Special to the Citizen
DEARBORN, Mo. — A new era kicked off in North Platte Panthers football with a matchup against Gallatin for the ninth consecutive year in the Grand River Conference and Kansas City Interscholastic Conference annual crossover, but the first under Reis Wright.
The Panthers were looking to avenge a season opening loss to the Bulldogs but were unable to overcome some costly penalties in a 31-6 defeat on Friday, Aug. 24 at North Platte High School.
The Panthers churned up 305 yards on the ground but converted just one of four chances inside the red zone. Meanwhile the Bulldogs did just the opposite, as they punched in on every chance that presented itself in the football game.
The Panthers started with the football in their hands and a first look at Wright’s offense.
With junior quarterback Andrew Hernandez under center, the Panthers found themselves inside Bulldogs territory in just five plays thanks to a big pass to senior Chance Chestnut — 28 yards — and a scamper of 23 yards by junior running back Joel Smyser.
On the sixth play, Smyser got outside and punched it in for six points, but a yellow flag on the ground negated Smyser’s 14-yard score.
The Panthers failed to score over the next three plays, after the Bulldogs defense stopped Hernandez short of a first-down causing a turnover-on-downs.
“Obviously, it didn’t go great tonight,” Wright said. “It was big when the TD by Joel Smyser got called back. Ultimately if we got that football in, it could’ve changed the course of the game. We had too many penalties that killed us, to where we were unable to execute. It was my fault, mainly.”
The Bulldogs answered with a 14-play, 92-yard drive that leaned heavily on junior running back Haden Bradford, who toted the ball 12 times for 65 yards on the drive. Bradford capped off the drive with a five-yard scoring plunge with one minute, 52 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
Senior kicker Adrian Hernandez added the extra-point for a 7-0 Bulldogs lead.
Bradford finished with 20 carries and 109 yards, including a score.
Gallatin’s defense forced a quick stop on the Panthers ensuing possession. A bad snap on a fourth-down play gave the Bulldogs a short field and they capitalized very quickly.
Senior fullback Graydee Rains, a former left tackle, carried the ball for a 33-yard TD run and Adrian Hernandez added another extra point for a 14-0 Bulldogs lead with 11:37 remaining in the second quarter.
Rains finished with 9 carries 138 yards and 3 TD’s.
“We had some guys do some great things for us tonight during some adversity,” Bulldogs coach Patrick Treece said. “It was huge for us starting the season out right and building some confidence. Graydee (Rains), this is his first-game playing fullback for us. He was the starting left tackle the last two years. He did some great things and he’s tough to bring down, he just wants it more than most.”
The Panthers responded with a 12-play 76-yard scoring drive that featured big runs by Andrew Hernandez and junior Caine Huffman.
Huffman and Andrew Hernandez both carried the ball for 24 yards on the drive, one capped off by a one-yard plunge over the goal by Andrew Hernandez for the Panthers maiden score of the 2018 season with 6:10 left in the second quarter. Their two-point conversion attempt failed when junior Ty French was stopped short of pay dirt keeping the score 14-6.
North Platte had an opportunity to even the score before halftime, but a costly holding call deep in Bulldogs territory derailed the drive and the Bulldogs held a 14-6 lead at the break.
“We had problems with penalties and in-game execution, because we were either tired or weren’t moving our feet,” Wright said. “I don’t know the reason, we just couldn’t make plays when we needed to tonight. We are going to get it fixed.”
The Panthers forced a Bulldog punt on their initial drive of the second half, but when they got the ball back, they had another drive stall out in the red zone.
Andrew Hernandez had a 31-yard scamper on the opening play and Smyser and Huffman added some yards, but when the Panthers needed a yard inside the red zone to continue the dive the Bulldogs defense stood tall and gave the ball back to their offense.
The Bulldogs posted yet another long-punishing drive that was capped off by another Rains dash to the end zone. Rains capped off the 12-play, 81-yard drive with a 9-yard plunge for his second score and Adrian Hernandez added the extra point giving the Bulldogs a 21-6 lead with 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Rains added another score from 72 yards and Adrian Hernandez booted a 37-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to seal the win and spoil the debut for Wright, who attended Platte County High School.
Andrew Hernandez had 23 carries for 165 yards and a touchdown and went 3-for-12 with 48 yards passing and one interception in his first game as the starting quarterback.
This is the third straight season the Panthers will face the Princeton Tigers during the GRC and KCI crossover.
Both teams have split a pair of meetings with each school winning on their home field. Last year the Tigers won 38-0 on their way to a perfect regular season.
Both teams will be looking for their first victory of the season after suffering season opening defeats. Princeton lost to KCI member Mid-Buchanan, 40-14 at home.
“I am not changing anything,” Wright said. “We are going to be us and we are going to be better at what we do. I’m going to get more committed at what we do and I’m going to make them stop it.”