BELTON, Mo. — Even at the bleakest points, hope remained for Platte County.
A drive that ended up 2 yards short of a tying touchdown, a dropped pass on fourth down that would have resulted in a first down, an onside kick that didn’t take the right bounce. If any of those plays go different Friday, Sept. 16 at Southwick Field, Platte County might have better hope of a Suburban Conference Blue Division title.
Instead, Belton didn’t trail in the second half and held on for a 35-30 victory — the second straight in the series for the purple Pirates — and Platte County endured another down in a three-week stretch of emotional swings. Coming off a 49-0 pasting of then-No. 2 Harrisonville, Platte County dropped to 3-2 overall and behind in the league standings, unable to carry through the momentum of a statement victory against a stubborn Class 5 opponent.
“It’s not unfair to say, but if we want to be what we want to be, we have to win these games,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “If you come off of a high, you have to make sure you are still maintaining that attitude and that preparation. Do I think that’s what it was? Yeah, I think that’s what it was, but we can’t have that if we want to be successful as the season goes on.
“Hopefully, it’s a lesson learned. We’ll see how they react.”
Now winners of three straight, Belton (3-2) simply ended up with more big plays, enough to overcome a healthy deficit in offensive production.
The tide swung during a key stretch of the first half when Belton turned an interception of Platte County quarterback Justin Mitchell into a touchdown then added another seven points on the biggest play of the game. Down 14-10 late in the second quarter, Platte County lined up for a 35-yard field goal attempt from junior kicker Parker Lacina, who had booted a 22-yarder 7 minutes earlier to give Platte County its only brief lead.
CJ Christensen, a senior defensive back, came around the left end untouched and blocked the kick with his abdomen. Austin Paquette scooped up the loose ball and outraced Platte County’s special teams unit for a 78-yard touchdown with just 2 minutes, 36 seconds left to go before halftime.
“Any play on special teams that leads to points is huge, and any time a team does that, they usually win the game,” Utz said.
Down 21-10 at the break, Platte County also had to kick off to start the third quarter and needed a stop.
Instead, Belton quarterback Bart Harris (17-for-25, 272 yards and four touchdowns) threw a long pass on second and 12 and found Nick Snider just behind Platte County cornerback JP Post, who dove trying to swat the ball away. Snider raced the last of 71 yards untouched to put Belton up 28-10 and seemingly in command.
“We have an opportunity to go in down one and we end up down 11 in a matter of a blocked kick,” Utz said. “It totally changes the game. If we’re down one coming into the second half, that’s a completely different story than down 11.”
Platte County then mustered up its best response, putting the orange-and-black Pirates seemingly in strong position to complete a comeback.
The drive after Snider’s touchdown went 92 yards with Mitchell hitting running back Michael McNair for a 35-yard completion down to Belton’s 7. On the next play, Mitchell turned in a wild scramble to his right and found senior wide receiver TJ Guillory for a 7-yard touchdown.
After a three-and-out, Belton gave up good field position with a short punt.
Mitchell hit 6-foot-4 junior wide receiver John Watts with a 27-yard jump ball down to the 6, and McNair, who piled up 151 yards on the ground, scored on the next play. Platte County closed to within 28-24 with 7:35 to go in the third quarter but wouldn’t score again until inside of 2 minutes to go in regulation.
“You could second-guess everything,” Utz said. “We could’ve gone for two there, and if we would’ve gotten that, then now we’re down a field goal. At that time, I thought we had a tremendous amount of momentum. I anticipated us getting in the end zone again. There were just so many things here or there that could’ve gone the other way. We just didn’t get it done.”
Platte County survived a failed fourth-and-1 try in its own end and took possession twice more with a chance for a go-ahead score.
On the first series, Platte County drove to Belton’s 2 with help from a 76-yard scamper around left end for McNair, but he was pulled down for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-2 four plays later with the tying touchdown just 3 yards away. Platte County forced another punt but gained just 3 yards on the ensuing possession, which ended when a fourth down pass bounced off of Guillory (four catches, 75 yards) and fell incomplete near midfield.
Harris threw a 47-yard touchdown three plays later on a third and 14, which came one play after a sack, to stretch the lead out to 35-24.
“Seemed like when we got the momentum and had to have that next play to keep the momentum, we just didn’t do it,” Utz said.
Down two scores, Platte County went 82 yards in less than a minute with Mitchell (19-for-34, 273 yards) completing passes to sophomore Dylan Gilbert (10 and 24 yards) around a 39-yarder to Guillory. After a 6-yard scramble from Mitchell, Watts hauled in a sliding 3-yard touchdown grab one play after he dropped one in the end zone, giving him one touchdown in four of Platte County’s first five games.
The two-point try failed, and Belton recovered the onside kick to preserve the final score.
Gilbert hauled in a career-high seven catches for 85 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown early in the second quarter to tie the score at 7 after Belton had went up 7-0 with a touchdown pass from Harris to Snider to cap their first possession. Platte County senior cornerback Cade Goettling forced and junior linebacker Dakota Schmidt recovered a fumble on Belton’s next possession, deep in its own territory, but Platte County only got one first down and settled for Lacina’s short field goal and a 10-7 lead.
Belton went three-and-out again, but Snider intercepted Mitchell on the next snap, setting up a 36-yard touchdown pass from Harris to Joe Lind on a third-and-11 play. Belton then blocked Lacina’s field goal attempt and returned it for a score to end the next drive.
Platte County ended up with 496 yards of offense compared to 320 — just 48 rushing on 32 attempts for Belton.
Platte County slipped one spot to No. 6 in the Class 4 Missouri Media poll following a 55-42 Week 3 loss to then-Class 5 No. 2 Staley. The Pirates then jumped to No. 3 after dismantling Harrisonville behind 10 turnovers but dropped back to No. 5 with the most recent loss.
Up next: Platte County travels to Class 5 No. 4 Liberty (5-0) on Friday, Sept. 23 with the Pirates still trying to figure out exactly which team they are this season — the one who struggled to blowout hapless Oak Park in Week 2 and couldn’t overcome mistakes against Belton or the one that showed flashes of dominance in a 36-0 two-quarter shutout of Grandview in Week 1, the loss to Staley and the domination of Harrisonville.
“We just have to be consistent,” Utz said. “We have to be consistent in the way we prepare, in the way we do everything, and we weren’t. I think it showed in the way we played (against Belton).”