GOWER, Mo. — North Platte understood the challenge after a Week 9 shuffle left the Panthers with a lower-than-expected seed in Class 1 District 7.
A touchdown late in the first half gave No. 2 seed East Buchanan separation Friday, Oct. 21, and the Bulldogs pulled away in the second half for a 48-16 win at East Buchanan High School. The postseason opener provided a rematch after East Buchanan won the first meeting 40-6 in late September.
No. 7-seeded North Platte finished the season 2-8 with a talented senior class attempting to lead a crop of inexperienced players. In 2015, the Panthers went 5-7 and reached the District 7 title game, but they lost players responsible for about 90 percent of the offense.
“I knew we were going to be young and we were going to be rough in some spots, but I thought we could have won a couple more ball games than we did so in that aspect it was a little bit of a disappointment,” North Platte coach Josh Rodriguez said. “At the same time, we had some kids that never had varsity experience before step up, and they grew and the future looks bright for them.”
For the second straight week, Rodriguez opted to put senior Ben French in the quarterback spot with junior Austin Snook flexed out to wide receiver and tight end.
French, the leading rusher for North Platte after starting the first eight games at tailback, only managed 44 yards passing on two completions while running for 43 on a team-high eight carries. Panthers senior running back Parker Rotterman (63 yards) and junior fullback Remington Wilson (57 yards) ended up leading a ground attack that totaled 166 yards with a 4.2 yards per carry average.
Early in the second quarter, Wilson accounted for North Platte’s first touchdown, which briefly trimmed the Panthers’ deficit to 14-8 after French ran in the two-point conversion. However, East Buchanan added a touchdown before halftime to take a 20-8 lead into the break, and the Bulldogs’ balanced offense (260 passing yards, 261 rushing yards) proved too much.
“I think initially our effort was much better than the last time we played them,” Rodriguez said. “As the game went on there, they had more horses than us, and it proved to be our demise.”
East Buchanan ended up scoring 26 unanswered points.
North Platte’s final touchdown came after Corbin Green scooped up a fumble on a punt return and took the ball the other way into the end zone. French added a second two-point conversion to close the gap to three scores, but East Buchanan added a touchdown and a safety in the final 2½ minutes of the fourth quarter to provide the final margin.
French and Rotterman headed up a senior class of just four players.
The duo played a big part in a 26-20 win against West Platte that returned The Tobacco Stick trophy to North Platte for the first time since 2006. French ran for three touchdowns, and Rotterman made nine tackles in the monumental victory for Rodriguez in just his second year at the helm.
That ended up being the final win of the season for North Platte, which ended the season on a five-game losing streak while still showing signs of improvement moving forward.
“Got a lot of young kids, and they’re continuing to get better,” Rodriguez said. “They played the first half extremely hard but just ran out of gas and they exploited our weaknesses in the second half. Sure a lot to build on today, and I’m very pleased with our effort, just not the way we want to end our season.”
Plattsburg 42, West Platte 14
The Bluejays’ downtrodden season came to a quick and decisive end Friday, Oct. 21 in the first round of the Class 1 District 7 bracket.
Plattsburg scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter of a victory at Plattsburg High School — the Tigers’ second win over West Platte in a span of three weeks. The Bluejays lost nine straight to close the season after opening with a win against Central Academy of Excellence.
West Platte finished 1-9, the lowest win total for the program since going 1-8 in 2000.
Incidentally, West Platte’s lone win helped precipitate a move up to the No. 5 spot in the District 7 standings, allowing for a more manageable rematch. The Bluejays closed within 13-7 late in the second quarter on a 10-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Nick Miller to Noah Johnson.
The score came after West Platte missed a previous chance to slice into a two-touchdown deficit.
A 34-yard fake punt pass from sophomore Gavin Davis to senior Kyle Tabaka helped move the ball into Plattsburg territory. The Bluejays then fumbled away the chance when Miller lost the ball running left on a keeper play at the 1-yard line — their second turnover of the first half.
After forcing a fourth-down stop, West Platte’s grinding drive filled with passes reached the end zone with just more than a minute to go in the first half.
Plattsburg needed just four plays to answer with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Tanner Sims to Matthew Graham plus a two-point conversion for a 21-7 lead. All three of the Tigers’ first half touchdowns went for 20 yards or more.
The score held until the fourth quarter when Plattsburg added three more long scores — runs of 53 and 67 yards for Jordan Kremer and a 12-yard run for Andrew Querry. The Tigers rolled up 320 yards rushing, including 160 for Kremer and 99 more for Graham.
West Platte’s final score came on an 18-yard pass from Miller to fellow senior Alec Carson.
The late touchdown on a leaping catch in the back of the end zone provided the final highlight in a difficult season for 10 seniors. Miller finished with 131 yards passing in his final game after taking over quarterback duties this season. Tabaka, a fullback and linebacker, rushed for a team-high 49 yards on 14 carries in addition to three catches for 59 yards.
West Platte endured injuries in addition to inexperience, going 0-7 in the KCI Conference and losing in the first round of districts for the first time in five years under the state’s current playoff format. Cameron Johnson, a senior and the Bluejays’ best linemen, missed three total games this season, including the rematch with Plattsburg.