New quarterback, same offense

EXCELSIOR SPRINGS, Mo. — On the first offensive play of the preseason jamboree, Platte County didn’t waste any time putting the ball in the air with the new starting quarterback.

Unfortunately, Pirates junior Chris Ruhnke sailed his first pass high against Excelsior Springs. The next snap was another passing play, and his second attempt went through a receiver’s hands and resulted in an unlucky interception.

Ruhnke — ready for the first significant playing time — played 24 of Platte County’s 36 scripted plays Friday, August 23 against host Excelsior Springs, St. Pius X and Pembroke Hill with a few notable completions to his credit. However, if adversity can be experienced in a competitive practice situation, he will have the chance to provide a quick response in his opportunity to follow the Pirates’ recent run of all-state-caliber standout quarterbacks.

“Chris is a new quarterback. He’s got to get some of this experience,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “We were in a situation last year with the schedule and how close the games were that he didn’t get much time at all. He’s learning on the fly.

TODD NUGENT/Nugent Photography  Platte County’s Cam Schieb stiff-arms an Excelsior Springs defender during a jamboree on Friday, Aug. 23 at Exclesior Springs High School.

TODD NUGENT/Nugent Photography

Platte County’s Cam Schieb stiff-arms an Excelsior Springs defender during a jamboree on Friday, Aug. 23 at Exclesior Springs High School.

“Quite frankly, I’m glad he has a little bit of adversity to be able to see how he reacts from it. That helps answer some questions for us.”

For the second straight year, Platte County — substituting liberally, per usually — looked pedestrian on offense, scoring just once on a completion from the presumptive backup quarterback to the third-string quarterback against. Pembroke Hill. The Pirates allowed a touchdown to each of their three opponents.

That will do little to curb the optimism.

Platte County ranked No. 4 in the preseason Class 4 Missouri media poll, released late Tuesday night. The Pirates are coming off another 10-win season that ended in the District 8 championship game but will open with an almost completely new set of skill position players on Friday against Class 5 Oak Park at Pirate Stadium. A road matchup with Class 5 Park Hill South awaits in Week 2 before Suburban Conference Blue Division play opens Week 3 at home vs. rival Kearney.

“See what you got, see it on film,” Utz said. “We’ll have the chance to see it on film and really dissect it. One of the things we use it for is to kind of see where kids are on the depth chart, give kids an opportunity to step up and make some plays and work their way up and fix any problems that we have. If we don’t have anything to fix before Week 1 then things are amazing, and that’s never going to be the case.”

Platte County’s jamboree opened against Excelsior Springs in a rematch of a District 8 semifinal from a year ago. The Pirates held on for a 28-20 win despite some struggles stopping the triple-option running attack.

Excelsior Springs faced a fourth-and-1 right off the bat and promptly fumbled with Platte County junior defensive lineman Alex Stearns falling on the loose ball. The Tigers would attempt just one pass and didn’t score until a quarterback keeper resulted in a 9-yard touchdown run on their 12th and final play.

Platte County didn’t reach the end zone with Ruhnke taking 10 snaps. He threw two interceptions, and the Pirates also committed three penalties during a slow start. The highlight play in the set of 12 plays came with a 22-yard dumpoff from Ruhnke to sophomore reserve running back Ben McDaniel on the final snap. 

However, Platte County limited snaps for its returning defensive standouts like senior linebacker Gabe Harmon and senior safeties Trent Rueckert and Will Hay. The Pirates also were without senior offensive guard Max Renner due to injury, and while senior Wyett Wallingford (right tackle), junior Trey Butcher (left tackle) and senior Luke Seigel (center) are also back up front, the Pirates took an extended look at Johnathan Owen and Gunner Tongate at the guard spots with the fifth starter yet to be determined.

“It’ll be good to get Max back to kind of be an anchor for that group, but it’s always good to get kids reps and get experience because you never know when they’ll need to come in there and play,” Utz said. 

Against Pembroke Hill (11-1 in Class 3 last year), Platte County junior Cayden Davis, who started two games a year ago, broke away for a 10-yard gain on his best play as the new featured running back. Ruhnke then hit senior wide receiver Traizen McKown for a 17-yard gain to set up a goal-to-go situation on his sixth and final play against the Raiders.

Ruhnke then came out, and on the next snap, sophomore Jared Parsons threw a 9-yard touchdown to sophomore Landon Fulk in a connection between the two backup quarterbacks. Pembroke Hill threw a 6-yard touchdown pass on its seventh play, while the Pirates again played mostly reserves on defense.

In the third and final scrimmage, Platte County again didn’t score with Ruhnke playing another six snaps — the best a 27-yard completion down the right seam to McKown on a third and seven. The Pirates were then first and goal from the 10 but didn’t score with Parsons sacked on fourth down.

St. Pius X scored on a 40-yard touchdown run around right end late in its series of plays. Platte County sophomore defensive end Chandler Steinmeier had a chase-down sack against the Warriors that created a strong reaction among teammates, and the Pirates were also able to get an extended look at senior defensive tackle Kevin Fagan — back with the team after not playing the past two seasons and previously working more as an offensive lineman.

“We like our defense, and it’s fun to watch those young kids run around and make plays,” Utz said. 

Earlier in the day, Platte County also received its district assignment and potential opponents in the end of the year bracket. The Pirates return to District 8 along with Kearney, Smithville, Winnetonka, St. Joseph Lafayette and Excelsior Springs, while Kansas City East and Lincoln Prep move in to replace Kirksville and Marshall.

Platte County has reached the district championship game each of the past four years, winning the title in 2017 and advancing to the Class 4 state semifinals for the first time in program history. The Pirates were five-time state finalists in Class 3 with a run of three straight undefeated state championships from 2000-2002.