Offense delivers late statement play for Platte County

Presented with the idea of punting the ball away, Platte County’s five offensive linemen instead asked for one more chance to push forward. The Pirates needed less than a yard to retain possession and run out the clock on any lingering hopes of a comeback for Smithville.

Platte County coach Bill Utz gave the approval, and junior running back Cayden Davis bullied his way to 3 final yards to finish with a career-high 183 on the ground and the only touchdown Friday, Oct. 4 at Pirate Stadium. The Pirates dominated start to finish in a 15-0 victory over Smithville — the team’s first shutout since the 2018 season-opener against Oak Park — that left only one team still unbeaten in Suburban Conference Blue Division play.

The result was all but assured with about a minute to go, but Platte County didn’t hesitate to run one final statement play in a meaningful rivalry matchup.

ROSS MARTIN/Special to the Citizen  Platte County’s Cayden Davis, center, runs while getting an opening from offensive linemen Wyett Wallingford (79) and Luek Seigel (60) during a game against Smithville on Friday, Oct. 4 at Pirate Stadium. Platte County won 15-0.

ROSS MARTIN/Special to the Citizen

Platte County’s Cayden Davis, center, runs while getting an opening from offensive linemen Wyett Wallingford (79) and Luek Seigel (60) during a game against Smithville on Friday, Oct. 4 at Pirate Stadium. Platte County won 15-0.

“We definitely knew it was a big play,” Platte County senior right tackle Wyett Wallingford said. “We gave it everything we’ve got, and it was kind of the seal on the win.”

Smithville entered unbeaten and atop the Class 4 District 8 standings. If those credentials weren’t enough for the homecoming showdown, the two teams split a pair of matchups a year ago. Platte County scored 28 unanswered in the second half to claim a 28-27 win in the regular season meeting, but the Warriors’ took revenge with a 33-28 victory in the district championship game on the way to a state semifinal berth.

Platte County (5-1) left no doubt in the first of potentially two meetings this year, winning a fourth straight overall since a Week 2 loss to Class 5 Park Hill South. The Pirates moved in front of Smithville in the Class 4 District 8 standings and now sit second behind unbeaten potential spoiler Lincoln Prep (6-0). 

The two teams also swapped spots in the Class 4 Missouri media poll with Platte County moving up to No. 4 and Smithville (5-1) dropping to No. 6.

“It’s a big rivalry, but they’re like Kearney to me. They’re just as big of a rival, and we wanted to win this one,” Platte County junior defensive end Forrest Boynton said.

Platte County dominated throughout but couldn’t create separation on the scoreboard, seemingly in need of just one productive drive to end in a touchdown to change the dynamic.

Davis helped produce the desired result during a 10-play, 90-yard drive in the second half. On the first snap of the fourth quarter, he busted through a seam in Smithville’s defensive line, broke three tackles and dragged a defender into the end zone on a 25-yard romp into the end zone to put the Pirates ahead 15-0.

On the drive, Davis had runs of 29 and 25 yards, as he turned in the best performance of his career on 24 carries. He entered the season as the likely lead running back after serving as a key backup and starter in two games as a sophomore. However, an ankle injury suffered in the season-opener kept him out of the loss to Park Hill South and limited him to just 23 attempts prior to Friday night.

Smithville came out in a three-man defensive front and didn’t deviate from the game plan, setting up an opportunity for Davis and a retooled offensive line to take center stage. 

“He’s now finally getting back in his groove,” Utz said of Davis. “I thought he ran well last week, and this week, he just stepped it up a notch. And kudos to the offensive line. The defense took away our pass and wasn’t going to let us throw, so we ran and good things happened.

“I’m going to take that as a sign of respect for our passing game that’s pretty good.”

Coming into the season, Platte County returned Wallingford at right tackle and three-year senior starter Max Renner at right guard, while senior Luke Seigel (center) and junior Trey Butcher (left tackle) were part-time starters in 2018 ready for full-time roles this year. The Pirates recently added depth to the line, moving senior Kevin Fagan from defense to offense for the Week 5 matchup with Raytown South, and he started at left guard against Smithville.

Fagan was a standout freshman offensive lineman who spent two years away from the team before returning this season on defense. 

Platte County hasn’t hesitated in recent years to tinker with the unit up front and now has Fagan and seniors Gunner Tongate and Jonathan Owen all prepared to contribute. In Fagan’s first start on offense, Platte County put up 229 rushing yards — most for the Pirates since 129 in the season-opener against Oak Park.

In addition to Davis, Platte County senior running backs Trey Phan (six carries, 23 yards; one catch, 20 yards) and Lewis Hunter (six carries, 17 yards) continued to split the workload in the backfield for an offense looking increasingly diverse the past two weeks.

“We’re feeling good about it,” Wallingford said. “In practice, we make sure (Fagan) gets all the help he needs. If he has any questions, we make sure to spend extra time, but he’s looking good. Out of the gate, we felt like we were getting a good push (against Smithville), and Cayden was doing good, feeling good. It just set us up for a big run night.” 

ROSS MARTIN/Special to the Citizen  Platte County kicker Grant Allen made three field goals against Smithville during a 15-0 victory on Friday, Oct. 4 at Pirate Stadium.

ROSS MARTIN/Special to the Citizen

Platte County kicker Grant Allen made three field goals against Smithville during a 15-0 victory on Friday, Oct. 4 at Pirate Stadium.

While the running game put the finishing touches on the win, Platte County senior kicker Grant Allen showed up again to help the Pirates build a 9-0 lead. He struggled with a missed field goal and missed extra point two weeks earlier in an 18-17 comeback win over Grain Valley and was unavailable for last week’s blowout of Raytown South when the game was moved up a day due to forecasted inclement weather to create a conflict with his priority soccer game.

