DEARBORN, Mo. — Josh Rodriguez approached the rematch with some apprehension. Yet, the North Platte coach watched as the Panthers repeated the result Friday, Oct. 23 at North Platte High School with a 24-16 win against Plattsburg. Just a week earlier, North Platte won a strikingly similar regular season matchup 26-13 against the same KCI Conference rival. The first win gave the Panthers the No. 4 seed and a home game but also led to the rematch with fifth-seeded Plattsburg in the Class 1 District 7 tournament’s first round.
“I was kind of worried that playing the same team you just beat the week before that our mindset would be they were too easy,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think our kids fell into that trap. They responded right out of the gate and played well. Plattsburg is a good team, and it wound up being another great game.”
After earning the school’s first district win since 2012 (19-6 against Mid-Buchanan), North Platte faces a trip to Wellington, Mo. to face top-seeded Wellington-Napoleon, which enters at No. 9 in the final Class 1 Missouri media poll with a record of 9-1.
North Platte and Wellington-Napleon have just one common opponent: West Platte. The Tigers trounced the Bluejays 42-28 in Week 2, while North Platte lost its rivalry game with West Platte, 48-14.
“We know our only goal is not to win the first game of districts,” Rodriguez said. “We want to win beyond that and to make a run in the playoffs. It’s nice to have the win in our pocket, but we’re looking forward to next week.”
In the rematch with Plattsburg, North Platte again needed a fourth quarter touchdown to retake the lead after the Tigers flawlessly executed the two-minute drill to end the first half. Plattsburg quarterback Daniel O’Connor found wide receiver Tanner Sims for their second touchdown of the first half to tie the score at 16-16 at halftime.
Both teams scored a pair of touchdowns in the first half and converted each of the two-point conversions.
The score remained the same all the way into the fourth quarter when North Platte senior quarterback Anthony Henandez scored on a tough 6-yard touchdown run with 6 minutes, 6 seconds to play. Plattsburg drove into the red zone on the ensuing possession, and the Panthers survived a pair of fourth-down plays to preserve the victory.
After a penalty call on the first fourth down, O’Connor’s fourth-and-4 pass from the 9 sailed out the end zone, and North Platte kneeled out the clock. North Platte senior defensive tackle John Collins flushed O’Connor out of the pocket on the final play, forcing the errant throw.
“I just got a drive,” said Collins, who recorded six tackles. “I just go. I love it when we have to get it. Coach told me, ‘You’re out if (you don’t start getting off the ball).’ I got my mind together, and I started getting off the ball.”
North Platte linebackers Remington Wilson (19 tackles), Ben French (14 tackles) and Josh Dutcher (12 tackles) led a stout defensive effort that resulted in the second half shutout. The Panthers also forced one turnover, but the offense had to find a way to grind out the yardage and points.
Hernandez hit senior wide receiver Kyle Ewing for a 30-yard touchdown with 7:02 to go in the first quarter, but Plattsburg answered early in the second quarter with the first touchdown reception for Sims.
Hernandez, who finished 3-for-10 passing for 91 yards, added his first rushing touchdown with 2:28 to play in the half to put North Platte up 16-8. He led the Panthers in rushing for the second straight week with 125 yards on 15 carries, while senior running backs Aron Burke (56 yards) and Jordan Hendricks (32 yards) were held in check on 12 attempts apiece.
“I just ran low with my shoulders down,” Hernandez said of his two touchdown runs. “I finished my run, kept my feet moving and just hoped for the best.”
Despite allowing the two-minute drill touchdown with 26 seconds left in the first half, North Platte (4-6) never trailed. Hendricks, Burke and Hernandez had a two-point conversion apiece for key points in staying in front of Plattsburg (2-8). Ewing finished with two catches for 58 yards.