Just one point separated the McPherson Bullpups from their season ending and a trip to the state championship game in 2018--a loss to Goddard that still sticks in the back of their minds.
"Everyday," said McPherson head coach Jace Pavlovich, "That's been our focus ever since that Monday after the Friday night game against Goddard. That's been our sights, we gotta get that game to get where we want to be."
"It's motivated all of us," added senior Mason Thrash, "we aren't going to lose by a point again. We're ready to get back and see them in the semis again."
To get back, the Bullpups must not only get through a schedule featuring many improved teams from 2018, but replace some key seniors from a loaded offense.
The Bullpups lose starting quarterback Kyler Hoppes, his top three targets including Gabe Hoover, now at Kansas State, and a running back in Jace Kinnamon that nearly hit 1,800 yards out of the backfield.
"You can't replace them," said Pavlovich. "We are going to look a little different than what we have in the past, but we expect that the outcome is the same."
Stepping in on offense starts at the top with the quarterback, and the opening week starter isn't yet known.
"We have three guys that we all feel like can play on a Friday night," said Pavlovich, referring to Kaleb Hoppes, Aiden Hoover, and Dylan Rinker. "They've all shown it this offseason, each one of them brings a little something different to the table, but we like all three."
Whomever emerges from the competition will be throwing to a lot of young players, but also one standout senior in tight end Cody Stufflebean.
The two-way player, also one of the state's best at defensive end, saw his stock blow up in the offseason to the tune of multiple Division One offers, before ultimately committing to play at Kansas State.
"At first I was kind of going crazy, I remember always going [to Kansas State], watching their games, always being involved with them," said Stufflebean, adding that his family being close made the decision easier for him.
Stufflebean lead the way on defense with 7 sacks, part of 13 total tackles for loss. But it's not just Stufflebean that comes back for the 'Pups on defense. Their top two tacklers in Mason Thrash and Brycen Labertew also return, as does defensive back Jakob Feil. Feil paced McPherson with 5 interceptions.
"I'm definitely gonna say it's the coaching we get" said Stufflebean, "We understand our spots, know where to be, and relying on the other guys to do their jobs if you do yours, it's gonna be a good defense like we've had."
"We're ballhawks, like to take the ball," added Thrash, "We hit hard, we play fast, we're never loafing."
McPherson's quest for a potential rematch with Goddard--and perhaps more--begins September 6th with a road game at Salina South.
2019 MCPHERSON SCHEDULE
9/6 - @ Salina South
9/13 - vs Winfield
9/20 - vs El Dorado
9/27 - @ Abilene
10/4 - vs Buhler
10/11 - @ Augusta
10/18 - vs Rose Hill
10/25 - @ Circle