In Week 6 against Augusta, McPherson star Cody Stufflebean felt his right knee collapse.
A strained MCL kept Stufflebean on the sideline for the rest of the game, the two that followed and most of McPherson’s first round playoff game, a 63-7 win over Abilene.
Stufflebean, a senior tight end and defensive lineman, was in for a handful of snaps in that game. One came on a punt. He broke through the line and swatted the kick from the sky. McPherson recovered and ran it back for a touchdown.
Through injury and blowouts, McPherson’s Kansas State pledge has missed a lot of football in his senior season. Coach Jace Pavlovich said he has only played 13 quarters in 2019.
But Stufflebean wasn’t coasting while he was out with the MCL injury.
Pavlovich said he has Stufflebean as a teacher’s aide. Pavlovich said Stufflebean used that time to go outside and run to get back into shape.
He was at his peak Friday night.
McPherson hosted Goddard in a rematch of last year’s Class 4A state semifinal, a game the Bullpups lost 15-14 in 2018. Leading into the game, the McPherson players said it was the rematch they were hoping for.
“You never want to make things personal,” Pavlovich said. “That’s something I learned a long time ago from my father, who was a football coach.
“But this one was personal.”
Stufflebean entered the game with five catches for 73 yards. He finished McPherson’s 14-8 regional championship win with six catches for more than 100 yards and the game’s two offensive touchdowns.
On defense, he forced Goddard into holding calls all night, and on the Lions’ final chance at a comeback victory, Stufflebean took the game by the neck.
On Goddard’s final four plays, Stufflebean had one sack, one tackle and two quarterback pressures, the second of which forced the game-clinching interception to defensive back Kaleb Hoppes.
McPherson has played eight one-score games over the past four years. The Bullpups are 21-1 over the past two seasons, outscoring opponents by an average of more than 36.5 points per game in that time.
Friday was different. Goddard went to the Class 4A state championship game last year. The Lions had reached the semifinals each of the past three seasons. They were 32-6 from 2016-18.
“There are some that questioned whether I was underrated just coming her at Mac where we don’t really play anybody,” Stufflebean said. “That will definitely send a statement to show that I’m meant to be there.”
Stufflebean’s recruitment caught fire in May when he received his first power 5 offer from Virginia Tech. Then came Air Force, Army, Wisconsin, K-State and Colorado.
At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, he has the frame of a Division I football player and the skill to match. He is the third D-I player out of McPherson since Pavlovich took over in 2015.
“Cody is pretty much everything you would ever want in a football player,” Pavlovich said. “Smart, talented, physical, aggressive, and he has the size as well.”
Stufflebean isn’t overly emotional. While players got caught up in after-the-whistle rifts, Stufflebean trotted away.
After he scored one of the most outstanding touchdowns of the season in Kansas - a 180-degree toe-tapping grab in the corner of the end zone - Stufflebean trotted away.
After he ended the game with five-play flurry that gave the ball back to the team in red to take a knee, Stufflebean trotted off the field.
In McPherson, radio play-by-play announcer Jim Joyner calls Stufflebean, “The big man.” It’s a simple nickname for one of Kansas’ most simply monstrous players.
As McPherson moves on through the Class 4A playoffs, the Bullpups will continue to face stronger competition. Stufflebean will have more opportunities to play past halftime.
McPherson hosts Arkansas City on Friday in the state quarterfinals, looking to get back to the semifinals for a third straight season.
Last year’s semifinal trip ended in heartbreak as Goddard’s Kaeden Hoefer tipped what would have been the game-winning touchdown into the hands of defensive back Gentry Cole for an interception that sent the Lions to state.
That play has haunted the McPherson football program for the past 12 months. Stufflebean, too.
So before he trades being a Pup for a Cat, Stufflebean is out to help capture McPherson’s first football state championship in school history.
“Every time we are together, it’s ‘One more rep,’ ” Stufflebean said. “We were only 3 yards away. That has definitely been the motivation all year.”