North Platte football wins another defensive battle to move to 2-0

BRYCE MERENESS/Citizen photo North Platte senior Aron Burke (33) pumps his fist, while fellow seniors Jordan Hendricks (1) and Anthony Hernandez (7) prepare for a shoulder bump as the referee signals a North Platte first down following a fumble recovery in the first quarter of the Panthers’ game against University Academy on Friday, Aug. 28 at North Platte High School in Dearborn, Mo. DEARBORN, Mo. — With less than 2 minutes left, North Platte looked ready to seal another two-point victory.

Instead, first-year coach Josh Rodriguez opted not to take a knee and ran his offense back out onto the field Friday, Aug. 28 at North Platte High School. Panthers senior running back Jordan Hendricks scored his second touchdown three plays later, but a failed two-point conversion created a few uneasy moments in a 14-6 victory against University Academy.

“I was just happy we were winning,” said Hendricks, who finished with a game-high 147 yards rushing. “It was an amazing feeling crossing the goal line. I loved it all. It was a dog fight.”

North Platte improved to 2-0 on the young season, the Panthers’ best start to a season since going 4-0 in 2011. They finished 6-4 that season.

BRYCE MERENESS/Citizen photo North Platte running back Jordan Hendricks high steps in the end zone after scoring a touchdown Friday, Aug. 28 against University Academy at North Platte High School in Dearborn, Mo.

After going 1-9 last year, Rodriguez leads unbeaten North Platte into a KCI Conference opener this week against Mid-Buchanan (2-0) in an unexpected early showdown. The Panthers won last year’s meeting for their only victory.

“We’re all pumped up,” Hendricks said. “We’re undefeated for the first time in who knows how long.,” Hendricks said. “We’re all in it together this year. We all have the same passion, and we’re ready to go.”

Hendricks’ first score against University Academy — and his first touchdown of the season after North Platte beat Gallatin 2-0 in the season opener — came in the first quarter on a 15-yard pass from senior quarterback Anthony Hernandez. Hendricks broke back on an underthrown ball diving in front of a Gryphons defender to not only prevent an interception but grab the reception and put points on the board.

Ben French, a sophomore wide receiver, took a rare handoff on a successful two-point conversion that proved to be important.

David Robinson put University Academy back within striking distance with 1 minute, 25 seconds left until halftime. He shimmied past several defenders for a 24-yard touchdown run on his way to 142 yards rushing, but the Gryphons’ two-point try failed.

That left North Platte with the task of limiting Robinson’s offense the rest of the way while holding on to another slim lead.

“He was a beast,” Rodriguez said. “It was hard to catch him. I am very pleased we were able to catch him in the end. He got some of his yards, but it was a bend-don’t-break defense. Ultimately, they only got in the end zone one time. That’s our goal to get in the end zone more than they do.”

BRYCE MERENESS/Citizen photo North Platte running back Aron Burke, left, runs the ball as sophomore offensive lineman Bart Owens (76) provides a block during the Panthers’ 14-6 win against University Academy on Friday, Aug. 28 in Dearborn, Mo.

The second half featured punts and fruitless possessions for both teams.

North Platte nearly took control on a drive of more than 6 minutes in the fourth quarter. Big runs from Hernandez, Hendricks and French helped push the Panthers into the red zone, but a holding penalty helped lead to a turnover on downs.

The ensuing possession for University Academy featured three near interceptions — two from Hernandez and one from sophomore Will Morse, a sophomore defensive back ruled out of bounds on his catch.

Morse saved his big play for later.

Following Hendricks’ go-ahead touchdown run, North Platte failed on the extra-point try, leaving the Gryphons with one final drive still down only one possession. Morse grabbed an interception as time expired to seal another win.

“It was the greatest feeling in the world,” said Morse, who also recovered a first half fumble — one of two recoveries for the Panthers. “All I saw was the chance to win or lose the game. I was ecstatic. I wasn’t sure if I was inbounds or not. I was ecstatic — funnest game ever.”

Wellington-Napoleon 42, West Platte 28

The Bluejays dropped out of the Missouri media Class 1 poll following their loss Friday, Aug. 28 in a battle of ranked teams in Wellington, Mo.

Ranked No. 6 entering the game, West Platte ran 46 times for 260 yards but again struggled through the air under first-year starter Brett Shepardson, who completed just 3 of 18 passes. Bluejays senior running back Justin Rhodes led the offense with 151 yards on 18 carries, while Shepardson, previously an offensive lineman, gained just 54 on 22 tries.

Wellington-Napoleon (2-0), which moved up from No. 9 to No. 6 with the win, built a 24-0 lead in the second quarter and were up 42-16 before the Bluejays tacked on a pair of late touchdowns. Kyle Tabaka scored from 48 yards out, and Shepardson plunged in from two yards to cap the scoring.

Rhodes ended up with two of the completions for Shepardson, totaling 43 yards, while Tabaka caught one pass for 27 yards.

Last season, West Platte won both meetings with Wellington-Napoleon, including a matchup in Class 1 District 7 play. The Bluejays (1-1) open KCI play this week with East Buchanan (2-0, ranked No. 2 in Class 2) visits Rudolph Eskridge Stadium in Weston, Mo. The Bulldogs were a Class 2 state semifinalist last season.