DEARBORN, Mo. — North Platte came away with an emotional victory in more ways than one.
Not only did the Panthers hold on for 33-14 win over West Platte on Friday, Sept. 15 to retain control of The Tobacco Stick traveling trophy, they also honored the memory of their biggest rival’s former coach. Prior to the game, West Platte cheerleaders presented a plaque to the North Platte cheerleaders, thanking the school for the support in wake of Nate Danneman’s death this past spring.
North Platte also presented Tabitha Danneman — Nate’s widow — with an honorary Tobacco Stick. A moment of silence followed for Nate Danneman, killed at the age of 37 in a tragic multi-vehicle accident on Interstate 29.
“It’s always great to get this rivalry win but it’s kind of mixed emotions today,” said North Platte coach Josh Rodriguez, a college football teammate of Danneman’s at Missouri Valley. “It’s not the normal feel of this rivalry. There’s a lot of heavy hearts, and we love the West Platte kids, too, and Tabitha. But it’s always a nice win.”
North Platte (2-3) won a second straight in the annual series between KCI Conference rivals for the first time since taking six in a row from 1995-200.
A change at quarterback helped North Platte’s offense to a second straight improved showing, jumping to a 27-0 lead at halftime on four second quarter touchdowns. Andrew Hernandez, a sophomore, received his second straight start with senior Austin Snook suffering a hand injury that inhibits his ability to take snaps.
Hernandez led a late comeback in a loss to Lawson in Week 4, then threw two touchdowns and ran for another in the second quarter against West Platte.
“Andrew has done a really good job of running our offense, and we’re scoring points,” Rodriguez said. “Austin has done a good job playing his receiver so it just makes sense to stick with it if it’s not broke.”
Snook, a 6-foot-2 target, hauled in touchdown passes of 14 and 5 yards in the second quarter sandwiched around Hernandez’s 6-yard touchdown run.
North Platte sophomore Caine Huffman capped the outburst, intercepting West Platte quarterback Noah Johnson just before halftime. Huffman returned it 36 yards for a score, putting the Panthers up 27-0 at the break.
West Platte rallied in the third quarter with Johnson (7-for-20, 121 yards) throwing a 39-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Grant Eagen (five catches, 83 yards). North Platte slowed the Bluejays’ running game, but Gavin Davis’ 5-yard touchdown run cut the Panthers’ lead to 27-14.
Davis finished with 64 yards on 24 carries, while Johnson ran for 58.
West Platte didn’t score again and suffered a fourth straight loss, dropping to 1-4 overall with the lone win coming Week 1 against Lincoln Prep. The Bluejays are now 0-3 in KCI play while falling to No. 5 in the Class 1 District 7 standings — one spot behind North Platte.
“Blocking and tackling,” West Platte coach Paul Thomas said of what needs to be better. “That’s the name of the game, and they outblocked and outtackled us so I thought the first and third quarters we did that to them so we just needed to come out first quarter and score some points but we didn’t do that.”
Hernandez finished 13-for-19 for 203 yards, capping his day with a 26-yard scoring strike to junior Hunter Hendricks. Hernandez also ran for a team-high 43 yards.
Hendricks turned in a career-best game with five catches for 135 yards with North Platte’s passing game blossoming. Remington Wilson, a senior running back, ran 12 times for 42 yards for the Panthers in addition to recording a team-high 20 tackles (two for loss).
Huffman had 10 tackles to go with his interception, and Hernandez and Ty French also had picks to account for the rest of North Platte’s three turnovers forced.
North Platte scored an important win in the district standings, meaning the Panthers would host West Platte in the first round if the postseason started this week.
Now 2-1 in KCI play, North Platte travels to Class 2 Lathrop for another stiff league challenge this week. West Platte hosts Class 1 powerhouse Hamilton on Friday, Sept. 22, still searching for the program’s first KCI win since 2015.