Comeback, the sequel: Pirates win on final play vs. Ray-Pec

Somewhere during the succession of dramatic events of the final drive, Bill Utz made the decision.

Platte County’s coach knew what he wanted to do after senior quarterback Spencer Stewart’s desperation 10-yard dash to the end zone on the final play of regulation. Before assistants could even offer a suggestion, Utz was prepared to send the offense back out on the field.

Instead of playing for overtime with a potential extra point kick, Platte County ran a two-point conversion play with senior running back Adel Freitek sprinting into the end zone off a short pass completion to deliver a seemingly unthinkable 36-35 victory Friday, Oct. 6 at Pirate Stadium.

“I’ve already decided we’re going to do this. We were going for two,” Utz said. “There was no doubt.”

ROSS MARTIN/Special to the Citizen  Platte County quarterback Spencer Stewart, center, celebrates after throwing the game-winning two-point conversion against Ray-Pec on Friday, Oct. 5, helping the Pirates pick up a 36-35 victory against the Class 6 school.

ROSS MARTIN/Special to the Citizen

Platte County quarterback Spencer Stewart, center, celebrates after throwing the game-winning two-point conversion against Ray-Pec on Friday, Oct. 5, helping the Pirates pick up a 36-35 victory against the Class 6 school.

On a day when Platte County senior wide receiver Dylan Gilbert broke the program’s career receptions record, Freitek ran for 200 yards again and Stewart threw four touchdown passes in a fourth straight game, Raymore-Peculiar almost played spoiler on the final result. The Panthers scored 21 points in a span of less than five minutes late in the fourth quarter, capped with a debilitating pick-six interception in the final minute that left just 44 seconds for a comeback.

Suddenly down 35-28, Platte County answered with the winning 80-yard touchdown drive, putting to rest any doubts about the mettle of a group producing the follow-up campaign to last year’s historic run to the Class 4 state semifinals.

“These guys have some expectations, coming off the team that we had with the seniors we lost,” Utz said. “There weren’t a lot of high expectations (from others), but they’ve taken the challenge and made this a really special season for themselves so far. Obviously, time will tell, and we’ll see how things go from here on out, but we’re playing well and hopefully will continue that.”

Platte County came away with a second straight exhilarating triumph — one week after an emotionally draining 28-27 comeback victory against Smithville when the Pirates scored the final 28 points unanswered in the second half. The most recent heart-stopper came in Platte County’s first-ever meeting with Raymore-Peculiar, a unique matchup with a Class 6 foe ranked earlier in the year in the Missouri media rankings before losing four of its past five.

With the big win, Platte County remained at No. 5 in this week’s Class 4 rankings but frustratingly remained third in the Class 4 District 8 standings, which features five teams at 6-1.

Smithville (No. 1) and Kearney (No. 2) — which handed Platte County its only loss prior to the current four-game win streak — remained in the top two spots, but the postseason positioning will sort out over the final two weeks of the regular season. The Pirates close with Suburban Conference Blue Division games at Winnetonka and vs. Grandview, which should provide a reprieve from the recent gauntlet of tests.

However, the two memorable wins over Smithville and Raymore-Peculiar will leave a lasting impression about Platte County’s potential to play through adversity.

“This is big time stuff, and it’s really fun, man,” said Stewart, who finished 24-for-45 for 301 yards passing in addition to 25 yards rushing. “I mean it’s not fun to get into these situations, but to come out on the good end of them is a great feeling.”

Platte County (6-1) appeared in control following Gilbert’s second touchdown reception of the game, which came with 6:47 to play and put the Pirates ahead 28-14.

Instead, Raymore-Peculiar (3-4) drove 80 yards in a little over a minute, scoring a touchdown on Brandon Rayos’ 3-yard run to close the gap back to seven. Penalties killed Platte County’s ensuing drive, and following a short punt from senior Nolan Saale (filling in for injured Reid Sutter), the Panthers had a 23-yard field and plenty of time for a potential game tying drive.

After a pass interference call negated an apparent interception for Platte County sophomore Collin Tyson, Raymore-Peculiar tied the score for the second time in the second half at 28-28 on a 6-yard run from Rayos with 1:46 left in regulation.

Three plays later, Stewart threw a pass toward the left sideline, and Raymore-Peculiar’s Luke Grimm scored his third touchdown of the night. He picked off the pass — Stewart’s second interception of the game — and easily traversed his way into the end zone on a 26-yard return, which sucked the energy out of a once boisterous crowd that moments earlier anticipated a small school upset.

Raymore-Peculiar’s 35-28 advantage was its first lead of the game with less than a minute to play.

“As soon as I threw it, I knew the dude was going to take it back,” Stewart said. “When we got off the field, I just said, ‘We’re going to get the ball back and have another chance to score’ — 44 seconds, three timeouts left. I knew that was a ton of time. We’ve done it before.

“Confidence built throughout the game, and I just knew I had to do it for our team.”

Platte County needed to go 80 yards in those 44 seconds for a touchdown to have any shot at a win.

ROSS MARTIN/Special to the Citizen  Platte County’s Nolan Saale, right, wraps up Ray-Pec receiver Seth Wansing while teammate Omar Garcia, left, closes in to help with the tackle during a game on Friday, Oct. 5 at Pirate Stadium in Platte City, Mo.

ROSS MARTIN/Special to the Citizen

Platte County’s Nolan Saale, right, wraps up Ray-Pec receiver Seth Wansing while teammate Omar Garcia, left, closes in to help with the tackle during a game on Friday, Oct. 5 at Pirate Stadium in Platte City, Mo.

On the second snap of the drive, Stewart completed a 25-yard pass to Freitek on the right side and then hit Gilbert for 28 more on a pass into double coverage in front of the home bench. Gilbert outjumped two defenders on the play to put the Pirates into Raymore-Peculiar territory with a chance.

