WESTON, Mo. — In what could’ve been the final game played on the grass surface of historic Rudolph Eskridge Stadium, West Platte topped its biggest rival by adding another district championship to the program’s illustrious history.
The 38-26 win against North Platte on Friday, Nov. 6 in the Class 1 District 7 title game would prove a fitting end to the aging facility’s life. The Bluejays celebrated with a customary cooler bath for coach Nate Danneman before shifting focus to a rematch with Hamilton in a Class 1 quarterfinal matchup scheduled for 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 13 in Hamilton, Mo.
The outcomes this weekend determine if the water spilled on Danneman will be the last action at Rudolph Eskridge Stadium before West Platte moves to its new facility, currently under construction just up the hill from the current field.
“It feels great to be able to soak coach in water again,” West Platte senior quarterback Brett Shepardson said. “I remember sophomore doing it and he was a little bit upset because he doesn’t like to be cold. It was a great feeling to be able to soak him again.”
The win moves West Platte’s winning streak to 12 games in the annual rivalry series. The last win for the Panthers came in 2006, and the teams have now met three times in postseason play since the start of bracketed districts in 2012.
The playoff rematch with Hamilton comes on the heels of a 35-8 loss to the Hornets during West Platte’s 2-5 KCI Conference campaign. The Bluejays won last year’s matchup in the regular season, but Danneman called this year’s defeat their worst performance of the season so far.
“We need to show up to play,” Danneman said. “We did not come to play that game. That was by far our worst game of the season. We weren’t focused. We had some other issues off the field we had to take care of. The result — Hamilton beating us like that — was a direct result of that.”
North Platte provided a blueprint for how to make a rematch closer the second time around.
Beaten 48-14 at home in the first matchup with West Platte, the Panthers continued their impressive play with a three-game win streak in tow. Jordan Hendricks, a senior running back, scored the opening touchdown just 30 seconds into the first quarter on a 7-yard run, taking advantage of a short field junior Ben French set up with a long kickoff return.
Hendricks ran twice for 28 yards on the drive. North Platte didn’t lead again after going up 6-0 but stayed close until the fourth quarter.
“We felt really good about our game plan coming in,” North Platte coach Josh Rodriguez said. “I think our kids executed well early on. Second half, we weren’t able to execute They adjusted and made plays, and we didn’t.”
West Platte running back Kyle Tabaka added two touchdowns in the first quarter to put the Bluejays up for the first time. His 1-yard touchdown run tied the score at 6, and the second came as a result of a trick play to go ahead 14-6.
“A couple of weeks ago, we put it in practice,” Tabaka said of his 63-yard half back pass completion to wide open sophomore wide receiver Grant Eagan. “We were trying new things, and it worked out pretty well. It gave us a lot of momentum. We noticed North Platte was getting better and better so we had to step up our game to keep the win streak going.”
North Platte did manage to come back, using senior running back Aron Burke’s 1-yard touchdown plunge and a two-point conversion to the score at 14.
West Platte started to pull away on the ensuing drive, scoring less than a minute later on senior quarterback Brett Shepardson’s 46-yard touchdown sprint off left tackle. He torched the Panthers for more than 200 yards on the ground and five touchdowns in the first meeting and finished with 30 carries for 198 yards in the rematch and three total scores.
Shepardson added another rushing score and a 29-yard pass to Eagen for his second touchdown during a wild second quarter that featured 35 total points.
“We love playing against that team,” Shepardson said. “The holes were wide open. We just hit them hard. The line was blocking great. It was just huge holes tonight.”
Burke also scored twice in the second quarter, but West Platte stuffed Hendricks from the 2-yard line on the final play of the first half to preserve a 35-20 lead.
The points mostly dried up from there. Burke finished with just 6 yards rushing on two carries, while Hendricks (113 yards rushing) and fellow senior and quarterback Anthony Hernandez (123 yards rushing) accounted for most of the offense. Hernandez also completed 8 of 18 passes for 167 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown to Tony Martin with 10 seconds remaining after the Panthers fell behind by three possessions in the second half.
“If we were going into the half one score down, I think makes a different feel going into halftime,” Rodriguez said. “We were kind of deflated being just short and knowing we were going to have to kickoff in the second half.”
West Platte’s lone points in the second half came on a 38-yard field goal, the first in the career for Spanish foreign exchange student Jaime Portoles. That put the Bluejays up 38-20 just before the start of the fourth quarter, providing one last shot of confidence as the defense continued to hold North Platte in check.
“The Spaniard has it in him definitely,” Danneman said. “To come out there, first varsity field goal kick, from a foreign country, that was huge. That was a huge kick.”
West Platte improved to 6-6 and continued on a similar trajectory to Danneman’s first season in Weston. In 2013, the Bluejays started 2-7 but came back to win the district title before finishing at 5-8 with 61-46 loss to Hamilton in the quarterfinal round. This season, West Platte started 3-6 before making its run through the Class 1 District 7 bracket.
In Rodriguez’s first season at the helm, North Platte finished at 5-7 — the most wins since a 5-6 finish in 2012. The Panthers won just one game combined the past two seasons, going winless in 2013.