Missed third-quarter scoring opportunities derail Salina South in 24-14 loss to McPherson

McPherson cashes in on Cougar mistakes

Arne Green
Salina Journal
McPherson's Cade Wedel (44) and Trey Buckbee (2) tackle Salina South's Brandt Cox (26) Friday night at Salina Stadium.

All Sam Sellers could do was wonder what might have been.

Five turnovers were bad enough, but it was a pair of squandered third-quarter scoring opportunities that had the Salina South coach shaking his head.

"We left a lot of points on the board in the second half," Sellers said after watching his Cougars come up empty twice on first-and-goal situations Friday night in a season-opening 24-14 loss to McPherson at Salina Stadium. "We get inside the 10 twice and don't get any points.

"We shot ourselves in the foot."

McPherson was nothing if not opportunistic in the pivotal third period, opening a 17-7 advantage on Luke Schroeder's 35-yard interception return, then squashing South's first scoring opportunity of the half with an end zone pick.

After Schroeder's return, South countered with a drive of its own, rolling into red zone on Brandt Cox's 47-yard run. Three plays later, Cox crossed the goal line untouched on first down from the 5, only to have it called back on a holding penalty.

To make matters worse, on third down from the 14, Collin Pearson killed the drive with an interception. That in turn set up an 83-yard scoring strike from Hunter Alvord to a wide-open Tucker Pelnar, giving the Bullpups a 17-point cushion.

Again South responded, this time with a 32-yard pass from Weston Fries to Garrett Aills, who was brought down at the McPherson 2. But on the next play the shotgun snap from center sailed over Fries' head, resulting in an 11-yard loss, and the Cougars eventually turned the ball over on downs.

"We hold on a walk-in touchdown and we snap it over (Fries') head at the 1-yard line," Sellers said. "Some of that is first-game stuff, but ... "

The wasted scoring chances weren't the whole story. McPherson's first touchdown, on a 26-yard pass from Alvord to Sam Becker late in the opening quarter, was set up by an interception by Cade Wedel. Schroeder had another pick near the Bullpup goal line in the fourth quarter after South had trimmed the deficit to 10.

"That was pretty big for us," Schroeder said of the interceptions.

McPherson coach Jace Pavlovich agreed.

"We definitely took advantage of the mistakes Salina South made tonight," he said. "They're a really good football team.

"I thought our defense played pretty well. That's what we hang our hat on. We gave up quite a few yards, but we started quite a few sophomores, and those mistakes are going to happen."

South outgained McPherson 379 yards to 341, and for the most part shut down the Bullpups' running game. Of their 103 rushing yards, 70 came on the final possession.

"I thought our defense played really well," Sellers said. "We gave up a couple of big plays, but other than that I was happy.

"We really felt that last year we did a poor job stopping the run, but we were way better tonight."

But Alvord was sharp from the start in the passing game, completing 15 of 23 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns. Pelnar had five catches for 104 yards and Trey Buckbee six for 84.

"We just talked in the locker room at halftime about getting everybody lined up," Alvord said about the big third quarter. "And our defense is always solid. Our defense is a bunch of dogs."

Cox led South's offense with 105 yards rushing on 17 carries, with Fries adding 57 on 14 attempts. And while Fries completed just 10 of 27 passes, he threw for 224 yards and two scores.

The Cougars trailed just 10-7 at halftime after Aills' interception led to an 8-yard touchdown pass from Fries to Laken Webb with 11 seconds left. Fries also found Carter Copes with a 73-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

"There were a lot of good things and a lot of bad things, too," Sellers said. "It was tough.

"We've got to learn from this. I was really proud of the way the kids handled themselves. When things got bad, they could have hung their heads, but this group doesn't do that. They fought until the end."