Platte County football searching for answers in wake of injuries, 2nd straight loss

ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo Platte County senior defensive back Johnny Blankenship, left, walks off the field following Kearney’s final score of a 36-0 win against Platte County on Friday, Oct. 2 at Pirate Stadium. On the surface, Platte County looked like a group still reeling from the loss of a standout quarterback.

The effects went much deeper during a 36-0 blowout loss to Kearney on Friday, Oct. 2 at Pirate Stadium. In reality, the Pirates shifted six more players during former cornerback Lloyd Lockett’s second start at quarterback in place of Justin Mitchell, a junior lost for the season to a severely separated shoulder suffered during a recent practice.

Platte County (5-2) lost its second straight in the wake of the injury — both in Suburban Conference Blue Division play, dropping the Pirates’ league mark to 2-2 and basically ending any hope of a repeat share of the league title.

“We have to regroup a little bit and keep trying to find a recipe that works and at the same time keep the kids in a mental frame where they’re staying positive and keep trying to get better,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said.

ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo Platte County running back Mike McNair (33) turns to run up field against Kearney on Friday, Oct. 2 at Pirate Stadium.

The first half went so poorly that officials could have put the purple 2015 tag on the new Highway 92 Showdown traveling trophy at halftime with kicker Dawson Goepferich banging in a 53-yard field goal off the crossbar to put Kearney up 27-0 going into the break.

Platte County gained only two first downs in the first 24 minutes and didn’t gain anymore in the second half. The Pirates finished with just 21 yards of offense on 32 plays, a big factor five sacks of Lockett that accounted for a big chunk of negative rushing yardage.

Mike McNair, a junior running back, provided the lone highlights on offense for Platte County with 25 yards rushing on nine attempts. Lockett went 3-for-11 for 19 yards before giving way on the final series to sophomore Tanner Clarkson, who went 0-for-2 with an interception on the Pirates’ final play.

“Golly, we’ve got to get the ball moving in the right direction,” Utz said.

Platte County goes staggering into a road matchup with Grandview (4-3), much improved and coming off back-to-back wins against Winnetonka and Raytown South. The Pirates close the regular season at home vs. Raytown South (1-6), coming off a loss in overtime to Belton, which beat Platte County 50-24 in Week 6.

Platte County dropped from No. 1 to No. 2 in the most recent Class 4 District 8 point standings behind Kearney. The Pirates also fell out of the Class 4 Missouri Media top 10 and received no votes after peaking at No. 4 earlier in the season.

“To come out and have a great performance (against Grandview) would be huge,” said Platte County senior Johnny Blankenship, who made a team- and season-high 18 tackles. “That’s what we need as a team. Right now, we’re focusing on this week. This week our goal is to beat Grandview.”

With senior safety Tyler Clemens lost for the season in Week 2 to a separated shoulder, Blankenship moved back to safety from outside linebacker to a spot he played as a junior. Kevin Neal, a junior with a team-high four interceptions, shifted from his safety spot to cornerback.

In addition, offensive linemen Conner Welch and Derek Kohler played more snaps on defense — Welch starting as outside linebacker and defensive end, while Kohler played his normal left tackle role and helping fill in for senior defensive tackle senior Dane Rader, who missed a second straight game due to illness. Willie Smith, McNair’s typical backup at running back, also played outside linebacker to fill in the gap Blankenship left.

ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo Platte County safety Johnny Blankenship corrals Kearney quarterback Logan Hinck on Friday, Oct. 2 at Pirate Stadium.

All the changes meant additional carries for running back turned wide receiver Alex Minter and a combination of sophomore Chris Gianessi at right tackle and junior Grant Runde at right guard.

“It’s like we’re trying to find a new identity all of a sudden,” Utz said, “moving some kids around, getting some people where we hope it will be the best fit. You know, Kearney’s a good team, and when we’re going through as many transitions as we are, that’s a tough team to try and get fixed on.”

The revamped defense ceded 375 total yards and five rushing touchdowns, while allowing Kearney to complete 12 of 14 passes.

However, Platte County started making stops after halftime, including a fumble recovery for Blankenship and a goal line stand late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter. After holding linebacker Cale Garrett out of the end zone out of a trick formation on fourth and one on the fourth quarter’s first play, the Pirates surrendered a safety on the next snap when Lockett couldn’t make it out of the end zone on a designed run.

Kearney running back Marcus Harris scored his third rushing touchdown seven plays later to extend the lead to 36-0 and start the running clock with 8 minutes, 59 seconds to play. He finished with 96 yards on 21 carries while Bulldogs quarterback Logan Hinck — hurt during Kearney’s only loss of the season against Liberty North — led the way with 103 to go with 11 of 13 passing for 120 yards.

The steady ground attack forced Platte County’s defense to remain on the field for lengthy drives, especially in the second half. Following the fumble recovery, the Pirates went three-and-out, and the defense took only seconds off following the goal-line stand — demoralizing turns in momentum on a frustrating night.

“We’re a team,” Blankenship said. “We play as a team. We win as a team. We lose as a team. Stuff like that is tough. They’re in a tough situation right there (at the goal line). All we can do is go back to work, get better and move on.”

Kearney even had a pair of touchdowns called back due to penalties and extended a drive with a fake punt run.

On the Bulldogs’ second play after Platte County’s initial three-and-out to open the game, a 32-yard wide receiver pass from Aaron Mello set up Harris’ first touchdown from one yard out a play later. The Pirates then made a stop but allowed a 38-yard touchdown pass on Kearney’s third drive. A penalty negated the play, but Hinck hit Harris on a 36-yard screen pass on the resulting third-and-16.

Harris scored from 7 yards out on the next play to put Kearney up 14-0 with 1:29 left in the first quarter.

Later after going down 17-0, Platte County forced a fourth-and-3 midway through the third quarter but allowed Harris to gain 22 yards on a fake punt, setting up Hinck’s 1-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 24-0. Platte County gained its second first down on the next drive with runs from McNair and Minter but eventually punted, and Kearney’s 1½- minute drive resulted in Goepferich’s long distance field goal and a four-score advantage at halftime.

Platte County then held Kearney scoreless for the third quarter and provided a positive half going into the final two weeks.

“Our only choice was to fight, and that’s what we went out and did,” Blankenship said.