Instead, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound senior ended up with a 100-yard rushing performance, and the Panthers experienced a stinging 20-14 defeat against Mid-Buchanan on Friday, Sept. 4. North Platte opened at 2-0 under first-year coach Josh Rodriguez but couldn’t close out the KCI Conference opener despite 102 yards on 19 carries from Burke, used strictly on defense the past two seasons.
“It felt amazing,” Burke said. “I’ve never felt that way before. I’ve always been a defensive player. I wasn’t expecting it at all. I give all the credit to my team and my line. I couldn’t have done it without them. They created the holes, and I did the rest.”
The rest included a 6-yard touchdown run and then a two-point run midway through the third quarter, giving North Platte a 14-12 advantage at Mid-Buchanan High School.
The Panthers couldn’t add any more cushion despite a promising drive in the fourth quarter, and Mid-Buchanan — now 3-0 after its own surprising start under first-year coach Aaron Fritz — took the lead back with a 76-yard march in 3 minutes. Trailing by six, North Platte’s final drive ended on quarterback Anthony Hernandez’s interception on the second play.
In the first three games, North Platte has averaged just 10 points per game, including the bizarre 2-0 win in Week 1 at Gallatin.
“We have to finish,” Rodriguez said. “When we get the ball rolling and we’re playing well and have one little slip up derail us. We need to fix that. We need to learn how to finish. We should have finished this one in the fourth quarter.”
North Platte drove into the red zone with a chance to extend its lead on big runs from Burke and Hernandez.
A costly holding call on first down backed the Panthers out of the red zone, and one run and three incompletions from Hernandez resulted in a turnover on downs with 5:45 to play. Hernandez finished 2-for-10 passing for 63 yards.
Still down 14-12, Mid-Buchanan used a trick play formation on its game-winning drive, capping it with a 27-yard touchdown run from Braydn Kemper out of a set Fritz calls “The Barber Wire.” Kemper finished with 200 yards passing on 28-of-36 accuracy and added the interception to end the Panthers’ final chance at a tying or winning drive.
North Platte linebackers Joshua Dutcher (19 tackles) and Ben French (12 tackles) helped limit Mid-Buchanan’s rushing attack, but the Dragons found success through the air.
“They had some great play calls that caught us off guard,” Rodriguez said. “Our kids didn’t get aligned right. That’s on me. I needed to make sure they were aligned correctly, and I didn’t get it done. They just dinked and dunked, played basketball on grass. That’s what they’re good at.”
North Platte senior running back Jordan Hendricks added 79 yards rushing and one catch for 38 yards but also lost a fumble for the first of two turnovers for the Panthers, who host Lawson on Friday, Sept. 11 at North Platte High School in Dearborn, Mo. The Cardinals enter at 1-2 after losses to Class 3 Maryville and Richmond the first two weeks of the season before rebounding to top Plattsburg 41-14 to open KCI Conference play last week.