McPHERSON — His body lay motionless, but McPherson quarterback Joel Piper illustrated Friday night for the Bullpups.
On the previous play, Piper dropped back and impeccably stepped into a deep throw, right as Hutchinson's Justin Goetz flattened him. The throw, a tight spiral, was right on. The route, by Christian Ulsaker, leaked behind the defense. The result, however, was just out of reach from Ulsaker.
It's a testament of the degree of difficulty it takes in beating top-ranked Hutchinson. McPherson — No. 3 in Class 5A — was nearly flawless, but the Salthawks showed why that's not enough in a 55-20 victory in a Class 5A-District 6 opener.
"It's pretty tough," Piper said. "We played good. The first half we played great. Our line was great. Our defense was stopping them. They're just a good team."
McPherson's play in the first half was nearly unblemished. The defense forced punts on three of Hutch's six drives. The offense scored on eight-play drives of 88- and 78-yards.
That one blemish was costly, though. Trailing 21-14 with two minutes remaining in the half, Piper completed four passes to drive inside the Hutchinson 10-yard line. The next play, Piper was flushed from the pocket and forced a throw in the end zone that was intercepted by Nate Thomas.
"Big plays killed us," McPherson coach Tom Young put it succinctly.
He was probably referencing all three touchdowns by Hutch the first half. Josh Smith scored on runs of 63, 63 and 64 yards for a 21-14 halftime lead.
Outside of those runs, McPherson's defense allowed 33 yards on 17 plays.
"We would stop them one play and then stop them the next play and then all of a sudden, they would break a long run," Young said.
On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, McPherson back Kevin O'Connor (who compiled 84 first-half rushing yards) was stripped and Hutch recovered deep in McPherson territory. Two plays later, Deveon Dinwiddie scored from 13 yards.
McPherson chiseled the lead down to one score again midway through the third on a tipped pass caught by Jordan Hart in the end zone, but the Salthawks responded with four consecutive touchdowns.
The one that clinched the game came from Goetz, who sniffed out a screen pass and returned the interception 65 yards for a touchdown.
"A lot of teams run that screen," Goetz said. "My tackle just left real fast and I followed back, then I saw the quarterback looking right at him. I knew it was coming, so I went after it."
McPherson finished with 38 fewer yards than Hutchinson (438), but was plagued by four turnovers. Piper finished with 265 passing yards, the bulk going to Ulsaker (96), Nick Gawanda (84) an Treg Fawl (49). Smith finished with 269 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Talk after the came centered around whether the two teams would meet in the 5A playoffs. That's a bit too premature for Young.
"That's a long ways away," he said. "We've got to get out of our district to start with."
Hutchinson (7-0, 1-0) 14 7 20 14 — 55 McPherson (6-1, 0-1) 7 7 6 0 — 20
H—Smith 63 run (kick missed)
M—Ulsaker 34 pass from Piper (Clary kick)
H—Smith 63 run (D. Dinwiddie run)
M—O'Connor 5 run (Clary kick)
H—Smith 64 run (Thomas kick)
H—Dev. Dinwiddie 13 run (Thomas kick)
M—Hart 4 pass from Piper (kick blocked)
H—Dev. Dinwiddie 36 run (Thomas kick)
H—Goetz 65 interception return (kick missed)
H—Dev. Dinwiddie 13 run (Thomas kick)
H—Smith 4 run (Thomas kick)
Rushing—Hutchinson, Smith 21-269, Dev. Dinwiddie 9-99, Stuckey 2-46, Bell 6-11, Des. Dinwiddie 2-7, Munds 2-6. McPherson, O'Connor 17-90, Barrow 10-27, Collins 3-23, Davenport 1-4, Hein 1-3, Piper 2-(-13).
Passing—Hutchinson, Bell 0-1-0-0. McPherson, Piper 20-35-265-2.
Receiving—McPherson, Ulsaker 6-96, Gawanda 6-84, Fawl 5-49, Barrow 1-28, Hart 1-4, O'Connor 1-4.