Remaining at No. 8 for a second straight week in the Class 4 Missouri state media rankings, the Pirates travel to Kearney on Oct. 3 for a key matchup in the District 8 standings and in the Suburban League Blue Division championship race. The Bulldogs have dominated the Highway 92 rivalry since Platte County left the Midland Empire Conference following the 2007 season, having won seven of eight matchups in the past six years.
With a youthful core and just six seniors leading the wayPlatte County enters off to its best start since a 10-1 campaign in 2006.
“We are a young team that still needs a lot, a lot of work,” Utz said. “They’ve handled us; they’ve completely handled us. It’s been some close games, but they’re extremely well-coached. They’re very good athletes; they know how to win. They’re good.
“We’ve just got to keep taking care of ourselves. Each week, each team we play provides a different challenge.”
Platte County scored 24 unanswered points against Belton in the fourth quarter last Friday at Southwick Stadium in Belton, Mo.
Sophomore running back Michael McNair piled a up a team-high 137 yards and two touchdowns, while sophomore quarterback Justin Mitchell continued his standout season with 208 yards of offense and three total scores. Freshman kicker Parker Lacina remained perfect on the season with field goals of 31 and 37 yards, and linebacker Topher Kilkenny and Devin Perry — both seniors — contributed an interception and two sacks, respectively, to help fend off any potential upset bid from Belton (3-3).
Platte County led just 9-0 at halftime and were outgained and visibly outplayed for the majority of the opening 24 minutes.
“The first half we were being selfish,” said Perry, who also turned in six tackles (two for a loss). “In the second half, we came together as a group, and we did all the positives. We did everything right.”
A pair of penalties, a trio of errant snaps and an injured quarterback hampered Belton’s ability to take advantage of a mostly stagnant opposing offense.
Junior quarterback Justus Shaw hobbled off the field, not to return, after coming up hurt following a lengthy run that a holding penalty negated. On the ensuing second-and-21 play from its own 8-yard line, sophomore reserve Bart Harris botched a shotgun snap and handoff, and Platte County junior Tyler Clemens secured the loose ball at the 5, one week after he returned a fumble 99 yards for a key score in an upset of Winnetonka.
Mitchell plunged in from 2 yards out on third down to put Platte County up 6-0 with 6 minutes, 11 seconds left in the first quarter. The only other scoring in the first half came on a 31-yard boot from Lacina with 6:23 left in the second quarter.
“I came in with a high hat; we all did,” said Kilkenny, who finished with a team-high 13 tackles, upping his season total to 47 along with four passes defensed, two interceptions and a forced fumble. “We’re definitely going to change that the rest of the year. We can’t come in with a bad mindset like that, and that’s what happens — the first half. Luckily, our coaches came in at halftime screaming at us.
“That definitely got the fire in all of us, and especially me.”
Platte County needed just seven plays out of halftime to respond, marching 69 yards on seven plays.
Mitchell hit sophomore TJ Guillory (team-highs of four catches and 67 yards) twice for 23 yards on the march, and McNair carried four times for 30 yards, including the 1-yard plunge to extend the lead to 16-0. Belton answered with its lone scoring drive and added a two-point conversion to cut the lead in half but only stopped Platte County once the rest of the way.
Following Mitchell’s lone interception, Belton went three-and-out, and the rout began for Platte County despite allowing a game-high 226 rushing yards for junior running back Zach Willis on 37 carries.
Platte County scored on its final four possessions, including Lacina’s 37-yarder early in the fourth quarter. Kilkenny snared an interception from Harris with 7:44 to go and returned in 40 yards to set up Mitchell’s 9-yard touchdown pass to wide-open wide receiver Zach Hamilton to stretch the visiting Pirates’ advantage to 33-8.
While Platte County improved to 6-0, Kearney dropped to 5-1 after squandering a two-touchdown lead in a 17-14 loss to Winnetonka, and the Bulldogs fell from second to fourth in the state media rankings. Those results allowed Platte County to vault into the top spot in the Class 4 District 8 standings. The Pirates also have a one-game lead in the Blue Division standings on four teams — two they’ve beaten (Winnetonka and Belton) and two they play during the final three weeks of the regular season (Kearney on Oct. 3 and Raytown South on Oct. 17).
The Platte County-Kearney matchup will determine a lot in both races, but the Pirates have already exceeded last year’s win total by two with a start not many would have predicted.
“We’re a team; we play as a team,” Kilkenny said. “Last year, we did not play as a team. I love how everybody is playing for each other, not for theirselves.”