Platte County follows McNair into district title game against Kearney

TODD NUGENT/Special to The Citizen Platte County running back Mike McNair, center, runs through a hole toward the end zone during a Class 4 District 8 matchup with Smithville on Friday, Oct. 30 at Smithville High School in Smithville, Mo. McNair scored three touchdowns in a 23-7 win. SMITHVILLE, Mo. — After the first fumble recovery, Platte County players looked optimistic. After the second, the Pirates were downright ecstatic.

Platte County turned turnovers on back-to-back rushing attempts into 10 unanswered points on the way to ending a short but frustrating losing streak. Pirates junior running back Mike McNair capped the 23-7 win against Smithville on a 14-yard touchdown run with 1 minute, 7 seconds to play in the Class 4 District 8 semifinal at Smithville High School — his third rushing score of the day.

Smithville ended Platte County’s season in district play each of the past two seasons, but the Pirates scored the minor upset this time with the offense and defense showing up together for the first time in the six games since losing junior quarterback Justin Mitchell to a season-ending shoulder injury.

TODD NUGENT/Special to The Citizen Platte County defensive back Johnny Blankenship (24) goes up to knock down a pass during a Class 4 District 8 matchup with Smithville on Friday, Oct. 30 at Smithville High School in Smithville, Mo.

Platte County (8-3) found a way to earn a coveted rematch.

Winners of three straight, the Pirates advance to play Kearney in the district championship game Friday, Nov. 6 at Kearney High School in Kearney, Mo. The Bulldogs won the Suburban Conference Blue Division matchup between the two earlier this season 36-0 — part of Platte County’s three-game losing streak in the immediate aftermath of Lloyd Lockett moving from cornerback to quarterback.

A disappointing road loss to Grandview followed before a win against Raytown South in the regular season finale provided an inkling of the potential with retooled lineups.

“It’s a huge game. I mean, we’re playing for a title,” said McNair, now over 1,000 yards on the season and emerging as the focal point of the offense. “They already came here; they beat us once. We’ve lost to them too many times to just let it keep happening. We all agree that something needs to change, and we’re just going to work toward that.”

However, Platte County needed to survive a shootout with Benton in the first round of district play to have a shot against Smithville (8-3), which hosted the matchup as the No. 2 seed.

The third-seeded Pirates missed a 42-yard field goal attempt on their first possession and eventually fell behind 7-0 when the Warriors drove 80 yards after taking the ball back after the failed kick. Mitchell Orr hit JD Benbow with a 54-yard pass down the right sideline, and Tanner Hartman scored two plays later on a 13-yard jet sweep.

Yet, Smithville would gain just 78 yards in the final 36-plus minutes of game play.

Platte County increased its difficulty level with a fumbled snap inside the Warriors’ 5-yard line with a chance to put in the tying score. The Pirates’ defense responded with a quick three-and-out, and McNair capped a seven-play drive with the first of his three scores.

Platte County’s defense continued to provide the openings.

The only other turnover for Smithville came on an interception of Lockett on the Pirates’ final play of the first half, but the Warriors ended up fumbling seven times on the cold, rainy night — losing four. After forcing a punt to start the third quarter, Smithville’s opening possession ended with a Jake Boyd fumble, which Willie Smith recovered for the Pirates.

McNair, who finished with 115 yards on 25 carries, converted a fourth-and-1 with a 30-yard run and scored from 1 yard out two plays later.

Up 14-7, Smithville fumbled on its second play of the next drive with Platte County senior Conner Welch falling on this one. Smith and Welch both moved from roles on offense to defense in the wake of Mitchell’s injury and Lockett’s move to quarterback. In addition, Platte County senior Dane Rader played his third game as mostly an offensive guard after being featured at nose tackle most of the season.

Lockett completed an 11-yard pass to senior wide receiver Zach Hamilton and added two runs for 21 yards after the second straight fumble. However, a fumble helped end the drive and led to a precarious 45-yard field goal try.

Rather than punt, Utz decided to kick, knowing that a miss would serve as a touchback.

The snap came back high, but the ball went down in time for sophomore Parker Lacina to hit a line drive. The kick stayed down the middle, banging off the cross bar and going through for a 17-7 lead. Carter Nugent, a junior wide receiver, put the snap down late, causing Lacina to stutter just slightly on an attempt that was longer than he initially realized walking onto the field.

“At first, I didn’t even know it was a 45-yard attempt,” Lacina said. “I wasn’t even worried about how far it was, got the snap, and I just kicked it. My timing was thrown off, and I kind of had to do almost like a double take, threw off my steps.

“Me and Carter both stood up and looked at it and were like, ‘Uhhhh,” and then it hit the post and went backward. We both just looked at each other and laughed.”

Smithville’s final two chances both ended in miscues.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Warriors reached the Platte County 6 but ended up settling for a field goal. The snap went high and past the holder, allowing the Pirates to take over deep in their own territory. Platte County couldn’t gain a first down, but Lacina’s ensuing punt bounced off of Smithville’s Mitchell Orr, a loose ball that sophomore safety Kobe Cummings corralled.

A holding penalty erased McNair’s 29-yard touchdown run, but two plays later, he busted through the line to score from 14 yards out.

Lockett finished 8-for-15 for 74 yards despite the conditions while running for 89 more and continued to show his steady improvement after a rough start to his tenure under center. The last time out against Kearney (10-1), he threw for just 19 yards on three completions, and the Pirates ended up with just 21 yards of offense total.

Platte County now has a chance to show a different team — a refined product — with a shot to pull an upset.

“I think anybody when they go through adversity, you hit a low point,” Utz said. “Sometimes that low point comes real fast, and you bounce off of it really quick and you handle it really well. Sometimes, it takes a little bit longer. In the grand scheme of things, we basically put a new offense in in the middle of the season and moved some things around on defense that you normally do in June. “We didn’t have the luxury to polish it off in practice. We’ve kind of had to do it on the fly.”