Dakota Schmidt’s eyes bulged while tracking the bounding football.
In a familiar scenario, Platte County’s senior all-state linebacker knew just what to do. He just needed to go a little farther to score his third career touchdown for the Pirates.
Schmidt not only blocked a punt in the second quarter but scooped it up and ran untouched 27 yards for a key touchdown in Platte County’s 44-28 victory over Belton on Friday, Sept. 15 at Pirate Stadium. His previous two touchdowns came his junior year with fumble recoveries in the end zone.
“I just knew it was a big play, a momentum-shifter,” said Schmidt, who also recorded a team-high 14 tackles and now leads Platte County with 54 in the first five games. “As soon as I blocked it, I looked and saw the ball right in front of me and knew I had to scoop and score.”
Platte County did briefly lose the momentum.
Schmidt’s touchdown leveled the score at 14-14 with 6 minutes, 39 seconds left in the first half, and after a Belton touchdown on a busted play, Platte County came back to score on its final two drives of the first half to take the lead for good. Parker Lacina, Platte County’s senior kicker added three field goals in the second half to close out the double-digit Suburban Conference Blue Division win.
In a schedule pocked with big games, Platte County (4-1) avoided a letdown against a recent nemesis. Belton won each of the meetings the past two seasons and caught Platte County coming off back-to-back matchups with Class 5 state semifinalist Staley and Class 4 state champion Harrisonville.
Platte County retained its No. 4 ranking in the Class 4 Missouri media poll with the win ahead of a showdown with Class 5 No. 4-ranked Liberty (5-0) on Friday, Sept. 22 at Pirate Stadium. Last season, Platte County scored a minor upset of Liberty with a late comeback.
With the win, Platte County also moved up the No. 2 spot in the Class 4 District 8 rankings — just fractions of a point behind Smithville (5-0).
“You think about it, but it doesn’t really matter,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “We can only control what we do. We want to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves, and ultimately, that just plays out.”
To stay unbeaten in Blue Division play, Platte County overcame a disastrous start.
After an initial three-and-out on offense, Belton came back to force turnovers on Platte County’s first three drives, turning two of them into touchdowns. Dante Madden (23 carries, 89 yards) rumbled in from 3 yards out for his second short rushing touchdown on the first play of the second quarter to put Belton up 14-0.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had one of those,” Utz said. “Things could’ve gone really, really bad really fast, but the defense made some plays. We still gave the ball back to them, but that’s what we talked about on Thursday: there is no offense, defense, special teams when it comes to getting results. We just make sure we get the results.”
Platte County senior quarterback Tanner Clarkson lost a fumble on the first offensive possession and threw interceptions on the each of the next two — his fourth and fifth of the season.
Now over 1,000 yards passing on the season, Clarkson then led the comeback. A 20-yard punt return from Kobe Cummings set up a short Platte County touchdown drive that ended with a 12-yard scoring pass to junior wide receiver Dylan Gilbert to cut the lead in half.
Schmidt’s fumble return came four plays later and tied the score.
Belton’s third touchdown came on an improvised 43-yard touchdown pass on a broken play, but Clarkson came right back with a 53-yard catch and run from senior wide receiver Devin Richardson setting up senior running back Gavin Hardman’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Following a Belton punt, Clarkson led a 2-minute drill drive with Gilbert catching three straight passes for 60 yards on the drive, capping it with a 30-yard scoring play where he drifted in behind Belton’s defense while Clarkson scrambled. Gilbert’s chances have been limited this year, while also picking up starting cornerback duties the past couple of weeks, so the offensive chances meant a lot more — especially the second touchdown to make it 28-21 and Platte County taking the ball to start the third quarter.
“I’ve just been happy because I put my team first, but everyone likes to score,” said Gilbert, who posted season-highs of eight catches, 158 yards and two touchdowns with just the second 100-yard game of his career. “I was hoping Tanner saw me when he was rolling out. I had that dude beat, and I was almost in the end zone. Right before I got in the end zone, he threw it, and it was a perfect throw.
“It was a big moment for us.”
The offense slowed in the second half, but Clarkson finished 17-for-27 with a career-high 314 yards — the second 300-yard game in his five career starts.
Richardson (85 yards) and senior John Watts (36 yards) made four catches each for Platte County, while Hardman’s 35-yard catch and run late in the fourth quarter set up Platte County’s last touchdown — a 4-yard pass from Clarkson to Richardson. Lacina hit field goals of 42 and 23 yards on Platte County’s first two drives of the second half and added a 21-yarder late.
Lacina now has five field goals in the past two games after having limited opportunities early in the season.
Platte County scored 10 straight after Belton closed to within 34-28 with a touchdown late in the third quarter. Running out the clock late with the run game, Hardman ended up with a team-high 94 yards 21 carries — just missing a 100-yard performance for the second straight week — and junior running back Adel Freitek added 65 on 15 carries with Clarkson contributing 46 yards on 10 totes.
Belton senior quarterback Bart Harris ended up throwing for 327 yards, but Platte County also recorded four sacks. Michael Smith, a senior defensive end, had two to bring his season total to a team-high five, while Cummings and junior Nolan Saale added one each.
Cummings and Smith added seven tackles each.