LATHROP, Mo. — West Platte’s Ben Heili looked a lot like the player he replaced late in the fourth quarter last Friday, even after early growing pains.
The senior wide receiver turned backup quarterback burst through the middle of the line and scampered down the sideline on a 46-yard game-winning touchdown run in a 27-21 victory against Lathrop. A potential concussion for starting signal-caller Cody Guthrie forced the Bluejays (3-1, 1-1 KCI Conference) to switch to the backup for the second straight week after an injury to his non-throwing shoulder kept him on the sideline for a portion of a Week 3 loss at East Buchanan.
“It’s exciting,” said Heili, who finished with 49 yards rushing. “The line blocked great on the play. I was excited to see the hole and do what we needed to for the team. With Cody out, we just had to step up.”
Guthrie came out of the game early in the fourth quarter during defensive duties at safety in the middle of Lathrop’s final scoring drive. James Knifong capped the long march with a 1-yard run to tie it at 21.
West Platte’s ensuing drive ended in disaster. A botched center exchange gave the Mules (0-4, 0-2 KCI) the ball at midfield.
“I’m nervous every time I take a snap at quarterback,” said Heili, who has limited repetitions running coach Nate Danneman’s triple-option offense. “I’m just worried about getting the ball, then you’ve got to make the read. It’s rough. I don’t know how Cody does it. We just had to keep our heads up (after the fumble). We knew we needed to come back and make a stop on defense.”
West Platte’s defense held firm forcing a punt after Lathrop incurred a delay of game penalty trying to draw the Bluejays offside. That’s when West Platte’s offense came back to life, having gone dormant since the second quarter. Junior running back Justin Rhodes churned out the first chunk, going 23 yards.
Heili scored two plays later with 2 minutes, 7 seconds remaining.
“That’s all he does,” West Platte coach Nate Danneman said. “Ben is a great kid, a great individual, a great football player. He’ll do anything you ask. He’s come in twice now and done big things for us. I expect just as much out of him as I do Cody Guthrie. He’s a good football player for us.”
Guthrie helped West Platte to a 21-7 advantage going into halftime. His long runs of 32 and 68 yards and a 67-yard fumble return resulted in the Bluejays’ three touchdowns in the first half. The fumble return came with 90 seconds remaining before the break.
“That brought a lot of excitement,” Guthrie said. “I don’t know what could have went better on that play. … I must have had someone watching over me. It was like a magnet right into my hands, and I just took off.”
West Platte struggled to regain its rhythm in the second half. A fumble and a turnover on downs in the red zone helped stall any offensive progress the Bluejays made in the third quarter.
The lack of offense allowed Lathrop to tie things up with 7 minutes remaining.
The Mules tried to respond in the time remaining after Heili’s touchdown run, but West Platte junior defensive end Mitch Moppin tallied a sack and a pass deflection on fourth down to halt the final drive. The Bluejays then ran out the rest of the clock sealing the win.
“They came out strong,” Moppin said. “We just had to make a big play to turn the tide. It feels pretty great. I had cramped up earlier, but I was still able to get the deflection.”
The win sets up a homecoming clash with North Platte on Sept. 19 at Rudolph Eskridge Stadium in Weston, Mo. for the Tobacco Stick — the decorated traveling trophy the rivals play for each season. West Platte has won the last nine matchups including both regular season and district matchups the past two years.
North Platte’s last win in the series came in 2006, a 38-19 triumph in Dearborn, Mo.
Lawson 53, North Platte 20
The Panthers could not build off of a Week 3 win last Friday at Lawson High School in Lawson, Mo.
After ending a 13-game skid the prior week, North Platte (1-3, 1-1 KCI) committed 10 turnovers against Lawson, including eight interceptions thrown. The defending Class 2 state runner-ups used the miscues to repeatedly grab good field position, leading to short scores.
“We made some mistakes right off the bat and just got down,” North Platte coach Jim Brockhoff said. “But, we kept fighting back. We had some scores. We just had way too many turnovers and defensive errors to compete against a good football team.”