The depth on Platte County’s list of playmakers showed in recent weeks during the schedule’s most difficult part.
Two familiar names reemerged with big games to ensure the stretch ended with a win Friday, Sept. 30. Pirates senior running back Michael McNair continued to be the most consistent performer with two more rushing touchdowns while inching closer to the 1,000-yard mark for the season, but senior wide receiver TJ Guillory caught a touchdown pass while senior safety Kevin Neal grabbed a pair of interceptions in a 30-9 win against Raytown South in an important Suburban Conference Blue Division matchup at Pirate Stadium.
Guillory put up 82 receiving yards for a second straight week and reached the end zone for the fourth time in five games and fifth time overall. Neal grabbed two picks in a game for the second time this season and third time in two years.
“Whenever a big play is made, regardless of if it’s me or anybody, we just rally around it,” Neal said. “Fortunately, I was the guy tonight that provided some good plays, and we just rallied around it with great defense. We’ve always got the offense’s back. They’ve had us in a lot of games this year so we had to repay them one game.
“The least amount of points (allowed) is the best.”
The win set up a clear path for Platte County in a quest to earn a share of the Blue Division title and the top seed in Class 4 District 8.
The Pirates travel to North Kansas City District Stadium in North Kansas City, Mo. on Friday, Oct. 7. A win against the 1-6 Griffins sets up a showdown in Week 9 vs. undefeated and No. 1 ranked Kearney with a chance to secure part of the conference crown and take the top seed in District 8 from the Bulldogs.
Currently, Platte County (5-2) sits second behind Kearney.
Ranked No. 3 behind Kearney (7-0, all 14 first-place votes) in the most recent Class 4 media poll, the Pirates could play each of the next two opponents twice in the coming weeks with Winnetonka (No. 7 in the current District 8 standings) a potential first round matchup. Kearney and Platte County will be the favorites to reach the title game after Smithville (6-1) lost 39-0 last Friday to Class 3 No. 1 Maryville in a battle of unbeatens.
“We’re worried about Winnetonka because ultimately, conference-wise, we set ourselves in a situation where we have to win out to get a chance,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said.
Raytown South (3-4) — No. 1 in the Class 4 District 6 standings — represented a formidable obstacle to Platte County’s goals. After a loss to Belton two weeks ago, the Pirates have now again won two straight after navigating a five-game stretch that started with a loss to Class 5 Staley in Week 3 and included five teams that entered at .500 or better — three of them unbeaten.
Guillory’s return to the end zone came early and helped end a defensive stalemate.
Platte County’s leading receiver in terms of catches each of the past two seasons, Guillory beat the Cardinals’ defense on a third-and-13 play with just more than a minute left in the first quarter. Pirates senior quarterback Justin Mitchell found him all alone on the home sideline for a 30-yard touchdown on a wheel route for a 7-0 early lead.
“Whenever we’re all called on, we’ve just got to come up and make big plays,” said Guillory, who in recent weeks watched junior wide receiver John Watts receive more looks at the end zone with teams putting a focus on limiting his own touches. “I knew there was going to be one of those that would happen, especially with them playing man. There’s a lot of different opportunities we have when a team plays man.”
Platte County’s defense gave up very little from there, and the Pirates never trailed.
Raytown South’s lone score of the first half came after Mitchell audibled out of a punting situation deep in Platte County’s own territory and threw a pass ruled a fumble early in the second quarter. The Pirates held and limited the Cardinals to a 29-yard field goal, giving the offense the chance to respond with scores on the next three drives.
Platte County reached the 1 on its next drive but settled for a 23-yard field goal from junior Parker Lacina to go back up seven. Neal picked off Dallas Hannah along the visitor’s sideline on the next play, and the turnover yielded points on Lacina’s 42-yarder four plays later.
Despite having three kicks blocked this season, Lacina finished the game 3-for-4 and improved to 7-for-13 on the season with coaches continuing to show faith in his range.
“I do feel confident, especially with my team behind me,” said Lacina, who hit a career long 53-yarder last season against Kearney in the Class 4 District 8 championship. “It’s definitely a lot of pressure, but I like it.”
Raytown South managed one first down on each of its next two drives, but the first ended with a punt, setting up a quick score. Kobe Cummings returned the kick 13 yards for Platte County, and a 37-yard completion on a catch and weaving run from Guillory set up a 3-yard touchdown run for McNair on the next play with 30 seconds left in the half.
Neal intercepted a pass on Raytown South’s second play of the ensuing drive, but Platte County took the 20-3 lead into halftime.
McNair remained a focal point of the offense after halftime against the Cardinals’ staunch defense, which has allowed 32, 23 and 30 in losses to Kearney, Belton and Platte County, respectively. He finished with 147 yards on 33 carries — his sixth time over 100 yards in seven games — and added a 4-yard touchdown with 1:58 left to put the win away.
Raytown South finished off an 11-play drive early in the fourth quarter on Hannah’s 9-yard scramble to close within 23-9. Platte County scuffled on its next two drives before McNair’s closing score, but the Pirates defense yielded just 235 yards behind Neal’s two interceptions and 10 tackles from junior linebacker Dakota Schmidt, who has now recorded double-digit stops in five of seven games including a season-high 20 in a 55-42 loss to Staley.
Schmidt also recovered Hannah’s fumble on the first play of the second half, leading to Lacina’s 41-yard field goal four plays later. The Pirates defense has allowed nine or fewer points in four of the five wins, including two shutouts, with the lone exception a 38-30 victory against previously unbeaten Class 5 Liberty the week before Raytown South came to town.
“I’ll be honest, 30 points against Ray South is a pretty good day if you look at the scores they’ve been giving up,” Utz said. “Their defense plays well, and they don’t give you too many opportunities to score. You’re definitely not going to get any big plays, which we’ve been able to do against most teams. So 30 points? I’ll take that against these guys.
“I’m very pleased with our defense, the way they played. Nine points? With that team, just like us scoring 30 against a good team like that, only giving up nine is a great day. We’ll take that all day long.”