McPHERSON — The current McPherson High School senior class is very familiar with playoff success.


For the fourth straight season, the Bullpups are headed to the state semifinals after defeating Buhler 28-21 on Friday night at McPherson Stadium. Despite reaching the semifinals the past three seasons, the Bullpups have never appeared in a football state-title game.


The Bullpups will have a chance to get the monkey off its back next Friday when they host Ark City. McPherson head coach Jace Pavlovich said his team will enjoy the Buhler win for now, but will quickly turn its attention to the Bulldogs.


"Bottom line is we had opportunities to make plays, and when we needed them most, we made them," Pavlovich said. "That was a really good football team on the other side and coach [Steve] Warner does a tremendous job coaching those guys up."


Friday’s Class 4A quarterfinal was a rematch of an Oct. 9 game that McPherson won 18-6. Warner believes his team competed much better the second time around, and that his team improved as the season progressed.


The Crusaders end the season with a 6-4 record.


"I thought our kids competed very hard, and I’m very proud of the effort," Warner said. "Coaches on defense did a great job and I thought we made some good adjustments.


"It was a great football game that came down to the fourth quarter, and we just didn’t get it done."


McPherson’s 18 points against Buhler in the regular season and 28 on Friday night were its two lowest scoring totals of the season.


"We put pressure on their quarterback, and our defensive backs have improved so much over the season," Warner said. "We only returned two starters on defense this season. It took us a while, we had some growing pains, but I thought by the end of the year we became a solid football team."


The Crusaders did their most damage defending the run, as the Bullpups rushed for 77 yards on 33 attempts.


"Buhler was putting seven in the box so we brought in our pro set, our two tight-end set, and with that many bodies it’s almost like football in a phone booth," Pavlovich said.


The McPherson passing attack, led by senior quarterback Dylan Rinker, had too many weapons to be denied.


Rinker completed a 52-yard touchdown to Aaron Powell and an 82-yard touchdown to Jaytin Gumm. Four different Bullpups had at least 30 yards of receiving as Rinker finished with 257 through the air.


"[Gumm’s 82-yard touchdown catch] meant everything to our team. That play alone was a difference maker," Pavlovich said. "It was a complete team effort tonight."


McPherson began the scoring with a 1-yard rushing touchdown by Brycen Labertew on 4th and goal with 3:18 remaining in the first. Buhler answered back on a 7-yard rushing touchdown from Sam Elliott early in the second.


Elliott, who scored all three Buhler touchdowns, rushed for a game-high 135 yards and gained the opposing coach’s respect.


"I wish people could see him in real life, because my goodness ... I’m really not looking forward to game planning against him next year," Pavlovich said of Elliott.


Rinker hit Powell deep in stride for the 52-yard score with 8:09 left in the half, but again the Crusaders responded when quarterback Bradley Neill completed a pass to Bo Van Bruggen deep into McPherson territory to set up a 5-yard rushing touchdown from Elliott.


Buhler would get the ball back before half, but the McPherson defense forced a punt shortly after the Crusaders had entered Bullpup territory. Buhler punter Bradley Neill pinned the Bullpups at their own 4-yard line with under three minutes left in the half.


The McPherson two-minute offense went to work, and the Bullpups marched all the way into the red zone with under a minute remaining. On fourth and goal from the 11, Rinker rolled right and lofted a jump ball into the end zone, but Buhler’s Mason Lipford snagged an interception to keep the game tied at 14 at halftime.


On its second possession of the second half, McPherson made it 21-14 when Rinker and Gumm scored on an 82-yard touchdown pass. Rinker lofted a 50-50 bad to Gumm, who went up and made the catch, then outran the defense down the sideline.


Buhler tied the game early in the fourth quarter when Elliott scored on 3rd and goal from the 1. A few plays earlier, Neill connected with Brock McCurdy on 4th down to set up Elliott’s third score of the game.


The game-winning touchdown was delivered by Sky Shriner on a 2-yard rushing score with 6:49 remaining after a Jayden Dukes interception return gave the Bullpups the ball at the Buhler 13.


Buhler’s final drive made it to McPherson territory, but the Bullpups stopped Elliott on 4th and 1 and eventually ran out the clock.


McPherson (9-1) hosts an Ark City team who went 2-6 in the regular season but has now won three straight playoff games. The Bulldogs defeated Wamego, 21-20, in their quarterfinal game by stopping a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter.


"Ark City has a tremendous front, we know these guys well," Pavlovich said. "We’re going to enjoy this win, take a deep breath, and relax."


Buhler graduates a senior class of 10: Lipford, Ryan Henderson, Graham Fluck, Levi Perez, Corey Gilbert, Gabe Barnes, Jarrett Christenson, James Blick, Elias Harder, and Tyler Preisser.


"They’ve been good leaders for us and they’ve stepped up," Warner said. "Only a few of them played for us last year so most of them only had one chance this year and they took advantage of it by playing hard."


Buhler returns the majority of their starters next year, highlighted by Elliott at running back.


"We have to work hard in the offseason," Warner said. "That’s the No. 1 thing, we need to get better in the offseason."