Even a late touchdown couldn’t provide total relief for Park Hill South in another top 10 battle.
For the second straight week, the Panthers survived one final drive to secure a big victory, taking command of the Suburban Conference Red Division race in the process. Liberty quarterback Nick Henrichs saw his final pass from the 15-yard line fall incomplete, allowing Park Hill South to escape Liberty High School with a 26-19 win Friday, Sept. 30 in Liberty, Mo.
Wins against Liberty North (then No. 10 in Class 5) and Liberty (then No. 7 in Class 5) improved Park Hill South to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in league play. A win against Truman to close the regular season would give the Panthers the Red Division crown outright, coming off a 2-8 season in 2015.
“This kind of helps seal with our kids that hard work and dedication pays off,” Park Hill South coach Mike Sharp said.
Last year’s leading rusher, Emanuel Butler returned to the feature running back role after missing most of the first six games and scored a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns against Liberty. The senior’s 13-yard touchdown run with 1 minute, 11 seconds left put Park Hill South up 26-19 after the Blue Jays blocked the extra point to keep the tie scenario simple and put the possibility of a late score to win in play.
A long kick return put Liberty at midfield, but Henrichs completed just one of his final eight attempts — a fourth down conversion to keep the final drive alive. A pass interference penalty gave the Blue Jays one final shot at the end zone with 3.3 seconds left, a play that resulted in an incomplete pass.
Park Hill South played without senior wide receiver/defensive back and Northern Illinois commit Dillon Thomas for a third straight game but continued to show a balanced offense and solid defense.
“With the guts our guys have and have showed the last two weeks, I felt like we were in the driver’s seat the whole way,” said Park Hill South senior wide receiver Jake Springer, who totaled 49 yards receiving and 47 yards rushing. “We just had a couple hiccups. It was just a matter of time before we came back.”
Liberty’s own resurgence in a 5-2 season came in large part to the play of running back Robert Rawie, a senior limited to a season-low 66 yards rushing against Park Hill South.
However, a 77-yard touchdown pass from Henrichs to Colton Haines opened the scoring, forcing Park Hill South’s methodical offense into action. The Panthers scored on consecutive drives with touchdown runs for senior quarterback Zach Suchanick (141 yards passing, 71 yards rushing) and Springer to take a 14-7 lead into halftime.
The lead held until a Suchanick fumble set up a 15-yard touchdown run for Rawie put Liberty back ahead at 19-14.
Park Hill South scored all of the points in the fourth quarter. Butler, who carried nine times in a season-opening win against Winnetonka, didn’t return to action until a 15-14 victory against Liberty North last week when he ran four times for 2 yards.
Against Liberty, Butler ended up with 21 carries for 85 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. The Panthers then forced a stop and marched for more than 7 minutes on a drive that included a juggling 13-yard catch for Springer on a fourth-down play from the Blue Jays’ 39.
Butler scored from 13 yards out a short time later to make it 26-19 and up the difficulty level for Liberty’s final drive.
“Luckily, this isn’t the first time we’ve been in this situation throughout the year,” Sharp said. “Our guys are resilient. They just keep battling. They know as long as there’s not zeroes on the clock, we’ve got a shot.”
Park Hill South has now won four straight since a heartbreaking 24-23 loss to rival Park Hill when the Panthers went for 2 and the win in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter. The Panthers have moved all the way to No. 6 in the two most recent Missouri media Class 5 polls with a home game against Lee’s Summit North (1-6) this week before the regular season finale with Truman (3-4) — the lone obstacle in between them and an unbeaten Red Division title.
In the Class 5 District 7 standings, Park Hill South remains second out of five teams behind unbeaten William Chrisman for the top seed.