While Andale quarterback Jared Smarsh was piling up 224 second-half passing yards, it might have been difficult to convince McPherson coach Tom Young that a shootout was the kind of game he wanted.
McPherson schemed to stop the run after Andale started successfully on the ground, but the Indians proved just as adept through the air. The adjustment just came about a quarter too late.
The Bullpups managed to hold down Andale for the second quarter, when they scored three touchdowns to take a significant halftime lead. McPherson held on and produced its own impressive statistics in a 42-36 win in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs.
Awaiting McPherson (10-1), which received marquee games from three offensive skill players, is a quarterfinal game against unbeaten Holton.
"They’re best at running the ball," Young said. "I was a little surprised at how well they passed. They’ve got some good athletes, period, running or passing. If they were a passing team, they’d be very good at that, too."
A high-scoring game appeared certain when the teams traded opening-drive touchdowns in the first three-plus minutes. That promise was delivered, but not via the dichotomy of offensive philosophies presented in the opening minutes.
Andale tailback Hunter Knoblauch accumulated 110 rushing yards and two touchdowns on his first four carries. His first run, also the Indians’ first play, was a 56-yard score, and he capped a six-play scoring drive later in the first quarter with a 36-yard sprint.
Knoblauch’s long touchdowns proved to be essentially the last hurrah for Andale’s running game. McPherson stacked the box and baited the Indians into throwing, but Andale initially declined the invitation in favor of trying to keep its run game established.
That provided time for McPherson to erase an early 14-7 deficit. As Andale was struggling with its identity and failing to produce on the ground, the Bullpups were finding points from multiple sources.
Austin O’Bannon had two first-half rushing touchdowns on his way to 221 yards. Quarterback Kyler Kinnamon had a rushing touchdown and a passing score in the first half, and Keaton Sorenson’s nine-yard first-half touchdown reception appears modest as part of his seven-catch, 192-yard, two-score performance. Sorenson caught four of Kinnamon’s six passes of more than 20 yards.
"That was just a hell of a drive, really," Sorenson said of the 83-yard march that took McPherson under 90 seconds in the second quarter. "We stuck it to them, but they stuck it right back to us."
Andale’s answer didn’t come until the third, and only happened after multiple red-zone failures. The Indians drove deep into McPherson territory on its first two second-half series and faced fourth-plays both times.
Without a reliable kicker, Andale (9-2) was forced to try for the first downs. Both times, the Indians failed to score and to grasp much-needed momentum. Andale had five turnovers on downs, four in McPherson territory.
"When you get down, against a team like that, in the red-zone, it’s tough," Andale coach Gary O’Hair said. "Now there’s no deep threat and they’re all up there playing. It’s tough to score down there."
The Indians never regained the lead but cut the deficit to 28-22 on a 64-yard touchdown from Smarsh to Knoblauch in the third quarter. Smarsh had two more touchdown throws in the second half, but a late fumble cost the Indians valuable time. They scored, following an interception, with 2:03 to go, but McPherson exhausted the clock.
McPherson proved to have no answer against Smarsh’s unscouted passing abilities. Even though Andale surprised Young by hastily changing its strategy, the switch ultimately occurred too late.
"I was hoping we’d be able to run it on them," O’Hair said. "But I also knew, how physical they were, that it might be tough to get yards running. We knew we’d have to throw some. I figured, to win, we were going to have to score 35 or 40 points against them. They’re just so good offensively."
M—O’Bannon 1 run (Houghton kick)
A—Knoblauch 54 run (Knoblauch run)
A—Knoblauch 36 run (run failed)
M—Kinnamon 28 run (Houghton kick)
M—O’Bannon 24 run (kick failed)
M—Sorenson 9 pass from Kinnamon (Kinnamon run)
A—Knoblauch 64 pass from Smarsh (Bugner pass from Smarsh)
M—Sorenson 69 pass from Kinnamon (pass failed)
A—Seiler 10 pass from Smarsh (pass failed)
M—O’Bannon 8 run (Houghton pass from Kinnamon)
A—Seiler 16 pass from Smarsh (Knoblauch run)