Stewart’s third and final completion of the drive came when he scrambled right to hit junior Donny MacCuish for 17 yards — his only catch of the night — with just 12 seconds remaining.

After an incompletion and a timeout, the decisive play started with just 3 seconds on the clock. Stewart initially didn’t find a receiver, rolled right and finally tucked the ball away with the undersized quarterback weaving between defenders and diving across the end zone to make it 35-34 and setting up what looked like a potential overtime scenario.

“He’s got some guts,” Utz said of Stewart, who hopped and skipped to the sideline while waving his arms to a delighted home crowd before being asked to return to the field for a two-point conversion.

Following a timeout, Platte County offensive coordinator Jeff Humburg’s play call sent Stewart to his left on a sprint pass where he dumped the ball off in the flat to Freitek, who dove untouched inside the pylon for the winning two-point conversion. A well-earned celebration commenced for the Pirates before the players and coaches huddled in the south end zone to reflect on another improbable win.

For the fourth straight game, Freitek put up more than 100 yards rushing, and he topped 200 for the second time in a span of three games. He finished with 210 yards on the ground — just shy of his career-high 225 set two weeks earlier in a win over Raytown South — and added 68 more on four catches.

However, Freitek’s production didn’t lead to a touchdown for just the second game this season, but he deservedly earned a shot at the end zone on the final snap.

“I’ve done it so many times in practice that I just felt like I could easily get it,” Freitek said of having his number called for the deciding conversion play. “We had a good play drawn up, and we went and scored. I was definitely ready for it.

“I really was ready. I don’t know how to describe it. It was fun, and I was confident in myself.”

Freitek had runs of 26 and 61 yards on Platte County’s first two possessions to set up Stewart’s first two touchdown passes that built a 14-0 lead.

After the Pirates took the opening kickoff, Freitek’s 26-yard burst up the middle put them into Raymore-Peculiar territory, but Stewart needed completions to senior wide receiver Brice Bertram on fourth and 12 at the 35 and third and 7 at the 18 to keep the drive alive. Bertram made four of his seven catches in the series, including a 7-yard scoring grab to make it 7-0.

A penalty wiped out a Raymore-Peculiar touchdown on the Panthers’ opening drive, and they ultimately settled for a missed 52-yard field goal try.

Freitek then broke off a 61-yard run that started up the middle and cut to the right, leading to a 3-yard scoring pass to Platte County sophomore wide receiver Dayton Mitchell, who had the winning touchdown catch a week earlier in the comeback over Smithville. The increased run production for the Pirates continues to pay dividends for Stewart, a two-time honorable mention Class 6A all-state selection at Shawnee Mission Northwest (Kan.) before transferring to Platte County prior to this season.

“The defense has no idea what to do because (Freitek) is a freaking athlete,” Stewart said. “They’ve got to either come down and play the run or back up and play the pass. They can’t do both, so it makes everything a lot easier for me.”

Platte County’s defense held strong for most of the first half but gave up an unlikely score late in the first half after a Stewart quick-kick punt pinned Raymore-Peculiar at its own 1. After an initial first down, Panthers quarterback Conrad Hawley found Grimm down the right sideline in double coverage, and the speedy receiver hauled in the pass and raced the final 57 yards on the way to an 88-yard score to trim Platte County’s lead to 14-7.

The score held until halftime, and a long kickoff return for Raymore-Peculiar to start the third quarter set up a tying touchdown pass — this one 26 yards from Hawley to Grimm.

Platte County’s balanced offense showed up again on the next drive for a needed immediate response. After a roughing the passer penalty provided an early reprieve, the Pirates marched 80 yards with Gilbert scoring on a 17-yard pass from Stewart to make it 21-14. The touchdown reception was the 129th of Gilbert’s career and tied the program record former teammate TJ Guillory established two years earlier.

Gilbert broke the mark later in the third quarter on his way to season-highs in catches (nine) and yards (133).

“Dylan’s been such a great receiver for us for three years,” Utz said of Gilbert, who now has 30 receptions for 425 yards and six touchdowns on the season after battling through a minor shoulder injury suffered in Week 2 that limited his production. “He has such a good skillset that he’s able to get open, and he catches the ball real well. I couldn’t be happier for him because he is such a hard-worker, and he deserves it. He’s a great kid, and tonight, he played amazing.”

Gilbert’s eighth catch of the night — his second touchdown — appeared to give the cushion needed to secure the upset, but instead gave way to to an unlikely comeback scenario.

Platte County found a way to win and scored at least 35 points for the fifth time this season despite another offensive line shuffle in wake of a leg injury that kept Sutter — more known as a third-year contributor at right tackle than punter — out of action. Pirates seniors Glen Gammill (center) and Wyett Wallingford (left tackle) and junior Max Renner (right guard) remained in place but junior Luke Seigel moved back into the starting five at left guard while sophomore Trey Butcher shifted out from that spot to right tackle.

“I trust (my line). I trust everyone that gets out there in front of me,” Freitek said. “I feel very confident with them.”

On defense, Platte County didn’t force a turnover but mostly limited a versatile attack. Raymore-Peculiar finished with 372 yards of offense compared to the Pirates’ 536.

Saale (a senior safety in addition to his inherited duties as backup punter) recorded a team-high 10 tackles, while junior safety Trent Rueckert added eight and senior linebacker Omar Garcia seven. Pirates senior defensive end Peyton Stoner recorded a half of a sack — giving him at least part of a sack for a third straight game and bringing him to 3½ on the season — he shared with sophomore Alex Stearns, and sophomore linebacker Spencer Cupp added another.

The balanced effort was needed against an offense that featured two different quarterbacks until senior Grant Miller went out with an apparent head injury in the second half.