Coming off four straight losses, the Panthers hung close to the KCI Conference favorites for two quarters Friday, Oct. 2 at North Platte High School. East Buchanan ended up with a 32-8 victory, but North Platte found another reason for optimism in a rejuvenated season under first-year coach Josh Rodriguez.
“I thought we had an excellent shot,” he said. “We were playing very good defense. It just didn’t work out in the end. They made some adjustments and attacked some weak spots in our secondary, which we knew were there and we have to get better at, but I’m very proud of the kids for coming out and executing on defense.”
Outscored by 30-plus each of the previous three weeks, North Platte (2-5) limited a high-powered offense to just one touchdown in the first half and a safety in the second quarter. East Buchanan ended up scoring the first 32 points but did not have a running clock.
North Platte senior running back Jordan Hendricks even provided a late touchdown on a 1-yard run to avoid a second straight shutout. The Panthers have yet to score more than 14 points in any game this season.
“It was just that feeling to get that goose egg off the board,” Rodriguez said. “Knowing we played well, we needed to put some points on the board, even though we didn’t score near enough and we had lots of opportunities to do so. Having a drive where we finished means a lot we can carry over to next week.”
North Platte forced zero turnovers but still frustrated all-state quarterback Colby Rapp, who finished 11-for-27 for 207 yards with three touchdown passes. The first score came on a 28-yard completion to all-state receiver Nate Griffin, and the senior quarterback later added scores of 29 and 45 yards in the second half to Zac Johnson, an all-state defensive back.
North Platte stopped the Bulldogs on downs in the red zone four times, including one that led to a safety in the second quarter. Backed up inside the 5, the Panthers couldn’t move out despite a successful half of slowing East Buchanan’s offense.
“They like to take a four quarter game and make it five and get tons of plays off,” Rodriguez said. “We were trying to do the opposite. In the first half, I thought we did well. In the second half, they controlled the tempo and hit us with some deep balls. Their kids are good, and they outran us. It’s as simple as that.”
Ben French led North Platte’s receiving corps with four catches for 58 yards, including a pair of catches on trick plays. He made a diving catch on a fake punt in the second quarter, extending a drive that ended with Hendricks tackled at the 10 as time expired in the half. French added a 26-yard catch on a halfback pass from senior Aron Burke in the fourth quarter which led to the Panthers’ lone touchdown.
Hendricks finished with a team-high 72 yards rushing, while quarterback Anthony Hernandez completed four passes for 78 yards.
North Platte faces a trip to Hamilton (5-2, 4-1) this week before hosting Plattsburg (1-6, 0-5) in the regular season finale. Currently, North Platte sits fifth in the Class 1 District 7 standings, one spot back of Plattsburg, which has lost five straight.
“(My players) can play with anybody on our schedule,” Rodriguez said. “Anyone we have ahead, we have a shot of playing well against and beating them. There’s nobody ahead of us that we can’t play well against.”