Numerous Maize South fans stood in a half circle on the field at McPherson Stadium on Friday, camera phones pointed at joyous Maverick football players.
Maize South’s Kodak moment has been elusive in recent seasons. But the Mavericks finally got it, scoring 21 fourth-quarter points to defeat McPherson 35-27 in the Class 4A-Division I quarterfinals.
Maize South (10-1) advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in the seven-year history of its program, and will host Buhler, a 24-14 winner over Mulvane, in next Friday’s semifinals. Buhler gave Maize South its only loss on Sept. 23, defeating the Mavericks 21-14.
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McPherson, which had won eight consecutive games since a 14-6 loss to Maize South in the second week of the season, finished 8-3.
“It wasn’t talked about much, but it was definitely in our heads,” Maize South junior defensive back Max Domnick said of reaching the final four. “We wanted this one really badly, and it feels good to get it.”
After 5A quarterfinal losses to Eisenhower and Salina South the past two seasons, Maize South crashed through the barrier with a sterling defensive effort in the second half. The Mavericks intercepted McPherson quarterback Casen Hoover three times. Domnick had the most pivotal one, returning it 39 yards for a touchdown that gave Maize South a 35-20 lead with 5:34 remaining.
Despite giving up four touchdown passes to Hoover, including an 87-yarder to Jack Reifschneider with 1:28 to play, the Mavericks’ defense turned the momentum.
“We struggled with them in the first half,” Domnick said. “We made some good defensive adjustments and were able to shut them down a little bit.”
Maize South also took the lead for good at 21-20 with a 17-play drive that was aided by a successful fake punt pass from Jordan Maxson to Sam Kissane and two pass interference calls on McPherson. Quarterback Ethan Richardson barreled in from the McPherson 1 with 10:31 to play to put the Mavericks up 21-20.
“That was a good place to run it,” Maize South coach Brent Pfeifer said of the fake punt near midfield. “They have fun running it every day in practice. When we called, you could just see their eyes light up and they were ready to go.”
After Maize South got the lead, Tyler White intercepted Hoover to give the Mavericks the ball with 9:41 remaining. Reserve running back Andrew Bliss dashed 20 and 36 yards on consecutive plays – the latter a touchdown – to put Maize South up 28-20.
“I think our league really prepared us for this,” Pfeifer said. “We played a lot of tough teams on the road, and the guys were intimidated by this.”
Hoover, who completed just 7 of 22 passes for 80 yards in the teams’ first meeting, led McPherson to a 20-14 halftime lead with three touchdown passes. He was 12 of 14 for 128 yards at the break, completing all eight of his second-quarter attempts.
McPherson drove 80 yards in 15 plays on the game’s opening drive. The key play was a 21-yard pass from Hoover to Reifschneider on fourth-and-3 from the Maize South 38. Hoover injured his left leg two plays later and left the game for four plays. But he returned to connect with Reifschneider for a 1-yard touchdown.
Maize South grabbed the momentum at that point, answering the Bullpups’ touchdown in just four plays. Senior Brett Parke’s 43-yard run tied the score at 7.
The Mavericks took a 14-7 lead on quarterback Ethan Richardson’s 2-yard run in the opening minute of the second quarter. But McPherson dominated the rest of the half. Hoover’s 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Thomas Diggs tied the score at 14. After a Maize South punt, McPherson went 72 yards in six plays. Hoover’s third touchdown pass – a 22-yard strike to Jeff Reed – helped the Bullpups regain the lead with 3:11 to play in the first half.
Mac -- Reifschneider 1 pass from C. Hoover (Labertew kick)
MS – Parke 43 run (Sheehan kick)
MS – Richardson 2 run (Sheehan kick)
Mac – Diggs 7 pass from C. Hoover (Labertew kick)
Mac – Reed 22 pass from C. Hoover (kick failed)
MS – Richardson run (Sheehan kick)
MS – Bliss 36 run (Sheehan kick)
MS – Domnick 39 interception return (Sheehan kick)
Mac – Reifschneider 87 pass from C. Hoover (Labertew kick)
Rushing – Maize South, Bliss 8-66, Parke 10-64, Richardson 20-3, Minks 2-3. McPherson, C. Hoover 13-46, Kinnamon 14-41, Stites 3-9, Labertew 1-8.
Passing – Maize South, Richardson 14-16-1-120, Maxson 1-1-0-9. McPherson, C. Hoover 18-24-3-244.
Receiving – Maize South, Wiens 5-57, Seiler 4-40, Davis 1-17, Kissane 1-9, Minks 2-4, Seidl 1-2. McPherson, Reifschneider 8-170, Reed 3-32, Diggs 3-25, G. Hoover 2-16, Kinnamon 1-1, Stites 1-0.