Both attempts went up on the scoreboard — one for each team in a 42-8 win Class 1 District 7 semifinal win against Mid-Buchanan. The West Platte senior quarterback’s first attempt less than two minutes into the game resulted in a 32-yard interception return for Mid-Buchanan’s Cody Kirschner. West Platte recovered to score 42 straight points, coasting into the championship game for a fourth straight year.
The early 8-0 deficit didn’t faze the Bluejays for long on the way to a second blowout victory this season against one of their top KCI rivals.
“It’s just tenacity,” West Platte coach Nate Danneman said. “We’re a guy who likes to get hit first before we throw a punch. Any time somebody does that, we respond pretty well, and we had to real quick or it was going to be tough as the night went along if we let them play with us.”
Shepardson’s other pass attempt came with West Platte executing the 2-minute offense before halftime. He rolled out and found Grant Eagan on a corner route, and the seldom-targeted wide receiver slipped out of the grasp of a would-be tackler and scampered into the end zone to make it a 24-8 lead at the break.
In addition to the 42-yard passing touchdown, Shepardson did his customary damage on the ground, running for 40 yards and a score.
“It’s always nice to have a passing touchdown,” Shepardson said. “We’re running option football. It makes the passing touchdown like gold. They were talking about throwing the ball up or shovel passes at the end. I’m glad he just broke the tackle and scored.”
Danneman saw the weather forecast for Friday and decided to take advantage of another rainy day earlier in the week to prepare his players ready for the wet conditions. The strategy worked with West Platte losing just the one turnover in the rain while capitalizing on three giveaways for the Dragons.
West Platte didn’t record its first first down until the 2-minute mark of the first quarter. Mid-Buchanan finally got one of four total first downs in the waning seconds before halftime.
“I was hoping for rain all week,” Danneman said. “The guys responded. We knew it was going to be bad. That’s why we went out on Tuesday when it was raining and got a good long practice in so the kids could understand what was going to happen on Friday night.”
West Platte running back Justin Rhodes continued to push the Bluejays’ advantage in the trenches with two touchdown runs (a 53-yard sprint, and 1-yard plunge) in the second half before the first-team unit ceded to the backups. Brayan Rodriguez added a 55-yard run to cap the scoring with less than 3 minutes remaining.
“It was awesome,” Rhodes said. “Just keeping ahold of the ball was tough but once I broke free I knew it was just me. To come out in the rain and keep ahold of the ball and just pound it, it was awesome.”
The win sets up a rematch of the Tobacco Stick game with North Platte, which pulled off an overtime upset of district-top seed Wellington-Napoleon. The Bluejays won the regular season meeting between the KCI rivals, 48-14 and have won the last 11 games in the series dating back to a 38-19 win in 2006.
The 11 straight wins include district meetings in 2011 and 2013, as well.
West Platte also guaranteed at least one more game at historic Rudolph Eskridge Stadium. The field was dedicated in 1967 and the team will move up the hill to the district’s new field and track complex, currently under construction and set to be open in time for next season.
“It’s nice to be able to be the last team to play on this field,” Shepardson said. “It’s a big one to get back into the district championship game, back to where we were last year. We want to get that one this year. Last year we all know what that feeling is to make it there and not win. This year, us seniors want to get our second one.”