BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. — The end came swiftly for Park Hill’s dream season.
Playing in the first Class 6 semifinal in program history, the Trojans gave up four unanswered touchdowns and never found a way to start up their record-setting offense Saturday, Nov. 11. Blue Springs used three short touchdown runs for 6-foot-3 senior fullback Caleb Marquez and a dagger long touchdown pass just before halftime to earn a 34-14 victory at Blue Springs High School.
Park Hill’s season included a short stint at No. 1 in the Class 6 Missouri media poll, and the Trojans finished at 10-3 — one game shy of the ultimate goal.
“These guys four years ago set the ground work for this team,” Park Hill coach Josh Hood said. “They’ve made some accomplishments in two semifinal appearances, three quarterfinals and we can’t be disappointed with where put ourselves; we can be disappointed with today’s game and that’s about it.
“This is an outstanding football team, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Blue Springs (11-2) avenged a prior 28-25 loss to Park Hill in Suburban Conference Gold Division play. The Wildcats advanced back to the Class 6 state championship game, looking to improve on last year’s runner-up showing.
Park Hill couldn’t recreate the magic of the victory in Week 4 over Blue Springs when senior cornerback Devin Haney’s interception sealed the victory, propelling the Trojans to No. 1 in the polls.
Scoring 38 or more points six times this season, Park Hill routinely relied on senior quarterback Billy Maples and senior wide receiver Ronnie Bell for big plays, but
senior running back Dorian Clayton ran for 100 yards or more in nine of the final 10 games, including a career-high 332 in a Class 6 District 4 semifinal win over Lee’s Summit. He finished with 111 against Blue Springs, but Maples completed just 11 of 25 passes for 199 yards — a good chunk coming late with Blue Springs holding a 34-6 lead.
“We needed to make some plays, and at the end of the day, they were a healthy team and we maybe weren’t and that’s a big deal this time of year,” Hood said. “We put ourselves in the position where if we made a few plays and a couple things go our way in the first half then it could be a different story.”
Blue Springs took the opening kickoff and methodically used the run game to march down the field, capped with Marquez’s first touchdown run — a 3-yarder.
A missed extra point left Park Hill’s deficit at 6-0, and the defense, which allowed just 31 points total in three district victories, provided some chances. Blue Springs coach Kelly Donahoe gambled in his own territory late in the first quarter, and Park Hill senior linebacker Brighton Ramirez shot through a gap on the fourth down play.
Ramirez forced a fumble on the sneak attempt, and Park Hill senior safety Jarrett Ross recovered.
One play later, Maples, who had already been sacked twice, found junior wide receiver Payton Stanfield down the right sideline for a 39-yard touchdown. The Trojans also missed the extra point, and the score was tied 6-6 after the first quarter.
Blue Springs scored on its next two possessions with more work from a dominant running game that piled up 250 yards on the ground. Park Hill trailed 20-6 when Maples led the Trojans’ first drive into the red zone.
The march ended when Azaiah Bello intercepted Maples on 2nd and 10 from the 20.
Blue Springs extended the lead in the final minute of the first half when Chase Donahoe found senior wide receiver Tre Wheaton open behind the defense. A 47-yard scoring pass with 21 seconds left before halftime made it 27-6 and increased the difficulty for a potential Park Hill comeback.
Park Hill’s defense — led by 17 tackles for junior linebacker Haden Wallace, 15 four junior defensive back Kolby Heinerikson, 11 for Ramirez and nine for Ross — made a pair of stops in the third quarter, including a sack from senior outside linebacker Jeremiah Gibbs to force an important three-and-out.
The resulting drive started at Park Hill’s 26 and reached Blue Springs’ 23, but penalties eventually led to a turnover on downs. The Wildcats responded with a 77-yard run on a third and 17 from running back Aveion Bailey, and Marquez scored his third touchdown two plays later.
Down 34-6, Park Hill continued to throw the ball downfield, but Blue Springs sacked Maples six times total.
Maples and Bell connected on two long passes on a late drive, including a 20-yard touchdown for the final record-setting connection between two of 24 seniors on the roster who were part of a Class 5 semifinal run as freshmen and a trip to the Class 5 quarterfinals as sophomores. Grant Mertz, a senior tight end, caught a two-point conversion pass for the final points.
“It’s unthinkable about what we accomplished in four years,” Maples said. “We expected this team to make it this far and we knew we were coming through and in the offseason we really worked hard.”
Maples finished the season with school-records of 3,130 yards and 41 touchdowns in his third year as a starter. The 41 touchdowns included a then state-record nine touchdown passes in a regular season win against Lee’s Summit and tying a national record for eight touchdowns in the first half of the game.
The 41 passing touchdowns ranks in the top-10 for a season in Missouri history.
Bell topped 100 yards in a game for the eighth time this season, finishing with five catches for 108 yards. He set school records with 89 catches for 1,605 yards and 21 touchdowns — scoring 25 touchdowns on the season total.
The 1,605 yards tentatively ranks Bell seventh in Missouri history for a single season, while the 21 touchdowns ties for ninth.
Despite the achievements, Park Hill’s experienced offense never quite looked the same after a season-ending knee injury for wide receiver DJ Johnson, a three-year starter who had six touchdown receptions in just six games played. The Trojans suffered back-to-back losses to Lawrence Free State (Kan.) and Lee’s Summit West but finished the regular season on a three-game winning streak, earning the Gold Division title in the process.
Park Hill played in Class 6 for just the second season, improving from a first round District 4 loss to district champion. The Trojans avenged the 2016 postseason overtime loss to Rockhurst by downing the Hawklets 28-14 in this year’s district title game to earn the eighth semifinal berth in program history.
Ethan Smith, a junior defensive end, recorded four sacks in the win over Rockhurst — Park Hill’s sixth straight overall — but didn’t play in the semifinal due to a shoulder injury.
With the loss to Blue Springs, Park Hill dropped to 1-7 all-time in those semifinals, still seeking to add to the 2003 Class 5 state championship. The decorated senior class, winners of 39 games in four years, helped lead the Trojans into a new era and set the standard.
“We feel like year in and year out that we should be contenders in Class 6,” Hood said. “Being here in a position like this in our second year in Class 6, I think that’s a testament to the kids and the hard work they put forth and our coaching staff and the wonderful work that they have done in preparing our kids.”