KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Despite an unblemished start, there have been plenty of missed opportunities for Platte County. No secret.
A road test at Park Hill South looms on Sept. 12, and coach Bill Utz and his Pirates know they can’t afford to keep squandering easy chances like they did early in a 40-0 drubbing of Ruskin last week at Ruskin High School. Platte County’s first three opponents sport a combined 1-8 record, and while the Class 5 Panthers enter at 1-2, the first loss came to Class 6 power Lee’s Summit West before a tight 44-43 loss to Raytown South last week.
Platte County (3-0) comfortably sits second in the Class 4 District 8 standings, which determine the postseason bracket, but Class 5 Winnetonka and Kearney — the only team ahead of the Pirates in the district – loom during the next four weeks.
“We’re still young; we’re still very, very young, and we’re still getting better,” said Utz, who has Platte County unbeaten through three weeks for the first time since 2007. “The key is I do feel we are getting better, but it’s taken games; it’s taken close games, adversity we’ve had to get through. It’s all the learning aspect of it. But are we there, perfect game-type stuff, yet? No, not yet.”
Ruskin recovered three of its own fumbles in the first quarter, and Platte County senior defensive end Tyler Cooper just missed on a pair of punt block attempts early, helping keep the Pirates’ first road test of the season scoreless after the opening quarter.
Eventually, a pair of errant snaps on punts allowed Platte County to take control.
Pirates safety Johnny Blankenship tackled Ruskin punter Devon Wells at the Eagles’ own 8-yard line to end the first full possession of the second quarter. Three plays later, Platte County sophomore quarterback Justin Mitchell barreled in from 2 yards out to put the Pirates ahead 6-0 with 6 minutes, 41 seconds left in the half.
After a Ruskin three-and-out, a punt snap went into the end zone for a safety to increase Platte County’s lead to eight, and on the first play after the resulting free kick and a long return for Aliek Reed, Pirates running back Michael McNair dashed 28 yards for a touchdown.
A two-point pass to Tyler Clemens gave Platte County 16 points in a span of less than 2 minutes.
“We have to make more out of all of our opportunities,” said Platte County senior linebacker Topher Kilkenny, who grabbed an interception and returned it 21 yards late in the second quarter to set up freshman Parker Lacina’s line-drive 37-yard field goal — the first of his career — to extend the Pirates’ lead to 19-0 at halftime.
Ruskin (1-2), which beat Pembroke Hill in Week 2, finished with negative-8 yards of total offense, mostly a credit to the negative yardage Wells accrued on the bad punt snaps.
Junior running back Alex Minter (1 yard) and sophomore wide receiver TJ Guillory (33 yards) added rushing scores in the third quarter, and Mitchell, who finished 3-for-18 with 79 yards and one interception in his third start, completed the scoring with a 12-yard scoring strike to Clemens. In its second shutout of the season, Platte County managed only 249 yards of offense — 84 rushing for McNair — and Reed managed just one catch for 56 yards after totaling five touchdowns in the first two games, four last week in a 29-22 win vs. St. Joseph Central.
“Honestly, that’s what teams are for,” Platte County junior linebacker Christian Encarnacion said. “If (the offense) is down, we pick them up. Same for them. If we’re down, they pick us up.”
Ruskin faced a running clock for all of the fourth quarter after Platte County needed much longer to go up 35-plus in a 41-0 win vs. William Chrisman to start the season.
In the season opener, Platte County failed to score on three trips inside the 10-yard line in the first half and didn’t take full advantage of five Bears turnovers. The Pirates notched three turnovers against Ruskin, including junior cornerback Lloyd Lockett’s second interception of the season, and sacked quarterback Kenny Burns four times – two for Encarnacion and one apiece or Dane Rader and Clemens.
Despite the lopsided final score, Platte County’s players know they could have inflicted more damage.
“We’re looking forward to (Park Hill South),” Kilkenny said. “I think we play better against better competition.”