DEARBORN, Mo. — North Platte Panthers looked to continue its momentum into a showdown with the Kansas City Intercollegiate Conference leading Lathrop Mules, however the Panthers met an unmovable object as the Mules galloped to a 76-12 triumph over the Panthers on Friday, Oct. 5 at North Platte High School in Dearborn, Mo.
The Panthers (2-5, 2-3 KCI) picked up their second road win of the season last week in Weston, Mo. when they defeated West Platte, 18-14. However, they came against a hard-charging buzzsaw in the Mules.
“We faced a great team tonight, there is no doubt about that,” North Platte coach Reis Wright said. “Kudos to Coach Holt and the Mules, they have had a good season and they are going to finish strong. We moved the ball well, on a top 2A team. We moved the ball extremely well, we had some things that didn’t go our way, the scoreboard is the scoreboard and I’m proud of my guys.”
Lathrop (7-0, 5-0 KCI) entered the game ranked No. 3 in the Missouri Media Rankings Class 2 poll and averaged 53.6 points per game and were only yielding 7.6 points per game under fourth-year coach Chris Holt.
Holt inherited a program that went 2-8 in the final season under Mike Thompson and 4-6 in his first year. The Mules went 7-3 in his second season (2016) and 9-3 last year.
“The first year, we were snake bitten we had multiple leads that we lost at the end,” Holt said. “Learning how to win is a process. It took us awhile to learn how to win at Maryville and Schuyler County. It is definitely taking us awhile to learn how to win. We are getting there, it is just taking us some time.”
The Mules scored early and often in the latest romp. Lathrop tallied 469 yards of total offense, with 392 coming on the ground, with 10 rushing touchdown and one passing. The Mules also forced four turnovers on defense, three were interceptions.
The Panthers opened the game with a quick three-and-out. On fourth down the Panthers dropped back to punt and a bad snap to junior punter Joel Smyser, left him helpless and unable to punt, so the Mules brought him down at the Panthers 11-yard line.
On the second play of the drive, Mules senior running back Seth McKnight (five carries, 48 yards, 2 touchdowns) toted the rock six yards to pay dirt for a 6-0 Mules lead with 10:24 left in the first quarter. Panthers junior Ty French broke through and blocked the extra-point attempt by senior placekicker Justin Burns, his only miss of the night — Burns went 10-11 on PATs.
The Panthers had another quick three-and-out giving the Mules the ball just shy of midfield. On the first play, McKnight carried the ball for 28 yards, setting up a 22-yard TD run by senior fullback Justin Wright with 7:39 left in the first quarter. Burns added the extra point for a 13-0 lead.
On the ensuing possession Panthers junior quarterback Andrew Hernandez couldn’t get the Panthers offense out of the starting blocks as he threw an interception and safety Drew O’Connor who returned the ball 23 yards to the Panthers 8-yard line.
Mules senior running back Hunter Sloan dashed for an 8-yard score on one of his two carries for the night. The PAT made it 20-0 with 6:08 left in the first quarter.
“It’s just kind of been our story this year. We have a lot of speed and we have 30 juniors and seniors this year,” Holt said. “If you aren’t a good football team when you have 30 juniors and seniors, you just aren’t doing your job. It has been a culmination of things getting us to this point. We just have to come out and play well every week like we are playing in the Super Bowl, we are getting there.”
The Panthers got their initial first down of the game with a little more than six minutes left in the quarter, when Hernandez called his own number and dashed for a 40-yard gain. The junior toted the ball 16 times for 192 yards.
The Panthers took the ball to the Mules 25-yard line before Hernandez was intercepted by Burns.
The Mules cashed in on the Panthers turnover just two plays later when junior quarterback Blake Gordon connected for the Mules only passing score — and completion — when he found Sloan for a 52-yard score. Burns added the extra-point for a 27-0 Mules lead. McKnight scored the Mules final touchdown of the quarter for a 34-0 lead over the Panthers after the first 12 minutes.
The Mules added three more rushing scores (junior Tyler Paul — 61 yards; Wright for 10 yards and junior Tanner Dalinghaus from 11 yards) before the Panthers made a dent on the scoreboard trailing 55-0 in the second quarter.
The Panthers drove the ball 75 yards on eight plays. Hernandez carried the ball three times for 50 yards on the drive and capped it off with a 6-yard scoring strike to last week’s hero, junior Caine Huffman, at the left pylon with 20 seconds before halftime. Hernandez failed on the conversion and the Panthers entered the locker room trailing 55-6.
The Mules managed just a 5-yard Nick Knight touchdown run with 6:22 left in the third quarter under a running clock — MSHSAA rules dictate a running clock in the second half with a 35-point spread. Burns added his ninth extra-point for a 62-6 lead.
Mules sophomore running back Jackson Hood (42 yards) and freshman running back Dylan Scanlan (15 yards) added TD runs for the Mules in the fourth quarter, before one final Panthers dash to the end zone.
With just more than 30 seconds remaining, Panthers senior and first-year player Joe DeMarcus roared 74 yards through the Mules defense on an option-keeper up the right sideline for a touchdown. He failed on the conversion putting final score at 76-12.
“He told me ‘can we run the veer and maybe not ISO (isolation). I said ‘hey baby, let’s go’ and he took that thing to the house,” Wright said of DeMarcus. “He doesn’t miss anything, he is as dedicated as dedicated can be. He is a first-year player and one of the sweetest kids I’ve ever met and I’m so proud of Joe, that was awesome.”
The Panthers compiled 350 yards on 40 carries and 35 yards passing for 385 yards of total offense.
The Panthers tough road through the KCI continues as they head to Gower to take on the previously unbeaten and No. 1 ranked Class 1, now No. 4 after suffering a 72-22 loss to Lawson last week.
The Kevin Bryan-led Bulldogs won the last meeting at home 40-6 and last season in Dearborn 52-15. The Panthers and Bulldogs will kickoff at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13 at East Buchanan High School in Gower, Mo.
“It’s not easy playing in the KCI every week, but again I’m prepared for that I came from the MRVC (Missouri River Valley Conference) and that is no walk in the park,” Wright said. “The KCI is a tough conference as well. This stretch of games where we have Lathrop, East Buchanan and Hamilton, you have to get cranked up for that and I firmly believe if we are cranked up, we can play with these dudes. If we can play penalty-free football and execute we will be there in the fourth. Our guys just need to be locked in and good things will happen. I don’t care about East Buchanan’s ranking, we just have to play our game.”