The Bullpups lost a slugfest Friday night in the state-semifinals to the Andover Central Jaguars, 7-0. The Bullpups defense was in high-gear from the time they stepped onto the field. Unfortunately, the offense wasn’t up to their usual standard. The Bullpups couldn’t move the ball for the bulk of the game. For the third consecutive season, the Bullpups lost in the state semifinals.
The first quarter was a defensive slugfest. The Bullpups got the ball first and went three-and-out, this would be a trend. The two teams traded possessions like baseball cards. Both defenses held up admirably to the opening salvos from each other’s offenses. McPherson totaled 35 yards in the first stanza, Central tallied 8. This was due in no small part to two tackles for loss and a sack from Mason Thrash. Jakob Feil looked effective in his chances in the first. In my preview for the game I said that if Thrash and Cody Stufflebean could generate pressure and Jakob Feil had success in the rushing game, the Bullpups had a chance to win this game. After one quarter this was precisely the case. The Central Jaguars offense was much publicized in the lead-up to this game, but their defense is what impressed in the first quarter.
Twenty seconds into the second quarter disaster struck. Andover Central forced a fumble from Punter Aiden Hoover and Kyren Parrott returned it for a touchdown. Hoover recognized he wouldn’t be able to get off a punt because of heavy Central pressure, tucked ran and fumbled the ball. Central struck first and made the score 7-0 with 11:40 left in the second quarter. In a game that had virtually no offense in the first quarter, this was a disastrous development. The good news for the Bullpups was the fact that the Jaguars punted six times in a row at one point in the second quarter. Later in the quarter the Bullpups received a punt at the Jaguars 46 and were able to finally get their offense going. The drive came down to a crucial fourth-down play. The play was a fourth and three on the Central 26, with 5:23 left in the quarter. The Bullpups called a designed Hoppes run that was stuffed for no gain. This play seemed to completely reverse the momentum that the Bullpups had gained. As has been the case this entire postseason, when the defense needed stops they got them. The Bullpups offense could not get anything going, they were dominated at the point of attack in the first half. Right after the offense turned the ball over on downs, the defense came out and forced two straight three-and-outs.
After the seventh Bullpup punt of the game gave the Jaguars the ball back, Jakob Feil stepped in front of a Shomari Parnell pass to Xavier Bell and came away with an interception. It gave McPherson the ball on the Central 36 with 1:30 left in the second quarter. Hoppes and Feil helped to author a 25-yard drive down to the 11 before throwing a back-breaking interception in the corner of the endzone. To be fair to Hoppes, he was pressured constantly all game.
The Jaguars only recorded 18 yards of total offense in the first half, and star wideout Xavier Bell was held to two catches for 16 yards. They still led 7-0 at the halfway mark. The Bullpups unquestionably won the time of possession battle and their defense performed admirably, however, the one special teams miscue derailed the entire first half. The Bullpups’ inability to convert in pressure situations, namely in the RedZone (which also occurred last week), hampered the team. McPherson collected 6 first downs, to the Jaguars 1 in the first half.
The Bullpups defense came up big again when they forced a three and out on the Jaguars first drive of the second half. The Bullpups drove into Jaguars territory on their next drive, picking up two first downs, but they stalled at the Jaguar 40. As impressive as the Bullpups’ defense was, the Jaguars were just as impressive. Their defense’s bend-don’t-break ethos kept the Bulldogs out of the endzone for three quarters.
The Jaguars didn’t record their second first down of the game until a twenty-yard Parnell run with 10:57 left in the 4th quarter. The Bullpups offense operated in fits and starts the entire night, putting entirely too much pressure on their defense. Eventually, the defense started to flag. The Bullpups defense put consistent pressure on Shomari Parnell but he pulled Houdini acts seemingly over and over again in the fourth quarter. After one particularly diverting escape from Bullpup defenders, Parnell hit Xavier Bell over the middle for 18 yards on a 3rd and 7. The Jaguars drove all the way down to the Bullpup 25 before ultimately turning the ball over as Jakob Feil broke up a fourth-down pass play.
The Jaguars turned the ball over on downs with 4 minutes left. The next Bullpups’ drive started with an 18-yard Jakob Feil run. The Bullpups got a huge call in their favor on the next play as a facemask was called against the Jaguars. On the next very play, on what Jim Joyner called the “Immaculate Reception”, Hoppes threw a 31-yard pass that bounced off of a Jaguar defender and landed softly in the arms of Aaron Powell at the Andover Central 3 yard line. Two Hoppes runs went nowhere. The Bullpups then had some bad luck of their own as on a third and goal at the two they were called for a five men in the backfield penalty. The Bullpups lost five yards on the play and they were faced with a third and goal from the 8. Hoppes was flushed from the pocket and couldn’t complete his pass. The entire season hinged on the last play of the game. The last play of the Bullpups season was a designed Hoppes rollout to the right; Gus Ruddle cut across the grain of the play to the left side of the end zone. Unfortunately, the ball was slightly underthrown and was broken up. The game ended shortly thereafter, the Jaguars kneeled to kill the clock.
In a game where the defense only gave up four first downs and didn’t allow a touchdown the Bullpups still lost. Aaron Powell had 11 catches tonight, but he was the only one who got going in the passing game. The Bullpups’ Kaleb Hoppes was 14 for 39 in this game. It wasn’t completely his fault, his line was dominated, but he mistimed some throws. Jakob Feil had 21 carries for 96 yards, and almost busted one for a touchdown. The Bullpups will look back at this one with regret. They had many opportunities they just couldn’t take advantage of. This McPherson team tied last year’s squad for most wins in a season. The 17 seniors on the roster had a 32-4 record in their career. Congrats to them on a great career, and awesome senior year.