Platte County’s desired rematch with a chief rival ended in a 43-3 loss and bitter disappointment Friday, Nov. 6 despite a return to the Class 4 District 8 title game. Kearney scored 13 points off of turnovers on three straight Pirates possessions on either side of halftime, a significant part of the Bulldogs putting up 33 unanswered at Kearney High School.
Platte County’s injury-plagued season included an early win streak, a seemingly catastrophic three-game losing skid, a renaissance under backup quarterback Lloyd Lockett and finally the postseason loss.
“(Kearney) is a great team; they executed better than we did tonight, and that’s how it went,” Platte County senior safety Johnny Blankenship said. “It was nice getting another shot at them. We just didn’t execute tonight. It’s unfortunate.”
Platte County (8-4) opened the season with a top-10 ranking in the Missouri media poll and a roster full of key returners running off five straight wins.
Then came the season-ending separated shoulder to junior quarterback Justin Mitchell in practice. Having already endured key injuries to senior safety Tyler Clemens (shoulder) and Zack Regan (back) in Week 2, the changes were swift and dramatic.
Lockett moved over to quarterback from cornerback and eventually a multitude of players shifted spots, including more that moved to the opposite side of the ball including linebackers Conner Welch and Willie Smith and offensive lineman Dane Rader — all seniors.
In the immediate aftermath of Mitchell’s injury, Platte County started out strong against Belton but ultimately lost 50-24. That started a three-game skid that included a 36-0 loss to Kearney when the Pirates managed only 21 yards of offense and two first down and a disheartening 32-12 setback at Grandview.
While Regan returned from injury, Clemens didn’t and senior wide receiver Alex Minter was also lost to a shoulder separation and missed the district semifinal win against Smithville and the loss to Kearney.
“You don’t ever plan on that,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “You don’t sit and plan on injuries. That’s what I told them there at the end. We had a chance to lay down a few weeks ago, and we didn’t. With all the injuries, those are just things you can’t predict. I thought we fought really well to get through the adversity of that, and as I told them, I’m proud of them.”
Despite the roster upheaval, Platte County won three straight heading into the district title game and looked to have discovered an identity.
Lockett and junior running back Mike McNair formed a two-pronged rushing attack receiving the bulk of the work. The passing game also showed improvement despite missing the services of Minter, leading the Pirates to hope the newfound success would translate against Kearney.
The break seemed to come when Welch jumped up to deflect a pass from Bulldogs senior Logan Hinck in the second quarter. Platte County sophomore defensive end Michael Smith made an acrobatic diving interception that the Pirates turned into points.
Six plays and one first down after the turnover at midfield, Platte County sophomore kicker Parker Lacina trotted out and blasted a 53-yard field goal straight down the middle with room to spare. The school-record kick cut the Pirates’ deficit to 10-3 with 4 minutes, 48 seconds left in the first half after Kearney had scored on its opening two possessions that took up the majority of the first half.
“We thought if we kept it close going into the half we’d be able to have something work with,” Utz said.
Kearney scored on its next six possessions, only punting in the final minute with the outcome decided.
On the ensuing kickoff after Lacina’s field goal, running back Marcus Harris’ long return set up a short field that Hinck finished off with a 6-yard touchdown run — his second of the half. Platte County didn’t sit on the ball, and Lockett threw an interception to Bulldogs safety Ethan Luft with 35 seconds to go, an extra possession that resulted in the second of Dawson Goepferich’s three field goals.
This one came on the half’s final play from 49 yards out after a Platte County penalty shortened the try by 5 yards.
Lockett turned it over on each of Platte County’s first two possessions of the second half — first another interception and then a fumble which led to another field goal and then the first of Harris’ touchdown runs. He finished with 202 of Kearney’s 339 rushing yards, and Hinck added 111 more along with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Cale Garrett that extended the Bulldogs’ advantage to 36-3 with 10:30 to play.
Harris scored the final points on a tackle-breaking 34-yard run 4 minutes later.
“Gosh, you play a good team in the playoffs, you can’t give them anything,” Utz said. “When you give them turnovers and a short field, you put your defense in some tough spots. Then again, a couple times we turned the ball over in field goal range for them and held them to field goals. There were a few positives there, but ultimately, we ran into a team that was pretty good.”
Platte County finished with 122 yards of offense but 80 came through the air.
McNair, who passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season against Smithville, managed just 1 yard on seven carries, while Lockett rushed 13 times for 41 yards. His 12 completions were spread between six receivers with junior wide receiver TJ Guillory making four catches for a team-high 41 yards.
Platte County recovered from its midseason stumble to end a two-game losing streak to Smithville, but Kearney has now beaten the Pirates four straight times. They last won against the Bulldogs in 2012, which also marks their most recent appearance in the playoffs.
For the seniors, this marked a tough conclusion to a season that started with so much promise, but Mitchell’s injury and the ensuing shuffle ended up too much to overcome in seeking a better postseason fate. However, the players have their own lasting memories that were already apparent, even in the moments after the loss and final team huddle of the season.
“This team, I love every one of them,” Regan said. “I couldn’t find a better group of kids. Freshman through seniors, everyone was just close; the morale was always great, and man, I just hate to see it end.
“Our coaches, they found that we were struggling at certain points, and they kicked it in and helped us make it to the district finals.”