HARRISONVILLE, Mo. — Two years ago, Gavin Hardman played for Class 1 Lone Jack. Last year, he earned a spot in Platte County’s defensive backfield.
Last week, the Pirates senior felt right at home when he found himself in the spotlight. Hardman ran 15 times for a career-high 90 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in a 20-12 win over Harrisonville on Friday, Sept. 8 in a battle of Class 4-ranked teams.
For much of the season, Platte County’s run offense sat dormant, but Harrisonville’s defensive strategy forced a switch.
“I couldn’t be more excited, honestly,” Hardman said. “This is my team. I have all the faith in these guys. It’s our team, and I couldn’t be more excited to be a senior on this football team.
“Playing Class 1 was fun, but I’ll take Class 4 with my home team every day.”
For the second straight year, Platte County (3-1) knocked off Harrisonville, but this one looked much different.
A record-setting 10 turnovers fueled Platte County’s 49-0 blowout in 2016. Harrisonville, which recovered from the loss and went on to win the Class 4 state title while the Pirates missed the playoffs, used a pair of desperation completions in the closing seconds of the rematch to end up with a healthy advantage in yards gained (351-263) and threatened to force overtime.
With 5 seconds left, Platte County senior defensive lineman Michael Smith came around left end to record a sack that preserved the win.
“All I needed to do was hurry up off the ball and make a play. That’s all I needed to do. I just had to go,” said Smith, who struggled with injuries last year but has 30 tackles and three sacks while rotating between end and tackle this season.
The win vaulted Platte County to a season-best No. 4 in the most recent Class 4 Missouri media rankings, jumping five spots with the win over Harrisonville (down to No. 9 from No. 6 with the loss).
The Pirates posted season-lows for points scored (20) and passing yards (117), while also dealing with injuries to senior wide receiver Devin Richardson (shoulder), senior cornerback JP Post (shoulder) and senior safety Kobe Cummings (knee). Richardson missed the game after being injured in Week 3’s 62-27 loss to Staley, while Post played through his malady.
Cummings came up injured in the second quarter and played off and on the rest of the way.
Platte County’s schedule remains difficult after playing back-to-back ranked foeswith two straight home games up next against Class 5 Belton (2-2) and Class 5 No. 4 Liberty (4-0). The Pirates have lost two straight in the series with Belton and scored a minor upset of a resurgent Liberty squad a year ago.
“It’s not going to get any easier,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “We have to be smart on our end, give them a little time in practice, give them a little rest and just be as smart as we can.”
Including the past two weeks, Platte County has five teams in the final seven weeks either in the Missouri media rankings or receiving votes. The Pirates received their first test from another ranked Class 4 opponent in the rematch with the 2016 state champions.
Harrisonville used its option offense to control the clock early, and Platte County failed to take advantage of first quarter fumble recoveries for Cummings and senior Hunter Tongate. The Wildcats took a 6-0 lead midway through the second quarter after a touchdown run from Joe Bowers and a point-after kick that never got off the ground missed.
After an exchange of punts, Platte County took the ball back with 1:59 to go in the first half.
Clarkson completed a pass for 20 yards to junior Dylan Gilbert (four catches, 48 yards) to convert a third-and-long, and a 5-yard connection with 6-foot-4 senior John Watts (team-highs seven catches, 61 yards) moved the Pirates into the red zone. Hardman then scored on a hard 6-yard run up the middle for his first touchdown of the season.
“They loaded up to stop the pass, and who wouldn’t?” Utz said. “We knew what they were going to give us, and we didn’t adjust to it. Their game plan was really good the first half — really the whole game.”
Up 7-6 out of halftime, Platte County used a long kickoff return for Post plus a 15-yard penalty for a late hit out of bounds to set up a second score.
Hardman ripped off runs of 13 and 5 yards before junior running back Adel Freitek ran 12 yards to Harrisonville’s 7. Clarkson ran in on the next play for his first rushing touchdown of the season, giving the Pirates a 14-6 advantage.
Platte County’s lead expanded to 17-6 on the first of two field goals — this one from 18 yards out after a goal-line stand.
“I did think we were playing a little on our heels in the first half trying not to make a mistake,” Utz said. “I challenged them at halftime to go out and make a play. Do what they do, and they started to play a little better. You could tell they were a little more relaxed in the second half.”
Harrisonville received a life line in the fourth quarter when a snap went through Clarkson’s hands, and the Wildcats recovered at the 4, scoring a touchdown on the next play. Hardman provided the response with runs of 13, 16, 7, 2, -2 and 7 on consecutive carries behind the rebuilt offensive line of seniors Matt Blaha, Trevor Tietz, and Matthew Knopp plus juniors Reid Sutter and Glen Gammill.
Mixed with two Harrisonville penalties, Platte County ended up at the 15 and increased the lead to 20-12 on Lacina’s 32-yard field goal with 27 seconds to go. Lacina also averaged 41 yards per punt with a long of 50 and two inside the 20 on six attempts.
“I’m always confident in Parker,” Hardman said. “He’s got a great leg.”
Needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion, Harrisonville moved across midfield with a 35-yard completion down the home sideline from Ryan Bird to Jasper Davis with 11.2 seconds left. Bowers then came in at quarterback and completed a 24-yard pass to Davis with the game clock not starting on the play.
After a conference, officials put 5 seconds on the clock, and Harrisonville snapped the ball for a final play at the 21.
Smith rushed around the left side and mauled Byrd, causing a fumble on the play. He then celebrated with Platte County senior Dakota Schmidt (team-high 17 tackles, two for loss) as time ran out.
“Once I hit him, I knew it was over,” Smith said.
Tongate ended up with seven tackles for Platte County while senior safety Jackson Phan, junior cornerback Blake Reynolds and senior defensive lineman Chase Blankenship had two apiece.