WELLINGTON, Mo. — Giving up three unanswered scores became too big a hurdle for North Platte to overcome on Friday, Nov. 2. Playing Wellington-Napoleon in a Class 1 District 7 semifinal game, the North Platte Panthers were right with the Wellington-Napoleon Tigers until late in the first quarter, but the home team surged ahead late in the quarter and pulled away with a 46-30 victory at Bodenhamer Field.
The Panthers ended 3-8 in the first year under coach Reis Wright. Meanwhile, the Tigers improved to 8-3 and will play another KCI Conference team in the district finals – Mid-Buchanan. The Mid-Buchanan Dragons upset No. 6-ranked East Buchanan in the other semifinal game.
“The year was great,” Wright said. “The boys gave everything they had and grew so much week-to-week. By the end of the season we were playing our best football and I’m proud of that.”
North Platte got the ball first in the road game but a quick three-and-out set up a punt and Wellington-Napoleon took over at the 50. A four-play drive followed that ended in a 28-yard touchdown run by Trey Shannon with 8 minutes, 16 seconds, left in the first quarter.
The teams traded punts and when North Platte’s Andrew Hernandez fielded the punt at the 39-yard line, he initially dropped it. He picked it up and ran up the North Platte sideline, getting a key block along the way to spring him for a 61-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt — to try to tie the game — failed and the Tigers led 8-6.
Wellington-Napoleon then scored twice in the final 1 minute of the first quarter to take a 22-6 lead. Jared Stevenson had a pair of first-down runs of 11 yards, while Gage Portell had a 17-yard run, which moved the Tigers outside the red zone. On third down from the 1, Stevenson scored. He had the two-point conversion run to make it 16-6 with 58.6 seconds left.
On North Platte’s first play on the next drive, an option pitch was deflected and then picked up and returned 31 yards for a touchdown by Scout Schaberg, a mere 12 seconds after the last Tigers’ touchdown. North Platte trailed 22-6 when the first quarter ended.
The Panthers forced a turnover on downs on the next possession, but Wellington-Napoleon went to the air on the next drive to set up a score. Shannon hit Schaberg for four different completions, the longest, a 30-yard gain, moved the ball to the North Platte 19. Portell capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run with 5 minutes left in the second quarter.
North Platte got another touchdown from Hernandez on the following drive, his 4-yard run with 1:36 got the Panthers on the board again. Offensive lineman Chase Chesnut ran the ball in for the conversion, making it 28-12. The big play on the drive was a 27-yard pass from Hernandez to Caine Huffman, who outjumped the coverage and landed inbounds.
Wellington-Napoleon got one more score in the first half to extend the lead to 34-14.
A pass interference call on North Platte with 55.8 seconds left gave the Tigers the ball on the 14. Two plays later, Shannon hit Jalen Hill for a 10-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left.
The Panthers fell behind 40-14 after three quarters, but tacked on two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
After Wellington-Napoleon scored to make it 46-14, the Panthers recovered an onside kick. Hernandez had a touchdown pass to Huffman for 7 yards. North Platte recovered the onside kick and Hernandez hit Ty French for 23 yards score. Chance Chesnut ran in both conversions to account for the final score.
Hernandez ran for 122 yards on 25 carries and threw for 114 more, completing 7 of 20 passes — to five different receivers. On the defensive side of the ball, Blake Gibson had a team-high nine tackles, while Caleb Hodge had seven.
The loss ends the playing career for five seniors for the Panthers.
“Losing those five in the spots hurt and in those spots for sure,” Wright said. “They were dedicated and great kids all year. The returning juniors are a great class with a lot of experience. The sophomore and freshman classes are great and will provide us many starters and great depth, along with a worker’s menatality. I’m thankful to just be a part of it and work with them.”