picks_