Special to The Citizen
The Park Hill football team knew how good it could be coming into the season. Now, carrying a five-game winning streak into Week 8, the Trojans (5-2) are proving to the rest of the Suburban Gold Conference how good they are.
“We knew coming in we were going to be pretty good and we didn’t prove it the first two weeks,” senior linebacker Haden Wallace said. “These past couple weeks, we’ve had to come out and just show people, show people what we’re about. We know what we can do and we just had to go prove it.”
Wallace and the Trojan defense did quite a bit of showing Friday night, forcing four turnovers and racking up three sacks in a 35-0 conference win over Blue Springs South. From the moment Park Hill won the coin toss and deferred, the defense set the tone.
After forcing a quick three-and-out on the opening drive and rushing the punk from Blue Springs South’s Skyler Meyers, the offense went to work on the ground picking up all 36 yards on eight rushes, capped by a one-yard plunge by junior Javion Gathrite on fourth down. A missed PAT gave the Trojans a 6-0 lead.
“We talk a lot about the first four minutes of the half and we feel like putting our defense on the field is one of the best things we can do to put our offense in great position to be successful,” Trojans head coach Josh Hood said. “Then we can kind of feed off each other.”
After another forced punt – which pinned Park Hill back on its own two-yard line – the offense went back to work. After five straight runs, senior quarterback Ryan Graves finally threw a pair of passes, and on the second escaped a heavy pass rush and found sophomore Jaylin Noel in the flat. Noel turned up field and outran the Jaguar defense for a 66-yard score. Graves came up short on the two-point attempt and the Trojans took a 12-0 lead, which held until halftime as the defense forced two more punts, senior DaShaun Powell picked off his first of two passes on the night and sacks by junior Johnny Wilson and Wallace ended the final drive of the first half.
“We understood what they were trying to do,” Wallace said. “They tried to pound the ball, so we tried to take that away as much as possible. Once they had to change up and start passing it, we took advantage of it. It’s not what they wanted to do, so we jumped routes and everything. It was a lot of fun.”
On the first play of the second half, Gathrite, who ran for 111 yards on 10 carries, hit on another big play for the Park Hill offense, finding room around the left edge and going 70 yards to the end zone. Not to be outdone, however, the defense forced a fumble on the next drive that Wallace scooped up the forced a turnover on downs after a partially blocked punt gave Blue Springs South its only possession inside Trojan territory.
The Trojans stayed on the ground after the turnover on downs — running on nine of 11 plays on a 65-yard drive — with junior Eric Carey doing the majority of the damage and eventually punching in a two-yard touchdown to push the lead to 25-0.
“We had a lot of running backs we wanted to get the ball to tonight and those guys did a good job when they got their opportunities,” Hood said of Carey and freshman Parris Graves as the two combined for 52 yards on 22 carries.
A 31-yard pick-6 by junior Mikey Miles on the first play of the ensuing drive and Powell’s second interception of the night set sophomore Grant Pella up for a 23-yard field goal and the final margin.
“That’s one thing we’ve really preached since Week 2 is takeaways and turnovers,” Hood said. “The offense has really made a conscious effort to not turn the football over and defensively we’re making a conscious effort to go get the ball. It’s becoming an exciting part of our game and the kids are really relishing in that opportunity to excel when the ball’s in the air.”
Wallace said it was exciting to know that any of the 11 players on defense could make a play — a “drive killer” as he put it — at anytime, and the Trojans only gave up 127 total yards and 11 first downs, three via penalty, essentially shutting down the Blue Springs South attack all night.
“Truth be told, that defense has been doing that for a while now,” Hood said. “The first couple weeks, we had some big injuries and we had to decide who we had and where we needed to put them. Once we did and the kids got comfortable with it, they’re really playing fast. It’s fun to watch right now with the confidence that they have. Their confidence continues to grow every week and every week I keep thinking, ‘Can we get better?’ and we sure did this week.”
Hood hopes his squad can continue to get better next week as it takes on Staley (6-1), which posted a 48-0 win over St. Joseph Central Friday night. It’s a program Hood knows well, having coached the Falcons for five seasons prior to taking over at Park Hill, albeit one the Trojans haven’t faced since they moved up to Class 6 following the 2015 season. Park Hill won the last meeting 27-16 in the 2015 Class 5 state quarterfinals.
“They do a good job. They’ve got a great program,” Hood said. “We’re going to treat them like we would every opponent, we’re going to treat them just like we did Blue Springs South and give them everything we have.
“The kids know every week’s a grind. We talk about it and they’re well aware of it. Every week we’ve gotten better, so I’m excited to see where we are the next few weeks heading into the playoffs.”