West Platte didn’t relinquish the stranglehold on The Tobbaco Stick without a valiant effort.
Already battered and bruised during a tough start to the season, the Bluejays took a fourth quarter lead and forced one last answer from North Platte, still seeking its needed win in the rivalry series under second-year coach Josh Rodriguez. Ben French ended up scoring three of the Panthers’ four touchdowns in a workhorse effort from his running back spot, the final one providing the last lead change in a 26-20 victory Friday, Sept. 16 at the new Rudolph Eskridge Stadium in Weston, Mo.
North Platte made one last defensive stop and then ran out the clock for the program’s first win against West Platte since 2006. The Bluejays had won 12 straight in the series since, including two last year — one in KCI Conference play and one in the Class 1 District 7 championship to end the Panthers’ bounceback season.
Just like a year ago, both teams came in on losing streaks in a key matchup for the district standings, but this time, North Platte grabbed hold of The Tobacco Stick — a unique traveling trophy that might’ve had purple paint applied over the blue during the short bus ride back to Dearborn, Mo.
North Platte improved to 2-3 and 1-2 in KCI play but remained fifth in the District 7 standings on points, although still one spot behind West Platte. However, the Panthers would leapfrog the Bluejays if that scenario occurs at the end of the season due to the head-to-head result.
The lead changed hands five times in the second half, starting with French’s 7-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter — his second of the game. West Platte’s Noah Johnson then returned ensuing kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown, and Gavin Davis completed the second point after kick to account for a 14-12 lead at that point.
North Platte went back ahead on Remington Wilson’s 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, but the two-point try failed, leaving the Panthers with an 18-14 advantage.
West Platte’s running game mustered one more answer. Kyle Tabaka, a senior fullback, came back after missing the previous week and rushed for 98 yards on 11 carries, including one long run to set up Davis’ 1-yard touchdown run for the Bluejays’ final points.
After a missed kick, West Platte led 20-18.
French did the work again for North Platte on his way to 142 yards rushing on 33 carries. His 8-yard touchdown run late put the Panthers up for good and capped the biggest game of his career.
Wilson finished with 38 yards on 10 carries, while North Platte quarterback Austin Snook threw for 119 yards and two interceptions. Wilson caught three passes for 46 yards — both team-highs.
In addition to his 84 total yards, Wilson also led the defense with 13 tackles, and seniors Tony Martin and Parker Rotterman each had an interception of West Platte senior quarterback Nick Miller (6-for-13, 59 yards).
Tabaka gave West Platte the first lead at 7-0 with a 7-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and French’s 4-yarder drew the Panthers to within 7-6 after the two-point conversion failed. The score remained the same until halftime, and the two teams then volleyed scores back and forth for the entire second half.
West Platte dropped to 1-4 overall and 0-3 in KCI play, having now lost four straight since a season-opening win vs. Central Academy of Excellence. Tabaka, running back Brayan Rodriguez (38 yards rushing) and Grant Eagen (out for the year with a torn ACL) have all missed time due to injuries.
West Platte dominated The Tobacco Stick series since losing 38-19 in a 2006 district matchup under a previous playoff format. The Bluejays started the 12-game winning streak with a one-point win in 2007 then took the next 11 by double digits, including last year’s 38-26 district win.
West Platte beat North Platte twice in a season in 2012, 2013 and 2015 during the streak.
North Platte went winless in 2013 and won just once in 2014 before coach Josh Rodriguez’s arrival. He led the Panthers to a 5-7 resurgent season last year that ended in the postseason against their biggest rival, but he was faced with replacing nearly all of the offense from a year ago.
French, Wilson, Rotterman, Snook and Corbin Green have shown ups and downs in leading North Platte, starting with a turnover-plagued season-opening loss to Gallatin. The Panthers next host Lathrop in a matchup with a Class 2 KCI school.
West Platte plays at Class 1 No. 3 Hamilton (5-0).