Platte County’s three first half drives ended with field goals of 39, 40 and 45 yards with Allen’s successful kicks lifting an offense otherwise slowed by costly and untimely holding penalties. Overall, the Pirates had nine penalties for 90 yards — the one real blemish on a stellar performance.

“Holding calls are part of it. We’ve just got to do better,” Utz said.

Platte County’s defense made sure the lead held up. 

The majority of Smithville’s offense came from a two-pronged rushing attack of quarterback Spencer Miller and running back Isaac Miller — senior twin brothers and the obvious focal point of the offense. Isaac Miller busted off a 37-yard tackle-breaking run on the Warriors’ second drive, which ended with a 39-yard field goal try that missed wide right, but overall, they managed just 96 yards rushing on 25 attempts.

Platte County outgained Smithville 349-144 overall. The Pirates’ balanced defense included seven players with at least four tackles — five for Boynton, sophomore cornerback Cade Fowler, senior linebacker Gabe Harmon and senior defensive lineman James Gladden and four apiece for senior safety Trent Rueckert, junior defensive back Spencer Cupp and sophomore linebacker Trevor Scott.

“Like I told them, ‘Put a zero up, and I like my chances,’” Utz said. “They did a nice job, made some adjustments when they needed to and made the plays when they needed to.”

Smithville had just six offensive possessions total — three in each half. 

After Allen missed a 49-yard field goal try to end the first drive of the third quarter, Smithville couldn’t cut into the 9-0 deficit with Rueckert recording a critical pass breakup on third down to force a punt. A penalty backed the Pirates up to their own 10, but Davis started the eventual touchdown drive with his 29-yard run. 

Down 15-0 after a missed extra point, Smithville gained an initial first down with one of five completions between Spencer Miller (5-14 for 48 yards) and senior wide receiver George Fisher. Three plays later, Spencer Miller dropped back again only to face pressure from senior defensive end Garret Watson. Miller started to spin away to his left when Boynton met him for a drive ending sack.

“Full credit to Garret,” said Boynton, who recorded the game-sealing sack in last season’s come-from-behind win over Smithville. “I just knew if Garret wasn’t going to get him, I knew I was going to be right there to hit him as hard as I could. I’ve gotta enjoy it, but it was all thanks to Garret.”

Watson (team-high seven sacks) moved from defensive tackle to defensive end to start this season — his third as a starter — and Boynton began the year as a rotational defensive end. A severe elbow injury to projected junior starter Alex Stearns on the season’s opening kickoff shuffled the lineup with Fagan opening as an unexpected starter at defensive tackle.

However, Platte County coaches moved Gladden (3½ sacks, one against Smithville) to defensive tackle next to junior nose guard Keaton Smith with Stearns still out and continuing to work his way back. That put Boynton as the starter at right defensive end where he’s likely to continue seeing a large percentage of reps due to increasingly strong play against the run in addition to his pass-rush abilities that now have him at five sacks for the season.

“It hasn’t felt like a change,” Boynton said. “Every play I got in, it was effort, effort, effort. I’m running to the ball. I want to make a play.”

Platte County’s revamped offensive and defensive lines allowed the normally prolific passing game to take an uncharacteristic backseat in a big spot. The Pirates tried just 13 passes with junior quarterback Chris Ruhnke finishing with a season-low 114 yards. He completed 10 of 13 attempts but also showed patience with timely scrambles and taking two sacks rather than unnecessarily throwing into Smithville’s pass-focused defensive alignments.

Davis led the receivers with four catches for 30 yards, and junior wide receiver Dayton Mitchell — Platte County’s top pass-catcher on the season — had just one catch for 14 yards after putting up five touchdowns total in the previous three games. Pirates senior wide receiver Hunter Clarkson had three catches for 26 yards — two of them on the touchdown drive.

Ruhnke’s development and patience showed up big when he completed a 24-yard pass up the seam to junior wide receiver Colby Rollins to convert a third and long on the game’s final drive. Four plays later, the offensive line pushed ahead for the final first down that iced the game and allowed Ruhnke to kneel out the final 42 seconds.

“Ruhnke’s doing a nice job, and he’s growing a little bit more each week,” Utz said. “He had a good game; he had a real good game. For a young quarterback with six games under his belt, he’s making some good decisions that we really like.”

Thanks to rivalry wins over Kearney and Smithville during the four-game winning streak, Platte County just needs to beat Winnetonka in two weeks to capture the Blue Division title outright for the first time since 2012. The Pirates shared the conference crown in both 2014 and 2018.

First, Platte County travels this Friday to play Raymore-Peculiar (4-2), which moved into the most recent Class 6 rankings at No. 8 after a big win over Blue Springs last week. Last year, Platte County hosted the matchup and prevailed 36-35 in a memorable matchup that saw Raymore-Peculiar score 21 points in a span of less than five minutes late in the fourth quarter — the third touchdown on a pick-six with 44 seconds left to take a seven-point lead. The Pirates answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive capped with graduated senior quarterback Spencer Stewart’s 10-yard scramble to the end zone on the final play of regulation and resulting two-point pass that won the game with no time on the clock.

Raymore-Peculiar will be the undoubted favorite in the unorthodox Class 4-Class 6 matchup, but Platte County will have plenty to play for as the underdog. The Pirates need continued results and help from opponents to catch Lincoln Prep and maximize their seeding in the Class 4 District 8 bracket, which currently features seven of eight teams with a record of 3-3 or better.

“We need to come out with the same mentality as we did for Smithville and Kearney,” Wallingford said of the mindset needed to potentially spring another upset after a difficult stretch of four straight Blue Division games.