KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Park Hill’s program hit a new high point Friday, Nov. 3.
For the first time, the Trojans became Class 6 District 4 champions and moved one win away from another historic opportunity. They advanced to the state semifinals for the eighth time with a 28-14 victory over Rockhurst in the district final at Park Hill District Stadium.
Park Hill won a third district title in four years but the first in Missouri’s largest division after expanding to six classes.
“This one is wonderful for the community and for this football team,” Park Hill coach Josh Hood said. “Our coaching staff did an outstanding job with the game plan and the kids executed. They were focused, they were loose and this was big win for the whole school.”
Park Hill senior defensive back Devin Haney changed the game with a 70-yard blocked field goal return for a touchdown in the second quarter, and senior wide receiver Ronnie Bell grabbed three receiving touchdowns in the win.
Neither team scored until Park Hill junior DaShaun Powell blocked a 38-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter. Haney scooped it up and ran it all the way back for the second touchdown of his career and first since 2015.
After a long but ultimately unsuccessful drive, Rockhurst punted the ball back, setting up Bell’s first big play.
Park Hill senior quarterback Billy Maples threw a simple screen pass out to the left, and Bell made the catch, slipped an initial tackle, raced down the left sideline and then weaved through two more tackle attempts to score from 62 yards out. The Trojans suddenly led 14-0 and wouldn’t trail.
Bell ended up with eight catches for 185 yards after being held to one catcha week earlier.
“Sometimes our running game is clicking; sometimes our passing game is clicking,” said Park Hill running back Dorian Clayton, who ran for more than 300 yards in a District 4 semifinal win over Lee’s Summit and added 165 in the win over Rockhurst. “Seems like tonight Ronnie was just on fire so we kept feeding that man the ball.”
Rockhurst scored its first touchdown in the final minute of the first half to close within 14-7, but Park Hill took the momentum right back out of the break.
On the second play of the third quarter, Maples hit Bell on a stop route, and the shifty senior broke four tackles on his second long catch-and-run touchdown — this one going 70 yards. Rockhurst immediately went three-and-out, and a long drive for the Trojans ended with a 10-yard passing touchdown to Bell from Maples.
Bell’s touchdowns continued to come in bunches, totaling two or more receiving touchdowns in a game for the seventh time this season. He now has 20 on the year to become just the eighth 11-man player in state history to reach that mark, currently ranking No. 9 on the all-time list.
Rockhurst didn’t gain its initial first down of the second half until late in the third quarter, left to lament not capitalizing on early chances.
Three times in the first half Park Hill’s defense made a stand — first with a sack for junior linebacker Haden Wallace to force a punt and then recovering from a shanked punt with a sack for junior defensive lineman Ethan Smith to force a field goal try. The block and return gave Park Hill the initial lead, but the Hawklets responded with an apparent scoring drive, only to have a touchdown pass called back on a holding penalty.
Another sack for Smith, who had four total, eventually forced a bad punt, and Bell scored his first touchdown two plays later.
Park Hill junior linebacker Cole Gonier had an interception, and senior safety Jarrett Ross recorded a team-high 14 tackles, while Wallace added 12 and Smith 10. Rockhurst gained 323 yards of offense and dominated time of possession but couldn’t match the Trojans’ big plays.
While running back Brady McCanles ran for 174 yards, Rockhurst quarterback Derek Green completed just 13 of 34 passes for 129 yards against Park Hill’s steady pass rush.
Rockhurst trailed 28-7 before adding a second touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. After recovering an onside kick, the Hawklets couldn’t score again, and Clayton ran eight straight times to run out the remainder of the clock.
“It’s like dreams coming true,” Clayton said. “We’ve got two more weeks, knock on wood, and hopefully, we can make it to the championship and hopefully, we take it all home. It’s just wonderful to be out here with my brothers and take this ‘W.’”
This win sets up a rematch between Park Hill and Blue Springs (10-2). In September, Park Hill held on in the Suburban Conference Gold Division meeting for a 28-25 win sealed with Haney’s late interception.
A berth in the Class 6 state title game will be on the line at 1 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 11 in Blue Springs, Mo.
Park Hill reached the Class 5 semifinals in 2014 before losing to Nixa, and the Trojans returned to the playoffs the following season, dropping a quarterfinal to Fort Osage. In the first season in Class 6, Park Hill lost in overtime to Rockhurst in a District 4 first round game — adding a little special meaning to the rematch.
With Bell, Maples and Clayton leading a star-studded cast of returners, Park Hill quickly rebuilt and briefly held the No. 1 ranking in Class 6 following the first win over Blue Springs.
“Last year was a down year for us, but we knew coming into Class 6 that it would be hard,” said Maples, who threw for 190 yards in the win over Rockhurst. “This win helps us out knowing that we can play against anybody, and we can’t wait for next week.”