KEARNEY, Mo. — Add another agonizing chapter for Platte County to the rivalry story.
In an all-too-familiar scene, Kearney celebrated on its home turf Friday, Oct. 13 in another nightmare finish for the visiting Pirates. The Bulldogs scored on the opening possession of overtime then secured a 38-31 victory two plays later when a tipped pass resulted in a game-ending interception.
The two teams exchanged three touchdowns in the final 2 minutes, 11 seconds of regulation in a frenetic sequence of events that yielded overtime.
Platte County finished with more yards but couldn’t overcome a blocked punt and four turnovers — the last ending the game with the Pirates at Kearney’s 8-yard line looking for a potential tying or winning touchdown. The dejected players must now regroup and hope for a second chance against the Bulldogs, who have now won seven straight in the series, and Platte County coach Bill Utz believes the remedy for the struggles can be easily found.
“Deciding that we’re better,” he said following the frustrating finish. “We made mistakes that we haven’t made all year because of who we play. We’re not going to do it until we all decide we’re going to do it. That’s what I challenged them with. We’ll see.”
Kearney scored a go-ahead touchdown with 1 minute, 25 seconds left in regulation to seemingly secure the win. With the score tied 24-24, Kearney quarterback Dakota Ah-Mu lifted a pass down the home sideline with Gunnar Carpenter running a double move.
Platte County junior cornerback/wide receiver Dylan Gilbert stumbled for just a second and couldn’t recover. Carpenter made the catch and raced 75 yards for the touchdown, putting the Bulldogs up 31-24.
With just 1:25 left, Platte County’s first play of the next drive ended with Daniel Piburn’s third sack, leaving the Pirates in a bit of a scramble.
Platte County senior Tanner Clarkson, who finished with acareer-high 437 yards on 32 of 49 passing, then completed two passes to senior Kobe Cummings for 59 yards with the mostly defensive standout putting the Pirates at the Kearney 27. On the next play, Clarkson lofted a pass to the right pylon, allowing 6-foot-4 senior wide receiver John Watts to go up over two defenders and make a catch.
Watts landed with the ball at the 2 and pushed into the end zone for a touchdown with 18 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the score for the fifth time.
Kearney ran for an initial first down after taking the ensuing kickoff but took a knee to go into overtime. Ah-Mu — Kearney’s third quarterback used this season — threw a 25-yard touchdown pass behind the defense to Carpenter for the eventual winning score on the second play of the opening possession.
Platte County took over with Clarkson completing a pass for 17 yards to senior wide receiver Devin Richardson on the next play. Piburn then provided pressure on first and goal, deflecting the pass and allowing Brock Willis to grab the interception to seal the wild win.
With the loss, Platte County dropped to 7-2 overall and finished as the No. 2 seed in the Class 4 District 8 standings. Kearney improved to 7-2, took the Suburban Conference Blue Division title and grabbed homefield advantage in the eight-team District 8 bracket.
The postseason path looks familiar for Platte County. For the third time in the four years of the current district format, the Pirates open with Benton (2-7) and have a potential matchup with Smithville in the semifinals looming.
Platte County and Smithville have met in the semis each of the past three years, while Kearney has won the district in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
“We’ve got to work our way through,” Utz said. “You don’t make plays now, you go home.”
Platte County nearly forged a new postseason path after another agonizingly slow start.
Kearney went three-and-out on its opening possession, and after a punt, Platte County marched into the Bulldogs’ territory with a completion to Richardson plus a personal foul penalty for a late hit on the play. The Pirates only attempted 13 running plays in the game, but the second resulted in a lost fumble for senior running back Gavin Hardman.
Three plays later and after a long pass completion, Kearney running back Patrick Connery broke a 52-yard touchdown run for the opening points.
After the early miscue, Platte County increasingly focused on the short passing game against mostly five defensive back formations. Clarkson completed five passes on the following drive, culminating with a 34-yard big play to junior wide receiver Brice Bertram — just his fifth catch of the season and first of two in the game.
“We were doing that by design,” Utz said. “We knew the underneath stuff would be there.”
The teams then exchanged three punts before a defensive pass interference penalty set up Platte County’s go-ahead score.
After a 7-yard run from junior running back Adel Freitek put Platte County in the red zone, Clarkson hit Richardson for his team-leading 11th receiving touchdown on a first-down play. Kearney safety Dakota Gray jumped up and batted the ball before Richardson tipped it to himself in the end zone.
Platte County took possession twice with a chance to go up two scores, but Utz eschewed a 53-yard field goal attempt, instead sending senior Parker Lacina out for a punt Richardson downed inside the 1-yard line. The field position ploy worked out until Kearney’s Chopper Mordecai partially blocked Lacina’s punt attempt five minutes later, giving the Bulldogs possession in Pirates’ territory.
Four plays later, Ah-Mu hit Jake Hoffman behind the defense on a busted coverage for a 24-yard touchdown pass, sending the game into halftime tied 14-14.
“That play doesn’t look big on the scoreboard, but it was huge,” Utz said of the blocked punt.
Platte County’s problems intensified on the opening possession of the third quarter.
Mordecai stepped in front of Clarkson’s third-and-2 pass for an interception, but thanks to a penalty, Kearney started the drive at the 31. The Pirates held for a field goal and then answered with a 41-yarder from Lacina to start what ended up a mostly plodding second half ahead of the big finish.
After Connery’s initial long touchdown run, Platte County ended up limiting the Bulldogs’ leading rusher to 138 yards on 22 carries.
However, Connery plowed in around the right side from 1 yard out on the first play of the fourth quarter to put Kearney up 24-17. Gilbert then fumbled at the end of a 28-yard catch and run that went into the Bulldogs’ territory.
Kearney couldn’t turn it into a score after Cummings tackled Connery for a 10-yard loss on second down and forced a rushed incompletion on third and long.
“The kids have a lot of heart,” Utz said. “They kept playing.”
Platte County took over with 6:36 left in regulation, and Gilbert atoned for the earlier fumble with the biggest play of another tying drive. He went up high on a third down play for a 25-yard jump ball catch for the last of his team-high 11 receptions for 132 yards, putting the Pirates at the 11.
Clarkson then scrambled to the Kearney 1, and Platte County senior linebacker Dakota Schmidt, who recorded a team-high seven tackles, came in at fullback and plowed in for his second rushing touchdown of the season.
With just 2:11 remaining and tied at 24-24, overtime seemed a real possibility but not through the scenario that played out. Ah-Mu, who finished 18-for-27 for 319 yards, completed his biggest pass two plays later, and Watts’ touchdown tied it back up moments later in the scrambling finish.
Kearney came up with the final big plays and moved up to a tie for fourth in the final regular season Missouri Class 4 media poll. Platte County dropped from No. 3 to Kearney’s previous spot of sixth with the loss.