The Pirates weren’t very far into their preseason jamboree Friday, Aug. 14 when they found themselves in need of a big play. After a 2-yard run from running back Mike McNair, junior quarterback Justin Mitchell scrambled 22 yards to the 16 in the first quarter of action against Excelsior Springs, and two play later, McNair plowed into the end zone from 4 yards out.
Platte County went on to outscore Excelsior Springs, Pembroke Hill and St. Pius X by a combined score of 42-18 in exhibition action with all three touchdowns against the Pirates coming against reserves.
“We finally got the nerves out, probably for some of the guys who are just starting (for the first time),” said Platte County senior cornerback Lloyd Lockett, who gathered the players together after the first set of 24 plays against the hosts at Tiger Stadium to tell them the start had been unacceptable. “We should be good for next year.”
With a roster filled with returners, Platte County used the jamboree as a chance to play a lot of players in game action ahead of its season opener Friday, Aug. 21 at William Chrisman.
Only three of Platte County’s touchdowns came from starters, and reserve running backs Willie Smith and Hunter Tongate combined for three more. Jonathan Watts, a lanky sophomore wide receiver, also caught a touchdown — a 40-yarder down the left sideline against Excelsior Springs from sophomore backup quarterback Tanner Clarkson.
On defense, Platte County recorded a pair of interceptions that could have been returned for touchdowns under normal rules — both for senior linebacker turned safety Tyler Clemens — and they added four sacks. Plenty of positives spread out in a scenario where each team gets 12 offensive plays, starting at the 40-yard line, against each of the other teams.
No officials stats are kept, and there are no conversions after touchdowns.
“We went completely down the script offensively — ran the plays that we wanted to see, put the kids in there that we wanted to see,” Utz said.
Excelsior Springs scored on its 12th and final play to open the jamboree.
The momentum carried over to the Tigers’ defense, which limited Platte County’s first three plays to no gain or negative yards. That would prove to be the last of extended trouble for the Pirates’ offense against the three foes.
“It came out like we wanted it to, so we can feel good about it and still get some learning opportunities,” Utz said.
TJ Guillory, who led Platte County in receptions a year ago as a sophomore, started a three-touchdown string against Pembroke Hill. The junior slot receiver took a pass over the middle from Mitchell then went right and juked multiple defenders before diving into the end zone for a 10-yard score. Tongate then caught a 10-yard scoring pass that deflected off two Raiders defenders and Watts into the sophomore’s hands.
Willie Smith, a senior running back, then broke off a 32-yard run to cap the 12 plays.
Tongate scored again late vs. St. Pius X on a 16-yard sweep run with Willie Smith setting the edge with his blocking. That followed the final score from the starters when running back Alex Minter, again set to share duties with McNair this season, took a pass and turned up field to sneak inside the left pylon with senior wide receiver Zack Regan maintaining a block at the goal line to allow his fellow senior to slip into the end zone.
Guillory and senior Zach Hamilton return as starters at wide receiver, but Regan, Watts and others, including Hamilton, will be asked to up production to make up for a pair of all-staters lost to graduation — tight end Tyler Cooper and wide receiver Aliek Reed.
“There’s definitely some pressure to show out so we don’t become a one-dimensional offense,” said Regan, who caught a 10-yard pass from Mitchell to set up Platte County’s opening touchdown from McNair against Excelsior Springs. “Nobody really has any respect for us (as a group of wide receivers), but with returning starters T.J. and Hammy, I don’t see why.
“We just really want to succeed this year, and the way to do that is playing for each other. I think we do that well.”
Platte County’s defense, which features seven returning starters, also received a shutout from the first string.
Clemens picked off a pass from Excelsior Springs’ Anthony Pritzel on the Tigers’ second play and sprinted back untouched until whistles called the play dead. He repeated that sequence on Pembroke Hill’s Joe Graves in the second quarter, and the Raiders failed to score on their 12 plays with junior safety Kevin Neal, sophomore defensive end Michael Smith and sophomore defensive tackle Noah Brinton recording sacks.
Platte County outscored Excelsior Springs 12-6 and Pembroke Hill 18-0 before two late TDs from St. Pius X forged a 12-12 tie in the finale.
Last season, the Pirates dominated the same three teams in preseason ahead of the season opener with William Chrisman. They put up 457 yards of offense in a 41-0 drubbing that also featured its share of miscues for then-youthful Platte County, which won the first six games of the season on the way to a 9-2 record.