David Taylor helped Park Hill advance to its first district title game since the format changed from pool play to a seeded bracket prior to the 2011 season.Just before halftime, the senior wide receiver scored on a trick-play kickoff return that as the clock expired for halftime in a Class 5 District 8 semifinal against fourth-seeded Liberty. He broke the return up the sideline for a 94-yard touchdown to answer a quick strike from the Blue Jays moments earlier in Park Hill’s 49-22 win Oct. 31 at Park Hill District Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
“One thing we’ve been outstanding at all year long is when you score against us we score 90 percent of the time on the next drive,” Park Hill coach Josh Hood said. “They kicked off to us with 9 seconds left, and David Taylor took it the distance. We used a reverse and David took it to the house. It was a great job giving the momentum back to us when we went in the locker room.”
Park Hill — the district’s top seed coming off a first-round bye — went into halftime up 28-7.
Liberty (3-8) scored with 9 seconds left on the clock in the second quarter after recovering a fumble near midfield. Blue Jays quarterback AJ Cambric found Chris Valencia for an 11-yard score to ensure points off of the turnover.
“The defense said all night long that they would be fine, and they could stop the run,” Hood said. “The first time we put them in a less than advantageous situation Liberty was able to drive the football a little bit. They threw the ball a lot in the game, and they got us for a score right before half.”
Park Hill (10-0) started the scoring on an 11-play and more-than-5-minute drive, relying on an exclusive attack of pounding runs from junior running back Matt Harris. On all 11 plays, he carried the ball, accounting for 61 yards and a 2-yard score to cap the march.
Harris increased his season total to 945 yards on the ground with a 280-yard performance against Liberty — his fourth 100-yard game second 200-yard performance of the season after taking over the bulk of the running duties in Week 5 after starting tailback Kenyatte Harris suffered a bone bruise that continues to plague him.
“We knew Liberty was going to pack the box,” Hood said. “We were able to get a great push all night. We just stayed behind them. The kids played physical. We challenged the kids at the beginning of the week, and they really took to the challenge. We were able to establish Matt.
“Matt’s a kid that has speed and he likes to run over kids, too. He was the perfect kid to put in that situation.”
Park Hill freshman Zach Neal also added a 100-yard game, toting the ball 12 times for 113 yards for a new career-high.
Liberty cut the lead to 35-22 with 2:17 to play but would not score again in the third quarter. The Trojans tallied the final 14 points to provide the final margin, scoring twice on rushes. The final two touchdowns included a 51-yard sprint from senior quarterback Tyler Holmes, who threw just 11 passes in the win, and a 19-yarder from Neal.
The Trojans host Liberty North on Nov. 7 at Park Hill District Stadium for the Class 5 District 8 championship. A win would put Park Hill in the playoffs for the first time since 2010 when the Trojans lost 28-6 to Staley in quarterfinals.
“We don’t feel like we got over the hump this week,” Hood said. “We feel like our hump comes several weeks from now. We’re still driving every week. We’re in a fortunate position. We’re fairly healthy. We’ve trained all year so we can be playoff ready and play well in the fourth quarter of the playoffs.”
Liberty North (8-3) after a 13-0 upset of No. 2 seed and state-ranked Staley, which defeated Liberty North 28-17 in the regular season but could not repeat the task in the district semifinals. The Eagles other losses are to Class 4-ranked Kearney (9-3 in Week 3) and Class 5 No. 1-ranked Fort Osage (17-10 in Week 8).