North Platte football stuns district's top seed, prepares for rivalry rematch

LEANN WILSON/Special to The Citizen North Platte coach Josh Rodriguez, center, and senior quarterback Anthony Hernadez, right, celebrate following North Platte’s upset win against Wellington-Napoleon on Friday, Oct. 30 at Wellington-Napoleon High School in Wellington, Mo. North Platte forged a tie late, made a stop in overtime and allowed Jordan Hendricks to run the Panthers into a pivotal rematch with a rival.

The senior running back’s 25-yard touchdown run in the first overtime capped a wild 34-28 win Friday, Oct. 30 against Wellington-Napoleon — Class 1 District 7’s top seed. The victory in Wellington, Mo. marked the third straight for North Platte and puts the Panthers in the District 7 title game at rival West Platte, which won the first meeting between the two 48-14.

In the biggest win for the program since reaching the playoffs in 2009, North Platte overcame deficits of 12-0 and 20-6 in the first half against Wellington-Napoleon.

The Panthers enter the rematch with West Platte having won three in a row after dropping six straight to start the KCI Conference schedule. They lost 12 straight league games dating back to last year and were just 1-19 in the previous two seasons before the arrival of new head coach Josh Rodriguez, who won his first two games of this season.

Now 5-6 on the season, North Platte finds itself in unfamiliar territory.

Wellington-Napoleon (9-2), which beat West Platte during the regular season, entered district play as the only one of the eight teams in the bracket with a winning record. The Tigers jumped ahead by two scores on their second touchdown with 11 minutes, 8 seconds left in the first half, but North Platte immediately rallied back — first on a 70-yard touchdown pass from Anthony Hernandez to Kyle Ewing and then on a 90-yarder from Hernandez to Hendricks — to tie the score at 20-20 at halftime.

Hernandez also tossed a 21-yard touchdown to Ben French in the second quarter on his way to finishing 8 of 20 for 245 yards.

In the second half, Wellington-Napoleon took a 28-20 lead with a third quarter touchdown — Dallas Reynolds’ third rushing score. The lead held until the final minutes. Hendricks busted loose for another big play, a 75-yard touchdown run, with 4:37 to play.

Hernandez’s two-point run forced overtime.

Wellington-Napoleon drove down to the 2-yard line on the opening possession of overtime but came up empty. Hendricks, who led the defense with 14 tackles, found a seam on North Platte’s very next play and went 25 yards for the game-winning touchdown. He finished with 122 yards on 12 carries to go with three catches for a team-high 118 receiving yards. Ewing caught four passes for 94 yards.

North Platte goes on the road for the rematch with West Platte.

In the first meeting, Bluejays quarterback Brett Shepardson shredded the defense on his way to five touchdowns and a blowout victory. Hendricks’ late touchdown run against mostly second-stringers kept the running clock off for the final minutes of a matchup that wasn’t close for the entire second half.

North Platte advances to the Class 1 District 7 championship game for the first time in the new district-playoff format. The Panthers last advanced to the playoffs in 2009.

West Platte has won the past 11 meetings of the rivalry game — the longest streak recorded by either school in the game’s history since 1957.