GRANDVIEW, Mo. — The early trouble in transitioning Tanner Clarkson to starting quarterback will be convincing him it won’t always look this good.
In his first career start, Clarkson threw six touchdowns — believed to be the most in one game for any player in Platte County’s storied history. Halftime kept him from piling up even more statistics in a 45-6 rout of Grandview in the season-opener Friday, Aug. 18.
Clarkson spread out his scores to three wide receivers — senior Devin Richardson (three), junior Dylan Gilbert (two) and senior John Watts (one) — in just one half of work.
“Taking that first snap, I definitely felt this was more of my team than going in as the backup,” said Clarkson, who finished 10-for-13 for 213 yards. “I just felt like a leftover, pretty much. Going in there as the starter, this was my game, and I had to take control for my team.”
For the past two years, Clarkson served as Platte County’s backup quarterback and played only a handful of snaps. He came in with only 16 career pass attempts, often being reminded in those brief cameos to be himself and not try to match the big play exploits of all-time leading passer Justin Mitchell.
Platte County entered the season with an untested quarterback, four new offensive linemen and a makeshift running back tandem.
In the new unit’s debut, the Pirates showed the possibility of a high-powered attack that could lean heavily on the passing game. The opening drive lasted five plays with two completions to Watts (game-highs of four catches and 79 yards) and capped by a 5-yard touchdown strike to Richardson.
After a punt on the second drive, Platte County scored on five of the final six possessions in the first half. This included touchdown passes of 15 and 43 yards to Richardson, 32 yards to Watts and 14 and 44 yards to Gilbert.
The highlights were the fade route to Watts on the home sideline late in the second quarter and the 43-yarder to Richardson early in the second quarter on a wheel route to cap his big day. Richardson earned his first start and collected all three of his receptions in the first 13 minutes, 17 seconds after entering the season with just one career catch.
Clarkson and Richardson spent much of the past two years working together on junior varsity, a connection that carried over in the game against Grandview.
“That first snap, my head was clear,” said Richardson, who had 63 yards on his three touchdown catches. “I knew we worked hard in the summer and was hoping that would pay off in the first game and the whole season. It was clicking tonight, and hopefully, it keeps going, keep the train rolling.”
Grandview (0-1) opened the game with a three-and-out after Platte County senior all-state linebacker Dakota Schmidt tackled quarterback Rephael Pearson, Jr. for a 15-yard loss on third down. The play came on the first of five errant snaps for the Bulldogs.
After Clarkson’s first touchdown pass put Platte County up 7-0, Grandview went 80 yards on the very next play with Varrell Garrett III racing away from the defense on a sweep left but didn’t tie the score due to a failed two-point conversion. Garrett ended up with just 68 yards rushing, and the Bulldogs’ offense managed just 104 total yards.
“They did get the one run, but that was a mistake for us at the line of scrimmage,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “A team like Grandview they’re able to if you give them an inch, they’re going to score. Overall, I’m happy with the way the defense played, and they’ll get better, too. That’s the beauty of the first week.
“You hope this isn’t a pinnacle by any means, and we’ll continue to build.”
Pearson, who finished 4-for-15 passing, threw an interception on Grandview’s second drive. Gilbert, who came in along with Watts in Platte County’s dime defense package, picked off a ball floated down the sideline, returning it 34 yards to the Grandview 19.
Three plays later, Clarkson hit Richardson for a 15-yard touchdown, and after a three-and-out, Clarkson threw his third touchdown pass on the very next play to Watts, who beat Grandview defensive back Nasir Kearse on the play.
Platte County led 21-6 with 2:33 left in the first quarter and added three more touchdowns in the second quarter.
Clarkson’s line could’ve been even better. The 6-foot-2 signal-caller overthrew a wide open receiver on one play in the first half, and Watts dropped a sure touchdown on an over-the-shoulder catch, one play before Clarkson hit Gilbert for 44 yards and the final touchdown.
“The line did a good job of giving protection when (Clarkson) needed it,” Utz said. “But I’ll tell you what: Tanner was throwing the ball; he was very accurate tonight, putting the ball where it was able to be caught, and for the most part, our receivers made some nice catches and capitalized.”
Matt Blaha started at left guard as the only returner on the line. Glen Gammill, a junior, moved over from defense and took the left tackle spot with senior Trevor Tietz (center), Max Renner (right guard) and Reid Sutter (right tackle) also making their first career starts on offense.
Gavin Hardman, a senior moved over from defense, started at running back and finished with 31 yards on eight carries, while junior Adel Freitek led Platte County’s ground game with 46 yards on seven carries in his first varsity action.
With the running clock in effect after halftime, Clarkson and the majority of the starters were taken out for most of the final two quarters. Parker Lacina, a senior, booted a 32-yard field goal 15 seconds into the fourth quarter for the only points of a brisk second half.
“My expectation was to get the win as a team, but I didn’t expect it to go that easy and that quick,” Clarkson said.
Platte County (1-0) continued to receive votes in the most recent Class 4 media poll but remained two spots outside of the top 10. The Pirates play their home opener Friday, Aug. 25 against Oak Park, a Class 5 school which lost 22-9 to William Chrisman in Week 1.
After Week 2, Platte County plays 4 of its next 5 and 5 of its final 7 against teams currently in the Class 5 or Class 4 rankings.