First, the Pirates played without sophomore safety Kobe Cummings. Then senior Tyler Clemens went down with a severe shoulder injury. Those absences have led to increased playing time for sophomore JP Post and junior Cade Goettling, and yet, the secondary continues to come away with the biggest plays during an unbeaten start to the season.
On Friday, Aug. 4, senior cornerback Lloyd Lockett, junior safety Kevin Neal and Post combined for five interceptions — two returned for scores — in a 52-12 rout of Ruskin at Pirate Stadium in the Pirates’ home opener. They improved to 3-0 and jumped to fourth in the most recent Missouri media Class 4 poll, thanks to Kearney’s loss to Liberty North.
All five of the picks came in the first half, as did all 52 of Platte County’s points in a much-needed lopsided win.
“It’s nice to be able to have kids that we can move in and out,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “We’ve got kids that are making plays. Tell me, show me the best player. Everybody is getting a little bit of it, and that’s a good problem.”
Post started at cornerback with Clemens out indefinitely. He suffered a separated shoulder early in what ended up a wild 41-34 comeback win against St. Joseph Central in Week 2 and underwent surgery before the game against Ruskin.
Clemens, a senior moved from outside linebacker to safety, scored a pair of special teams touchdowns in the opening week to help the Pirates comeback to beat William Chrisman, 38-19.
Cummings returned from his own injury the final week and secured a key tackle for loss of Central running back Israel Smith to preserve the seven-point lead with the Indians driving for a potential tying score. They were down 41-34 after Neal’s acrobatic diving interception set up Platte County’s winning score.
The secondary opened the season much like the rest of Platte County’s roster: flush with experience and depth.
“We did have (depth). We don’t anymore,” Utz said.
The trick so far for the Platte County coaching staff remains finding the right combinations in the lineup.
Post fluctuated between offense and defense but might have found a more permanent home with his performance against Ruskin. After Pirates junior quarterback Justin Mitchell threw a pick to end the game’s opening possession, Post went up to snare an errant pass from Ruskin’s Mark Anthony Robins to return the ball to the Platte County offense.
With help from a 37-yard fake punt pass from Mitchell to Post, Platte County converted the turnover into a score on a 28-yard touchdown pass to senior Alex Minter.
“Every time I step on the field, I have to prove myself. Coming up big was a big thing for me,” said Post, whose second interception didn’t lead to points — the only one of the picks that didn’t directly lead to a touchdown. “I knew I was going to be getting a little bit of playing time, but the nerves are always going to be there. As long as I can control them and keep them down, I’ll be OK.”
In between Post’s two picks, Neal brought his season total to three interceptions with two off of Robins. He returned the first 55 yards to set up the second of three touchdowns for junior running back Mike McNair. The second Neal returned 51 yards down the home sideline for a touchdown to put the Pirates up 31-0.
Not to be outdone, Lockett grabbed the fifth with just under 9 minutes left in the first half and weaved through the middle of the field for a 55-yard touchdown, dragging a Ruskin would-be-tackler the final five yards into the end zone. Robins finished 7 of 21 for 145 yards with 75 of those coming on a late first half touchdown pass to Shakespeare Williams.
The defensive performance allowed the Platte County offense to reap some easy rewards.
Mitchell ran for a team-high 61 yards on two carries — one a 60-yard touchdown on a keeper bootleg that fooled Ruskin completely — and added his most efficient passing day of the season: 11 for 18 for 192 yards and three touchdowns. McNair added 58 on the ground, including scoring runs of 11 and 8 yards in the first quarter, to go with a 16-yard touchdown catch from Mitchell with 40 seconds left in the first half to put the Pirates ahead 52-0.
While those two continue to be featured parts of the offense, other players continue to adjust to new roles.
Minter played mostly running back last year but lines up more often in the slot and ranks second in receptions with 10 and receiving yards with 142, trailing only Guillory in both categories. Willie Smith, a senior running back, also continues to carve out playing time and grabbed a pair of catches for a team-high 52 yards against Ruskin, including a one-handed stab that went for 33 yards in the second quarter on a second-and-29 play that set up McNair’s touchdown catch.
Entering a home date with Park Hill South this week, Platte County clearly still continues to sort through its roster to provide the best opportunities for the large group of contributors, every play serving as a potential audition for a bigger role in another so-far successful season.
“We just have a lot of kids who can play. We’re going to put the best 11 we have at that moment right out there and see what they can do,” said Minter, who grabbed his 28-yard catch on a corner route just past the outstretched fingertips of Ruskin’s Rhochard Lawrence before dancing inside the near pylon for the game’s opening touchdown.