Jackson Phan understands the importance of sticking close to senior linebacker Dakota Schmidt.
On Friday, Sept. 6, Platte County’s first-year starting senior safety benefited from his teammate’s penchant for making big plays. Schmidt blocked a punt in the second quarter against Winnetonka — his third of the season in just eight games — and Phan scooped it up and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter of a comfortable but mostly uneventful 42-14 win at Pirate Stadium.
The touchdown ended the night for most of the defensive starters and ensured the running clock would be on for at least part of the second half against overmatched Winnetonka (1-7).
“Dakota’s just a beast. I don’t even know how to explain it,” said Phan, who finished with a season-high seven tackles in addition to his first career touchdown. “All you have to do is follow Dakota. He’s going to show you what to do.”
Platte County (7-1) won a fifth straight and avoided any letdown ahead of the most anticipated game on the schedule.
Phan’s touchdown made it 35-0, and senior quarterback Tanner Clarkson threw for a touchdown and ran for another in a dominant first half for the Pirates. He finished 13 for 20 for 168 yards in a mundane night for the offense with the touchdown pass going 34 yards to senior wide receiver Devin Richardson, who finished with team-highs of six catches for 106 yards. He now has a team-high 10 touchdown catches in seven games played.
Now, Platte County shifts the focus to its annual rivalry with Kearney, which has won six straight in the series. That streak includes two-game sweeps each of the past two seasons.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re ready but not too ready and treat it like a normal game,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “At the same time, we need to build it up that there is some good stuff that could come with (a win).”
Platte County’s most recent wins in the Highway 92 Showdown came in 1991 and 2012. The Pirates till lead the all-time series 23-18, but they haven’t had many recent highlights.
While each matchup carries weight, Platte County enters this one ranked No. 3 in the Class 4 Missouri media poll, while Kearney (6-2) fell from No. 3 to No. 6 following a 42-0 loss to Staley last week. The two teams have three combined losses — two to Class 5 No. 2 Staley and Kearney’s 20-15 loss to Class 5 No. 5 Fort Osage in Week 1.
With Smithville (7-1) losing to Chillicothe last week, Platte County remained at No. 1 in the Class 4 District 8 standings with Kearney at No. 2. The winner of this matchup will again take the top seed in the eight-team bracket, while both are unbeaten in Suburban Conference Blue Division play entering the meeting for the first time since 2014.
The winner will also be the outright league champion.
“It’s just one more thing to add to the game, not that that game needs anything at all,” Utz said. “Looking at this week (against Winnetonka), you could kind of see it coming. It’ll be exciting. It’s what high school football is meant to be. It’s a situation where we have to go to their place to win the thing. That’s fun.
“That’s fun for preparation; it’s fun for our kids, and it’s a challenge at the same time.”
Platte County’s win over Winnetonka improved the Pirates to 4-0 in the Blue Division after a string of six straight games against teams at .500 or better.
While playing without senior cornerback JP Post and safety Kobe Cummings, Platte County didn’t receive much resistance until the second half. The Pirates punted after a three and out to start the third quarter, and Winnetonka ended up scoring touchdowns on its first two drives against the reserves to close within 35-14.
The second touchdown came after Platte County junior running back Adel Freitek fumbled on the eighth straight running play of a promising drive into Griffins’ territory.
Freitek came back with three carries on a five-play drive of all runs that concluded with his 14-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter for the game’s final points. Platte County senior Gavin Hardman and Freitek continue to split carries in the backfield with Freitek scoring twice and outgaining Hardman 78-73 in a balanced effort against Winnetonka.
Now with three touchdowns on the season, Freitek ended up with a season-high 78 yards on 10 carries.
“It just matters about the win,” Freitek said. “If I get more carries, it doesn’t matter. As long as we get the W, I’m good.”
Platte County ran for 183 yards total — second most this season — in a vanilla offensive showing.
Winnetonka still allowed touchdowns on four of six possessions in the first half on mostly quick drives for the Pirates. Freitek capped a deliberate 11-play drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0, and after Platte County senior Michael Smith ended the Griffins’ second drive with his team-leading 10th sack of the season, the Pirates needed just four plays and a penalty to go 19 yards with Hardman scoring from 1 yard out to double the lead to 14-0.
Clarkson threw an interception on Platte County’s third possession, but he came back with the 34-yard touchdown pass to Richardson and a 15-yard touchdown scramble up the middle on a pair of two-play drives in the second quarter.
Up 28-0, Platte County held Winnetonka at its own 37, and Schmidt rushed up the middle to block Laucklin Ferris’ punt attempt in a play that looked very similar to others this season.
“He told me, ‘You’re welcome,’” Phan said. “I’m just glad I did something big in the game. I think team’s see it on their film; I just don’t think they can stop it. Dakota coming up the middle? That’s real hard to stop. I just follow right along behind him and hope it bounces my way.”
After Phan’s touchdown, the rest of the defensive starters came out, and while the first team offense stayed in for Platte County to try and kill the second half clock, the focus shifted to Kearney at that point. The Bulldogs have maintained a stranglehold on the Blue Division and Class 4 District 8 titles in recent years, and the Pirates have a chance to end a multitude of streaks Friday, Oct. 13 in Kearney, Mo.