After a 23-15 win to close the regular season against Raytown South Friday, Oct. 16, Platte County draws St. Joseph Benton in the first round of the Class 4 District 8 bracket — just like a year ago. A win for the Pirates would mean a potential rematch with Smithville, which has ended their season each of the past two years.
Platte County will be at home Friday, Oct. 23, but with the No. 3 seed, the Pirates would likely travel to No. 2 Smithville for the rematch after losing to the Warriors at home in last year’s District 8 semifinal matchup. The goal remains the same: trying to earn another shot at rival Kearney, the top seed, in the district final for a chance to return to the playoffs for the first time since beating Smithville in the 2012 championship.
“We were in a bit of a struggle,” said Platte County senior linebacker Christian Encarnacion, who finished with nine tackles in the win. “I think our game plan was simple. We knew we were going against a real good quarterback but knew that if we played our game and as a team, we’d be just fine. “It was like we finally did it, but we knew we needed to keep looking ahead to next week (vs. Benton) because that’s when the real stuff starts.”
The championship scenario looks a lot more plausible for Platte County (6-3) after ending a three-game losing streak in the wake of a season-ending injury to standout junior quarterback Justin Mitchell.
One year after winning a share of the Suburban Conference Blue Division title, the Pirates finished 2-3 in league play thanks to the win against Raytown South (2-7, 1-4 Blue Division) and star quarterback Jabril Cox — a Division I recruit. Cox ran for 108 yards but did not bust free for any of his customary big plays, forcing the Cardinals to attempt 44 passes.
Cox completed 27 of his attempts for 245 yards but also threw three interceptions, allowing Platte County to win the battle of field position and eventually hold on for the win.
“It’s the recipe,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said.
No stretch showed the recipe more than the second half.
Facing a fourth and 10 at Raytown South’s 44 on the opening drive of the third quarter, sophomore defensive back JP Post managed to down Parker Lacina’s 43-yard punt inside the 1. The Cardinals managed two runs for no gain and an incompletion before punting, a short kick that sophomore defensive back Kobe Cummings returned 18 yards to the Raytown South 9.
Three plays later, senior quarterback Lloyd Lockett — shifted under center after Mitchell’s separated shoulder suffered in practice three days before the start of the losing streak against Belton — hit senior wide receiver Alex Minter for a 6-yard touchdown and a 16-15 lead.
“We probably punted at times where in the past we would’ve gone for it and tried to pin ’em just because we know that there offense is explosive,” Utz said. “We wanted to make them drive the field and hopefully get some tackles, and our defense did a great job of not giving up big plays so field position was a big thing for us.
“Our defense kept making plays.”
Lockett, who finished 7-for-14 for 100 yards in his strongest performance of the season, threw his lone interception early in the fourth quarter on a drive Platte County started in Raytown South territory. The Cardinals took over and drove 51 yards to the Pirates’ 28.
Facing fourth and 7, Raytown South initially lined for a 45-yard field goal try, but after a Platte County timeout, the Cardinals brought out the offense and threw an incompletion with 4 minutes, 27 seconds to play.
Platte County junior running back Mike McNair (team-high 91 yards rushing on 22 carries) gained an initial first down on the ensuing drive before Lockett hit Minter for a second touchdown — this one on a deep pattern with Minter knocking the ball to himself before reeling it in and finishing off the 61-yard score. The Pirates overcoming their lone giveaway proved a big moment after committing five turnovers in losses to Belton and Grandview last week sandwiched around a shutout loss to Kearney.
Cummings intercepted Cox on Raytown South’s final offensive play to seal the win.
“I feel like our offense still has potential to do some really good things,” Encarnacion said, “but defensively, we know we have to step it up even more after all the things that have happened.”
Platte County also stuck with its revamped defense in response to season-ending injuries to Mitchell and senior safety Tyler Clemens. The Pirates showed the continued improvements with the best performance since a 36-0 shutout of Winnetonka in what turned out to be Mitchell’s final game of the season.
Christian Grissom, Willie Smith and Conner Welch — the latter two both moved over from offense — recorded a sack of Cox apiece, while Cummings, Johnny Blankenship and Kevin Neal grabbed the three picks. Blankenship recorded a game-high 10 tackles in his third game since moving back to safety from linebacker to help Platte County fill the void Lockett left when he moved to offense.
Neal’s interception — the team-leading fifth for the junior safety turned cornerback — came in the end zone at the end of first half and kept the Pirates’ deficit at 15-9 at the break.
Platte County ended up erasing that deficit — the second the Pirates faced — too.
Raytown South took an 8-0 lead on the final play of the first quarter on a 38-yard pass from Cox to Ronnell Frazier and two-point run for Cox. Thanks to a 59-yard kickoff return from Minter, Platte County answered with a 35-yard field goal from Lacina despite gaining only 7 yards on three plays before the kick. The Pirates then held on downs, and McNair scored on an 8-yard run to finish off a drive that included a 22-yard run for Lockett and completions of 8 and 13 yards to junior wide receiver TJ Guillory.
McNair set up his touchdown with a 25-yard scamper but a failed two-point conversion left the lead at 9-8.
Blankenship’s interception came on the next drive, but Platte County punted after three plays. Following the touchback, Raytown South drove 80 yards with help from 15 and 13 yard runs for Cox, who finished it off on a 3-yard plunge with 1:03 left in the half. The Cardinals wouldn’t score again despite an immediate three-and-out from the Pirates that gave them one more shot.
A pair of completions put Raytown South at Platte County’s 29, and Neal’s interception in the end zone on the final play kept the deficit at 15-9. The defense continued to yield yards — 371 for Raytown South to just 192 for the Pirates — but Utz liked the offense’s performance.
“Part of the reason we didn’t have the yards was simply because of the field position. We didn’t have the opportunity to have yards,” Utz said. “We really played on their half of the field the whole night. That’s why the yards were so lopsided. The offense itself, I thought, played a lot better.
“The whole thing ties together. The lack of turnovers from the offense puts the defense in better position.”