An unplanned but successful two-point conversion and a gifted special teams touchdown put the running clock into effect.
Platte County’s starters were done for the night shortly after juniorcornerback JP Post fell on a loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown midway through the third quarter Friday, Oct. 28 at Pirate Stadium. Mike McNair ran for two touchdowns and quarterback Justin Mitchell threw for two more in the Pirates’ 39-14 win against Smithville in a Class 4 District 8 semifinal – their second straight win in that postseason round against a now occasional rival.
From there, the focus shifted to Kearney (10-1) for the second time this season.
“Any playoff game, you like to have your business handled, and I wouldn’t say look forward to the next game,” Platte County senior Casey Jumps said. “But when those starters get pulled, you know you’re good, and it’s time to start getting your mind and body ready for the next week.”
Platte County (8-3) enters this week’s District 8 championship game off of a pair of blowout victories.
A coveted rematch came to fruition for the Pirates, ranked No. 4 in Class 4 entering the postseason in the Missouri media poll. Kearney won the previous matchup between the two teams less than three weeks ago to lock up the Suburban Conference Blue Division title, District 8’s top seed and the state’s No. 1 ranking.
Platte County outgained Kearney 528-458 in the previous matchup but a pair of turnovers – an early fumble from Mitchell and a muffed punt from senior safety Kobe Cummings late – doomed the Pirates in a 42-39 loss to the defending state champions and their constant nemesis. The Bulldogs have won five straight in the series and seek a fourth straight district title – each of the past two in Class 4 plus one in Class 5 back in 2013.
“It’s not like Kearney is a new opponent for us,” said Platte County coach Bill Utz, who last led the Pirates to a win against Kearney in 2012 – correlating with their last playoff appearance. “We know what they’re going to do, and we know what we’ve got to bring to the game in order to even be competitive with them. I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.
“I think our kids are going to be focused on what we need to get done.”
To earn the rematch, Platte County couldn’t overlook a seemingly continuous district obstacle.
Smithville (7-4) entered having allowed more than 14 points only once this season, looking to make up for last year’s loss to the Pirates. The two teams have now met in districts each of the past four seasons, having split the four games.
McNair finished with 119 yards rushing – his ninth 100-yard game this season – and added a critical pass reception to help jumpstart Platte County’s offense after a scoreless first quarter playing against a stiff wind. He now has 1,449 yards on the season and needs just 51 more to become fourth player in program history with 1,500 in a single season.
“I want to make plays for my team and do as much as I can to get the win,” said McNair, who also leads the Pirates with 21 rushing touchdowns.
Just 1:08 into the second quarter, McNair ran in from 1 yard out after he set up the touchdown with a 23-yard catch and run on a third-and-5 play.
Smithville, which ended up with 180 yards of offense, then went three-and-out, and Ben Keesee’s rushed punt into the wind traveled -11 yards. Platte County took over at the Warriors’ 28, and McNair ripped off a 26-yard run on second down and scored on the next play from 2 yards out.
Platte County ended up going into halftime with a 21-0 lead after executing a lengthy two-minute drill covering 60 yards.
Smithville committed a pair of critical penalties on the drive – a taunting penalty on senior defensive back Braden Smith on a first-down incompletion and pass interference against him in the end zone. Mitchell, the Pirates’ senior quarterback, finished the drive with an easy 5-yard touchdown pass to 6-foot-4 junior wide receiver John Watts, who now has a team-high 10 receiving touchdowns this season.
The drive lasted only 93 seconds but also included two conversions on third-and-long and a penalty against Mitchell for intentional grounding after he spiked the ball to stop the clock out of the shotgun. One play later after the pass interference penalty on a ball thrown to senior wide receiver TJ Guillory in the back of the end zone, Mitchell found Watts alone in the flat for a wide open touchdown.
“We felt really good after getting that score,” Jumps said. “A lot of adversity that drive, a lot of just weird stuff happened that drive. To be able to work through all that and get the touchdown right there before half was good for us.”
Mitchell’s 6-yard touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Dylan Gilbert (team-high four catches for 36 yards) on the first possession of the third quarter pushed the advantage to 27-0, and on the extra point try, Pirates junior kicker Parker Lacina ended up with the ball before rolling out and lofting a pass to Shoemaker in the corner of the end zone. Shoemaker has caught a pair of 2-point passes on botched snaps this season.
Four plays later, Platte County was in the end zone again after a long snap at Smithville’s 33 went over Keesee’s head and rolled into the end zone. Post, who blocked a punt for a touchdown earlier this season in a win against Liberty, reached the ball first and pulled it away from Keesee for the last touchdown.
Lacina, who became the second player in Platte County history with 100 career extra points with his kick after Post’s touchdown, added a 36-yard field goal to finish the Pirates’ scoring.
“Any time you’re going to play in a playoff game, the team you go up against has done their homework, studied us well,” Utz said. “They made some plays, and the wind didn’t help in our face. I give Smithville credit. They came out and played with us, and once we were able to get a score on the board, it started taking care of itself.”
Jake Boyd, Smithville’s senior running back, ended up with 107 yards on the ground in his final game, scoring a 1-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter on fourth and goal to end the shutout and stop the running clock. The Warriors threw for only 37 yards on nine completions.
The win was more lopsided than the final score indicated, even with Platte County gaining only 246 yards of offense, but the result – and none of the other 10 so far this season – matter anymore.
Platte County needs to find a way to solve its Kearney problem. In the previous meeting this season, Mitchell threw for a career-high 420 yards with Watts hauling in 10 passes for a school-record 235 yards. Guillory, who caught two passes against Smithville to become Platte County’s all-time leader in receptions at 120 (current assistant coach Todd Jaros held the record at 120), grabbed 10 more passes, while McNair ran for 90 yards.
Mitchell, Guillory and McNair are a big part of a talented senior class still yet to beat Kearney with one last chance – on the road – to dethrone the champions and try to continue their own coveted championship story.
“I just know we have to keep working and work for the next week,” McNair said. “We want to keep that mindset until we get a ring.”