In the first half against Park Hill South, Platte County’s speedy senior wide receiver frequently hauled in short passes against soft coverage. With the Pirates searching for a big play, Hamilton finally went long past Panthers cornerback Taylor Owens, hauling in a pass from quarterback Justin Mitchell and racing 51 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Platte County ended up scoring 34 unanswered points, starting with Hamilton’s second long touchdown catch of the season in a statement 37-7 win Friday, Sept. 11 at Pirate Stadium.
“The coaches had all the game plan. We just follow what they want to do, and it works out most of the time,” said Hamilton who finished with team-highs of six catches and 90 yards. “We need one big play, and we can keep going. We just need to play like that all of the time.”
With a boisterous student section clad in American-themed apparel in honor of the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Platte County improved to 4-0 but dropped one spot to No. 5 in the most recent Class 4 Missouri media poll. The Pirates have trailed in each of their four victories but enter Suburban League Blue Division play having again shown hints at the potential of a roster loaded with returners from a season ago.
Platte County plays at Winnetonka (1-3), which has lost three straight.
“We need to get a full game in,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “It’s a little concerning that we have some lulls here and there, but when we play, we do OK. Once we get them to believe that they can do that all the time and find that level of play all the time, then good things are going to happen.”
After Hamilton’s touchdown, the big plays kept coming.
Kevin Neal, a junior safety, recorded his fourth interception in the past three games, and senior cornerback Lloyd Lockett grabbed a pick for the second straight week with Park Hill South’s offense falling apart. Panthers quarterback Zach Suchanick, who threw a 5-yard scoring pass to Jake Springer late in the first half to put them up 7-3, ended up 14-for-24 for 150 yards with the two picks.
After moving the ball up and down the field in the first half, Park Hill South finished with 278 yards of offense with 103 on the ground from junior running back Emanuel Butler. The Panthers didn’t move the ball much after halftime, dropping to 0-4 under first-year coach Mike Sharp.
Platte County took advantage of the failed opportunities from the first half.
After Parker Lacina’s 24-yard field goal on the opening drive of the game, the Pirates failed to score again until Hamilton’s big catch on their second possession of the third quarter. Hamilton caught two passes for 12 yards on the previous drive that reached the Panthers’ 20 but ended when Mitchell mishandled a snap with Park Hill South linebacker Jake Karns recovering.
After a second straight three-and-out for Park Hill South, Mitchell hit Hamilton in stride on the next possession with Owens trailing behind and banging his helmet with both hands in frustration.
“I just knew Justin was going to put it in the right spot, and I’d catch it and run,” Hamilton said.
On the ensuing kickoff, Springer fumbled with Platte County junior defensive lineman Keith Spencer jumping on the loose ball at the Panthers’ 23.
Five plays later, Mitchell — 244 yards passing on 16-of-22 accuracy — fooled the defense and some of his teammates on a read-option keeper and scored from 7 yards out for a 17-7 lead, the first of two short rushing scores for the second-year starter. Park Hill South gained an initial first down of the half on its next drive, but Spencer sacked a rolling out Suchanick for an 8-yard loss on a second-down play, and Neal’s diving interception on the ensuing third and 15 set Platte County up again.
Mike McNair, a junior running back, capped the next drive with 10 minutes, 14 seconds remaining by bowling in from the 1 for a 23-7 lead after a missed extra point. He finished with a team-high 81 yards.
A transfer from Washington (Kan.) last year, Spencer spent his sophomore season as a reserve running back, trying to mesh with his new teammates. He didn’t join the Pirates until midseason and switched to defense for the first time in his career this past offseason.
Spencer’s two big plays against Park Hill South were his first true moments to shine since becoming a starter at Platte County.
“It’s great, man,” said Spencer, who has six tackles and one tackle for loss on the season. “Everyone goes out and plays. We have times where we get down, but we get back up and grind — do what coach taught us, have passion in what we do, just work hard every day. It shows on the field.”
Platte County scored on its next two drives, as well.
Mitchell connected with senior Alex Minter on a 65-yard catch and run, and senior running back Willie Smith’s 56 yards rushing set up Mitchell’s 1-yard plunge with 6:06 to play. Smith ran for 9, 23 and 24 yards on successive plays to put the Pirates at Park Hill South’s 1. Lockett, who just missed a possible pick-six earlier in the fourth quarter, set up the drive by picking off Suchanick on the Panthers’ first play after Minter’s score down the visitor’s sideline.
In all, Platte County scored 34 points in a span of almost 11 minutes, while limiting Park Hill South to 68 yards of offense in the second half.
“I think we were a different team after we came out of halftime,” Utz said. “We challenged them to play with a little bit of passion, play physical because we’ve seen them do it. We’ve already seen them (do it) this year. It seemed like the first half we were still kind of sitting back and waiting for someone to make a play instead of someone stepping up and doing it.”