Platte County football's offense breaks out of slump in shootout win

Forget the struggling offense. Behind a standout showing from senior quarterback Lloyd Lockett and a workhorse effort from junior running back Mike McNair, Platte County’s occasionally maligned offense finally paid back its besieged defensive unit in the Class 4 District 8 opener. The Pirates were steady and methodical, finding a way to outscore big-play oriented Benton in a first round matchup Friday, Oct. 23 at Pirate Stadium.

TODD NUGENT/Special to The Citizen Platte County junior offensive tackle Derek Kohler, right, knocks over senior wide receiver Zach Hamilton (15) after he scored a touchdown in a Class 4 District 8 matchup with St. Joseph Benton on Friday, Oct. 23 at Pirate Stadium.

Platte County’s 42-34 victory included 77 offensive plays for 417 yards, going blow-for-blow with the sixth-seeded Cardinals in a third quarter that featured eight touchdowns and 56 points.

“They’ve bailed us out multiple times this year. I felt like it was our payback to them — a little bit, some minor payback. That’s what a whole team does. It takes a whole team to make it work, not just one side,” said Lockett, under center in the wake of junior quarterback Justin Mitchell’s season-ending separated shoulder suffered in practice days ahead of what became a three-game losing streak.

Platte County (7-3) won its second straight and advanced to face another familiar former Midland Empire Conference foe.

Going the same route as last postseason, the Pirates — the No. 3 seed — face second-seeded Smithville in the District 8 bracket for a fourth consecutive season. The Warriors have won the past two in dramatic fashion, including a 44-38 triumph in the semifinals last year at Pirate Stadium that ended with a narrowly missed Hail Mary attempt on the final play.

Platte County had won 14 straight in the series dating back to 1995 prior to the two recent losses and holds a 53-32-6 all-time advantage.

This time around, Smithville (8-2) enters as the favorite with its lone losses to ranked foes Maryville (No. 1 in Class 3) and Park Hill (No. 4 in Class 5). Platte County and Smithville have both spent time in the Class 4 rankings this year, but the Pirates plummeted out during its skid, while the Warriors continue to receive votes.

“We’re in a situation on the road and in the playoffs. We just have to go play,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “I can’t see any pressure, and it should be a fun atmosphere for them.”

Platte County ended the three-game losing streak more by limiting Raytown South star quarterback Jabril Cox than fully correcting its own offensive plight in a 23-15 win.

While the Pirates limited turnovers for a second straight week, the offense also put up its fair share of yards, while the defense allowed its most points since 50-24 and 36-0 losses to Belton and Kearney in the first two games after Mitchell’s injury. The first half against Benton gave little indication of the offensive outburst to come.

McNair capped a short seven-play drive with his first of two touchdown runs to put Platte County up 7-0 early in the first, and Benton closed within 7-6 at the break on the first of quarterback Cooper Burton’s three touchdown passes early in the second quarter.

TODD NUGENT/Special to The Citizen Platte County sophomore defensive back Kobe Cummings, bottom, wraps up and tackles St. Joseph Benton quarterback Cooper Burton during  a first-round Class 4 District 8 matchup Friday, Oct. 23 at Pirate Stadium.

Benton fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half, and McNair, who ran a season-high 43 times for a team-high 171 yards, scored on the first play — a 21-yard touchdown dash to put Platte County up 14-6. The scoring went back-and-forth in quick succession from there, and the Pirates even went behind for a moment.

The scoring outburst for Platte County came after going nearly eight full quarters without a point during the losing streak and putting up just 59 combined in the past four games.

“We weren’t holding anything back,” Utz said. “I think it’s a case where we’re getting more comfortable. I think Lloyd’s getting more comfortable. That allows the confidence to rise, and anyone plays better when they’re a little more confident.

“We just started playing better.”

The quarterbacks accounted for most of the scoring.

Following McNair’s second touchdown, Burton hit older brother Cooper Burton for a 36-yard touchdown and added a two-point pass to tie the score at 14-14. Lockett responded with a 31-yard touchdown run, but Cooper Burton responded with a 58-yarder two plays later.

A failed conversion left Platte County’s lead at 21-20, but the Pirates were then forced into a punt. Cooper Burton converted a third-and-long on the ensuing drive with a 19-yard run and then completed the march with a 23-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Rice. A two-point run put the Cardinals ahead for the first time at 28-21.

A long kick return from sophomore safety Kobe Cummings set up a short field, and Lockett capitalized — first with a first down run on fourth and short and capping the drive with a 13-yard touchdown run. He finished with 121 yards rushing and 121 more passing.

Tied again, Cooper Burton fumbled three plays later, and Lockett regained the lead for Platte County with a 29-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Zach Hamilton, the first of two scoring connections between the two. The Pirates didn’t trail again despite a 79-yard touchdown run for Cooper Burton on the very next play, thanks to a failed two-point conversion.

Cooper Burton finished with 220 yards passing on 18-of-24 accuracy while running for 156 more — accounting for most of the Cardinals’ 457 yards on just 50 plays.

“Cooper Burton made some plays. He had an unbelievable game,” Utz said. “To be honest with you, they called a pretty good game, and their kids, I thought, played really well in a situation where they had nothing to lose and were able to get some things done.”

Hamilton caught an 11-yard touchdown on the next drive early in the fourth quarter for the final points.

Johnny Blankenship intercepted Cooper Burton to seemingly stop Benton for the first time in the second half, but a penalty wiped out the turnover. The Cardinals eventually punted and did not regain possession, and McNair helped grind away the rest of the clock.

Tyler Blankenship and Hamilton recovered fumbles, helping the defense do just enough to maintain while the Platte County’s reconfigured offense found its footing.

McNair turned in his best performance of the season, while Hamilton made three catches for 40 yards after catching just two in Lockett’s first four starts. The first came early in the loss to Belton, which started the skid, and another two weeks ago in a seemingly demoralizing 32-12 defeat at Grandview. TJ Guillory, a junior wide receiver, also reappeared with team-highs of four catches for 52 yards.

All were good signs that both units could perform in tandem this week with hopes of the sudden underdog Pirates can find a way to continue their season despite the adversity and earn a rematch with Kearney by avenging a pair of stinging losses to Smithville.

“We’re starting to get back to playing the way that we can play — even without Justin,” Lockett said. “We’re starting to adjust that it’s me back there. We’re starting to play like a team again.”