The Platte County senior feels a little lucky to have so many memorable big plays despite playing mostly defense for the Pirates the past three seasons. Chances to touch the ball can be limited for Clemens, but he seems to have knack for turning them into touchdowns.
“If that’s the case, he’s been lucky for three years because he seems to find himself around the ball a lot,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said.
Clemens added to his reputation during Platte County’s 39-18 win Friday, Aug. 21 against William Chrisman, returning a kickoff and a blocked punt for scores in the first half at William Chrisman High School.
With a struggling offense, Clemens twice helped the Pirates overcome surprising early deficits. He finished with one tackle for a loss and a forced fumble in his first game at safety after switching spots with fellow senior Johnny Blankenship, now manning an outside linebacker spot.
“As soon as I see (the ball) in the air coming to me, I just get so excited,” Clemens said. “I know my guys are going to make great blocks and give me that crease to go. As soon as I get the ball, I like to take off and follow my blockers.”
Platte County’s defense yielded 250 yards of offense to William Chrisman (0-1), throttled 41-0 in last year’s season-opener with the Pirates. The biggest chunk came on running back Kyron Mason’s 80-yard sprint down the left sideline with 7 minutes, 26 seconds left in the first quarter.
The big play came on the first play after Platte County took a 3-0 lead on Parker Lacina’s 30-yard field goal.
On the ensuing kickoff from William Chrisman, Clemens fielded at the 11-yard line and eventually turned toward the left sideline and raced virtually untouched for an 89-yard kickoff return touchdown. There were 16 points scored in a span of 29 seconds, leaving the Pirates with a 10-6 advantage.
“Tyler’s a very deceptive player,” Utz said. “He doesn’t necessarily look like he’s as fast as he is, but he’s fast and plays extremely smart. He’s just a good solid, kid, so when you see a kid that works that hard and does things the right way, it’s great to see good things happen.”
One of three Platte County turnovers — this one a fumble from running back Mike McNair — led to the next points early in the second quarter.
Four plays later, D’Vontae Brown ran 18 yards for a touchdown to cap a quick 32-yard driver, giving William Chrisman a 12-10 lead after a failed extra-point. The Pirates’ defense held the Bears scoreless from there until a last-minute touchdown against mostly backups
Platte County gained just 1 yard on its next possession, but the Pirates forced a three-and-out to take the ball right back.
The change of possession happened quickly with sophomore linebacker Dakota Schmidt (four tackles in his first career start) blocking the Bears’ punt and sending the ball fluttering into the air. Clemens caught it on the fly and in stride near the original line of scrimmage and racing 23 yards for his second touchdown, sprung the final few strides on a crushing peel-back block from Blankenship.
“Early on, when you give up two scores or even just one score,” Clemens said, “being a member of the defense, you want to cancel that score out yourself. Special teams is a great way to do that.”
Platte County went into halftime up 32-12 with two touchdowns in the final 3 minutes of the second quarter, the second set up by Schmidt’s fumble recovery on a William Chrisman kickoff return following the other score. Blankenship recovered a fumble on William Chrisman’s third play from scrimmage, but the Pirates managed just one first down before settling for Lacina’s field goal.
While the defense mustered most of the big plays, Platte County’s offense with seven returning starters sputtered most of the night. The Pirates finished with just 221 yards of offense and three turnovers.
Justin Mitchell, a junior in his second season starting at quarterback, managed just 193 yards of offense, including 157 passing on 13-for-32 accuracy. McNair, the Pirates’ leading returning rusher, went for just 20 yards rushing on nine attempts, and they averaged just 2.6 yards per carry behind an offensive line with three starters back.
Mitchell accounted for three touchdowns, scoring twice on the ground and tossing a 21-yard touchdown to senior Zack Regan (two catches, 29 yards) late in the first half ahead of William Chrisman’s fumbled kickoff. Alex Minter, a senior running back, ran for 4 yards and caught a team-high six passes for 82 yards.
“I’m never going to argue with a win,” Utz said. “That’s why we play and try to do, and we see some things we have to get better at. And that’s OK, too.”
Platte County (1-0) knows the offense must improve in a hurry.
On Friday, Aug. 28, the Pirates travel to St. Joseph Central for their sixth meeting in the past six seasons with the Indians coming off a 55-15 loss to Kearney in Week 1. All five of the previous games have been decided by 11 points or less, including the Pirates’ 29-22 win last year not guaranteed until
Blankenship broke a pass in the end zone with no time left on the clock.
“(The defense) definitely had our backs tonight, but first-game jitters, got some new offensive linemen, we’ll be ready to go next week for sure,” Platte County junior left tackle Derek Kohler said. “They had some big stops for us, got us great field position. They do that all year, we’re definitely going to win some games.”
If the offense struggles again, Clemens plans to help as much as possible with limited touches. He returned an interception 99 yards for a pivotal score in a minor upset of Winnetonka last season, and his only catch on offense in 2014 also went for a score.
Overall, Clemens now has five career touchdowns — two on special teams and two on defense.
“It happens every year. I’m just in the right spot at the right time. That’s just coach’s schemes,” he said.