Coming off three straight losses, the Bluejays were in need of a win — any win — especially in KCI Conference play with the annual meeting against North Platte looming. West Platte left no doubt, scoring the first four touchdowns and briefly touching off a running clock in a 48-14 win Friday, Sept. 18 at North Platte High School — the Bluejays’ 11 straight win in the series dating back to 2006.
West Platte senior quarterback Brett Shepardson ran 27 times for 245 yards and five touchdowns, while junior running back Kyle Tabaka added the final two touchdowns in a decisive victory. The Bluejays were 0-2 in league play before the win, coming off of a blowout loss to East Buchanan and a tight defeat the previous week against Lathrop.
The chance to end the skid and collect the unique rivalry trophy paired perfectly for West Platte.
“It was a big one for sure,” Shepardson said. “We knew we needed to come out and get a ‘W’ this week, and it just feels a little better against North Platte, get that Tobacco Stick.”
North Platte (2-3, 0-3 KCI) dropped its third straight after a promising unbeaten start in non-league play under first-year coach Josh Rodriguez.
From the opening drive, the Panthers couldn’t match the physicality of West Platte’s option attack, and they lost multiple starters throughout the game to injury, including senior linebacker and running back Aron Burke. The Bluejays were up 13-0 in the second quarter on a pair of Shepardson touchdown runs when Burke went down with an apparent knee injury as the clock ticked away in the second quarter.
North Platte finished with 161 yards of offense with 64 coming on senior running back Jordan Hendricks’ 64-yard touchdown scamper for the game’s final points against the Bluejays’ reserves.
Since a 20-14 loss to Mid-Buchanan in Week 3, opponents have outscored North Platte 90-28 the past two weeks with matchups against Lathrop, East Buchanan, Hamilton and Plattsburg left in the regular season. Those four teams have a combined record of 11-8 with East Buchanan and Hamilton among the unbeaten teams in KCI play, along with Lawson.
“We’ve got several kids banged up and that are out,” Rodriguez said. “That’s not an excuse for what happened. We didn’t do our assignments, but that’s definitely not a help either.
“We have to have some positives, and our schedule doesn’t get any easier. We have to dial them back in, be positive with them that they can do it, and I think they are capable of doing it.”
With Burke down on the final drive of the second quarter, West Platte converted a fourth down on Shepardson’s only pass attempt of the first half to keep what became a lengthy drive alive. He then added a fourth down conversion run, and after a timeout, he scored from 1 yard out with just 4.5 seconds left in the half.
The ensuing two-point run gave the Bluejays a 21-0 lead.
West Platte then took the opening kickoff of the second half and held the ball for another 4:37 with Shepardson plowing in from 7 yards out to make it 28-0. In all, North Platte went without the ball for almost 10 full minutes between the two touchdown drives sandwiched around the half.
“We did a very good job of taking it, driving it back down and putting six more points on the board,” West Platte coach Nate Danneman said. “When we don’t turn the ball over, we’re a ball-control offense, and we’ll run 5-, 6-minute drives, capping it off with touchdowns. That’s what we do. That’s what we need to do to be successful.”
North Platte’s next drive started out slow, too, but after a penalty and a sack for West Platte’s Bret Jameson, the Panthers turned a second and 25 into a touchdown and a glimmer of hope. North Platte quarterback Anthony Hernandez (6-for-10 for 87 yards and one interception) hit wide receiver Kyle Ewing in the flat, and he raced 61 yards for a touchdown to trim the lead back to 28-6.
Two plays later, Shepardson capped his scoring barrage with a 20-yard run to extend the lead back out to 34-6.
“They just struck us in the face, and our kids didn’t want any part of it,” Rodriguez said. “That’s on me. I did not have them ready for their physicality.”
West Platte often ran behind senior linemen Dalton Larison and Mitch Moppin, occasionally overloading one side with three linemen or shifting that duo from right to left as needed. Much of the early offense came on option keepers, but Tabaka finally benefited from the flank runs when he busted loose on an 8-yard touchdown run to start the running clock with 7:37 left. He added another just more than 4 minutes later on a 58-yard burst up the middle that finished near the left pylon.
Hendricks’ late touchdown run came on the next possession, and his two-point run stopped the running clock.
However, West Platte ran out the clock and retained the Tobacco Stick trophy, an actual tobacco stick painted in blue each year since 2006. After the game, the players briefly planted it in the turf before holding it aloft in celebration of the much-needed win.
West Platte ended up with more than 400 yards rushing with Tabaka adding 120 and Justin Rhodes 65 to Shepardson’s total.
“Amazing what a piece of wood will make you do to start playing football again,” Danneman told his players.
West Platte improved to 2-3 overall and remains a part of a three-way tie for fourth in the KCI behind the unbeatens. The Bluejays host one of them when Hamilton comes to Rudolph Eskridge Stadium in Weston, Mo. this week with a big win a recent memory and the losing skid in the past.
“We were hurt a little bit, but we knew we could do it,” Shepardson said. “We knew we had the parts. We knew if we stick together, we’re going to get the wins.”
In last year’s meeting, West Platte scored its biggest win of the season with a 32-28 upset of Hamilton, an eventual Class 1 semifinalist. The Hornets won the prior two meetings in 2013 by a combined 22 points.