The coaches, unfortunately, continue to use those lessons this season and have found a way to overcome the loss of senior and returning starter at running back Matt Harris, lost for the season to a knee injury in the preseason jamboree. Zach Neal, a fellow senior, continued to carve out his role in a split backfield during a 29-3 win against rival Park Hill South on Friday, Sept. 19 at Park Hill District Stadium.
Park Hill never trailed and ran off 26 unanswered points after halftime with Neal carrying 22 times for 95 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with game-highs of 159 yards on 32 carries in his best performance of the season.
“Whatever the magic ingredient is at halftime, it’s been pretty good the last three weeks,” Park Hill coach Josh Hood said. “The coaching staff made some great adjustments. One of the adjustments was saying, ‘Things are there; we’re one person away.’ The one person got things fixed in the second half, and we executed.”
Park Hill improved to 4-1 with a fourth straight win since an opening loss to Class 6 powerhouse Blue Springs South. Now 2-0 in Suburban Conference Red Division play, the Trojans maintained their No. 5 ranking in the Class 5 Missouri media poll while trying to rebuild a roster after a 2014 trip to the state semifinals.
Without Harris, Neal and sophomore Dorian Clayton have split most of the running duties, and the rush offense really found footing during a second straight sluggish effort.
“Since we have Matt gone, it was a little struggle at the beginning,” Neal said. “We got our stuff together in the second half, and we did what we had to do to get the ‘W’. Intensity is the biggest change. That was the biggest thing we needed to do. We were playing soft at the beginning, just having to feel it out. Second half, we turned the gas on.”
Park Hill finished with 221 yards on the ground to Park Hill South’s 46, and the Trojans outgained their chief rival 348-140.
Clayton showed his big play ability with three carries for 58 yards, the longest play of the night coming on his 52-yard scamper in the fourth quarter that set up the game’s final score. He took a handoff up the middle, entered a pile and popped out of the other side unscathed.
Park Hill South safety Alfoncio Rand delayed the score after sprinting to catch him at the 1-yard line, but Clayton dove into the end zone on the next play.
“That’s the Dorian Clayton we know,” Hood said. “He’s a young kid, and we asked him this week to be 18-years-old and quit being 15. We gave him that shot there at the end. He’s going to be that dual threat running back that we need with Zach leading the way.
“We were proud to see what we have.”
Park Hill south continues to look for its first win with a trip to Truman on the docket for Friday, Sept. 25, while Park Hill faces Ruskin for its homecoming game.
In the first season under coach Mike Sharp, Park Hill South (0-5) has led or been close in all five games. The Panthers have also ended up on the wrong end of blowouts the past two weeks, first at Platte County and then against Park Hill, after stagnant second halves.
“Our kids had a great first half,” Sharp said. “We battled and we probably should have had 14 points, but we couldn’t finish and couldn’t execute. We were our own enemy tonight, definitely in the second half.”
Park Hill junior Parker Sampson opened the scoring in the first quarter by hitting a 22-yard field goal. He nailed a 24-yarder four plays earlier but a roughing the kicker gave the Trojans three more shots at the end zone. They eventually settled for a second try.
Park Hill South sophomore place kicker Stephen Personelli tied things up with a 24-yard field goal of his own in the second quarter, and the score remained tied at half. The Panthers led 7-3 at halftime the previous week vs. Platte County when the Pirates poured on 30 unanswered.
The matchup with Park Hill followed a similar script.
Neal scored his first touchdown in the third quarter — a 2-yard plunge after a 27-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Billy Maples to junior wide receiver Quinton Harris set up the Trojans in a goal-to-go situation. Harris finished with three catches for 61 yards, while Maples finished with 127 yards through the air or 7-for-15 accuracy.
Park Hill also recorded a safety in the third quarter two plays after Sampson pinned Park Hill South inside the 5-yard line with a 67-yard punt. Sampson added a 21-yard field goal to open the fourth quarter after the ensuing free kick.
Neal added a second on a 19-yard run in the fourth quarter after a Park Hill South punt on its next possession — following a pair of sacks from standout defensive end Chester Graves — to extend Park Hill’s lead to 22-3.
From there, Park Hill kept the two-headed running attack on the move to salt away the win for a banged-up but not deterred roster.
“They didn’t have a whole lot of time,” Hood said. “Matt went down right before the season started. They took the torch and they’ve taken off. I couldn’t be more proud of their effort.”