McPherson is still good, but if the Arkansas City High School football team is going to knock off the mighty Bullpups, the time is now.
The Bulldogs (5-6) travel to McPherson at 7 p.m. today in the KSHSAA Class 4A Sub-State semifinals. A victory would propel Ark City to the State championship game for the first time since 1986 and only the fourth time in the history of the football program.
“We will prepare the same way we prepare for any game,” ACHS coach Jon Wiemers said. “It will not get in our kids’ heads because they understand that fear and anxiety are attributes that are detrimental to performance.”
The 4A No. 2-ranked Bullpups (10-1) haven’t looked this beatable in quite some time.
McPherson has played just two teams with a winning record this season. The Bullpups suffered their only loss to Class 5A No. 5-ranked De Soto 40-34 in Week 5 of the regular season. The only other team with a winning record is Buhler. McPherson defeated the Crusaders twice, 18-6 in Week 6 and again last week in the 4A Sectionals when the Bullpups eked out a 28-21 victory.
McPherson also defeated AV-CTL D-III foe Augusta twice, winning 32-14 in Week 8 and 52-20 two weeks later in the 4A Regionals.
The combined record for McPherson’s Class 4A opponents during the regular season and Week 9 playoff is 12-44.
But they’re still the Bullpups, and they still have knocked Ark City out of the playoffs the past two years.
“They have a great program year in and year out,” Wiemers said. “They have good players that are coached well. Our team respects them, but we don’t fear them.”
McPherson quarterback Dylan Rinker has completed 65 percent of his passes this season (165 of 255) for 2,425 yards and 27 touchdowns, with just six interceptions. He doesn’t run much — he doesn’t have to because of McPherson’s dominant offensive line. And tailback Jaytin Gumm has amassed 1,329 yards and 13 TDs on 180 carries, having eclipsed the 100-yard mark in seven games.
Rinker has a bevy of receivers to throw to, led by Aaron Powell, who has 62 receptions for 921 yards and 10 scores. Trey Buckbee has 618 yards and seven TDs on 47 catches, while Gus Ruddle is averaging 17.4 yards per catch with seven scores.
“We are going to have to play really well in all facets of the game,” Wiemers said. “We understand that we may not always be the most talented team or have the numbers they do, so we will need to be disciplined in everything that we do.”
Ark City sophomore Gabe Welch has completed 62 percent of his passes (176 of 283) for 2,102 yards and nine touchdowns, with 10 interceptions.
The biggest discrepancy between the two teams is in the running game. The Bulldogs average just 2.0 yards per carry. Welch and sophomore Wyatt Bahm both have eight rushing touchdowns this season.
Ark City played about as well as could be hoped for last week, but had to stave off a 2-point conversion with 15.2 seconds remaining to preserve a 21-20 victory at Wamego.
The Bulldogs held Wamego to 5 of 12 on third-down conversions, though Ark City was outrushed 189-44 by the Red Raiders. Welch completed 16 of 23 passes for 226 yards, with one pick, and Bahm was the leading ball-carrier with just 39 yards on 11 totes.
Senior Haden O’Toole reeled in three passes for 97 yards to earn Offensive Player of the Game honors. He also intercepted Wamego quarterback Hayden Oviatt.
Senior lineman Jarrett Brooks, who was instrumental in stopping the 2-point conversion, was tabbed Defensive Player of the Game. Senior Devon Watkins earned Special Teams Player of the Game, while freshman Blake Bucher took Work Team honors for his preparation in getting the Bulldogs ready for Wamego.
The winner of tonight’s game plays either six-time defending State champion Bishop Miege or upset-minded and heavy underdog St. James for the Class 4A State title at 1 p.m. Nov. 27 at Gowans Stadium in Hutchinson.
Ark City captured its only state football title in 1979, a year after finishing second. The Bulldogs also were runners-up in 1986.