Platte County’s players don’t need a full history lesson to understand the importance of their upcoming Class 4 District 8 semifinal matchup. The Pirates easily dispatched former Midland Empire Conference foe St. Joseph Benton on Oct. 24 — a 58-13 win in the postseason opener — and another former league rival awaits this week. Third-seeded Smithville (8-2) travels to Platte County on Oct. 31 for an intriguing matchup, a rematch of a first-round matchup from last year that the Warriors claimed.
Platte County often draws former MEC opposition in districts in the years since departing for the Suburban League in 2008, rivalries that have started to wane for the current players.
“Obviously, Smithville is just down the road, and we see scores and that sort of thing,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said, “but we don’t really have anything to compare them off of with common opponents or anything like that. It’s going to be fun; it’s going to definitely be a challenge for us.”
Platte County (9-1) has now won three straight in a resurgent season after finishing 3-7 in 2013.
Sophomore quarterback Justin Mitchell totaled six touchdowns to help the Pirates accrue 484 yards of offense against Benton, and fellow sophomore Kevin Neal notched a pair of interceptions, taking one back for his first career touchdown on the first play of the second quarter. Mitchell’s five passing scores were a career best, and he spread them around to three different receivers.
Five players caught passes from Mitchell, including a team-high five grabs for senior Tyler Cooper, in a continually diversifying offense since opposing defense started focusing more attention on senior wide receiver Aliek Reed.
“They can just play. All of them can make plays,” said Mitchell, who went 14-for-20 for 228 yards.
Mitchell started the scoring with a 46-yard touchdown scramble around right end, accounting for the majority of his team-high 53 rushing yards. However, Platte County’s lone turnover — a pair of fumbles on one play from running back Michael McNair, the second of which Benton recovered – provided an opening.
Benton faced third-and-4 at Platte County’s 45 when the second quarter starter, and Cardinals quarterback Dominic Hill threw wide of his intended target and into the hands of Neal, a safety.
Neal, who slowly earned a starting role after seeing increased snaps in Week 3, grabbed the wayward pass and raced straight ahead for a 62-yard touchdown to give the Pirates a 15-0 lead 13 seconds into the second quarter. Benton trailed 15-0 at that point and didn’t come back within one score at any point.
“It started to click today, I think, because I haven’t started the whole season,” said Neal, who also has 38 tackles and three passes defensed on the season. “I know they put me in, and I know they wanted me to make plays. I know teams are going to look at film and spot out that I’m the youngest guy on defense. I have to let them know I’m not just an average player out there.
“It’s always been my dream to get a varsity pick-six, so whenever I caught it and there was so much open field, I just did not want to get caught. I just took it and ran.”
Platte County scored four times in a span of 14 plays to start the third quarter to take control.
Reed caught his second long touchdown on the second play of the second half, going 42 yards for a score. He finished with three grabs for a team-high 93 yards in his best performance since a Sept. 19 win against Winnetonka and now has three touchdown grabs in the past two weeks.
TJ Guillory, a shifty sophomore, caught the next two scores for Platte County (15 and 20 yards) sandwiched around Benton’s final points. He now has a team-high 33 receptions after four more catches against the Cardinals.
“We came out second half and played like we should from the very beginning,” Mitchell said.
Platte County set a season-high for points and topped 50 in a game for the first time since Oct. 14, 2011, coincidentally in a 55-7 win against Benton.
Smithville also enters as winners of three straight after knocking out Savannah last week in a 49-21 win that included five Savages’ turnovers. The Warriors’ only losses this season came to Class 5-ranked Park Hill (9-0) and Class 3 No. 1-ranked Maryville (10-0).