Brett Shepardson did the majority of the work on a 60-plus-yard drive with straight ahead runs until he became physically sick with exhaustion. Ben Heili rotated over from wide receiver when the Blue Jays needed to throw in an attempt to beat the clock and score a touchdown against Plattsburg in the Class 1 District 7 title game Nov. 7 at Plattsburg High School.
A penalty negated a potential tying or winning score, and Heili’s final pass fell incomplete, allowing Plattsburg to escape with a 14-7 victory.
“I think we have a balanced enough attack to do some things with both quarterbacks,” said West Platte second-year coach Nate Danneman. “It’s been a learning process. If it’s something we started at the beginning of the year, I’m sure we’d have a whole lot more, but it’s been something thrown at us.
“That’s the game of football, especially Class 1.”
A pair of big plays shortly after halftime helped Plattsburg tally two touchdowns and notch its first district title since 2003 with a second victory this season against West Platte, which finished at 8-4 after a trying series of injuries cut short a once-promising season. The Blue Jays — defending district champions — started out 6-1 and earned a top-10 ranking in the Class 1 Missouri state media polls with an upset of Hamilton, Plattsburg’s opponent in this week’s quarterfinal.
In the end, West Platte ended up using three fullbacks, playing without expected starter Clay Lambrecht (knee) for the majority of the season, and starting quarterback Cody Guthrie broke his non-throwing hand during a 24-3 loss to Lawson in the regular-season finale.
Unable to take snaps, Guthrie filled in at running back as needed in the postseason, while Shepardson and Heili split snaps, taking the Blue Jays within a score of notching a second straight playoff berth. Their four losses were split between district champions Plattsburg (2) and East Buchanan and Class 2 Lawson.
“We’re done with injuries,” Danneman said with a laugh.
Shepardson, Heili and Guthrie each attempted at least one pass in the season-ending loss, both of Guthrie’s incomplete attempts coming on reverse plays that kept him from going under center.
West Platte ended up completing only 4-of-15 passes for 65 yards, all of the completions in Heili’s 4-for-12 performance to go with his 47 yards rushing, but were forced to try and throw on its final drive, which began with just more than 4 minutes to play.
Shepardson’s running helped the Bluejays reach the Plattsburg 5-yard line in the final minute.
Heili hit senior Hank Bartee on a swing pass for an apparent touchdown, only to have an illegal-man-downfield penalty negate the fourth-and-goal play.
Backed up to the 10, Heili’s next pass sailed over the head of tight end Conner Salmons — the intended target — and Plattsburg’s Jesse McGee knocked the ball away from wide receiver Chris Spears. All three West Platte players involved in the final play were part of a 10-player senior class Danneman lauded in the postgame for effort and success achieved despite challenges.
“They’ve done that all year; they’re a great group of kids, you know, great senior leadership. They’ll play to the whistle,” Danneman said. “I’ve got no doubt in my mind they’re all going to go on and do great things, just like they did in football this year. That was a very positive football season for us.”
Shepardson rotated between offensive tackle and quarterback against Plattsburg, creating an odd site with jersey No. 52 notching 25 carries for 97 yards. He plowed in from 2 yards out on West Platte’s final drive of the first half, a score set up with a 35-yard completion from Heili to Guthrie (114 total yards), and the Bluejays led 7-0 after a first half that lacked for much excitement.
West Platte’s Michael Devers recovered a fumble on Plattsburg’s opening play of the game when a snap went over quarterback Daniel O’Connor’s head, but Shepardson returned the favor on the ensuing drive.
Other than that, Plattsburg’s oversized senior running back Le’Aaron Hicks looked injured or tired during a plodding first half that saw West Platte accrue more penalty yards (45) than the Tigers did offense, including minus-4 yards on the ground. Hicks gashed the Bluejays for 211 yards on 30 carries in a 40-26 win during the regular season but ended up with only 74 in the rematch, all of the positive yardage in the second half.
“Penalties killed us again; they hurt, took us out of drives,” Danneman said. “We should have capitalized on those series. We needed to be up a couple scores, I figured, and we didn’t get them.”
Out of halftime, Plattsburg struck quickly with a completion from O’Connor to sophomore Jordan Kremer converting a third-and-23 to set up Hicks’ 4-yard touchdown plunge a play later. A missed two-point try left the Bluejays clinging to a 7-6 lead.
West Platte faced a third-and-1 on its first possession of the third quarter, but the Tigers stopped Shepardson for a 2-yard loss. Guthrie came up inches short on the fourth-down try near midfield, and on Plattsburg’s next play after the turnover on downs,
Hicks sprinted through the defense and ran away from defenders on a 54-yard touchdown jaunt. Plattsburg went up by seven after Hicks ran in the two-point try for what ended up the game’s final points.
“We had two mental breakdowns defensively, missed a couple of tackles and 14-7 is the result,” Danneman said.