JP Post emotionally urged teammates to focus on the task at hand.
Platte County’s senior cornerback made sure to have his voice heard in the moments before the Class 4 District 8 championship game against St. Joseph Lafayette. Denied a title each of the previous two seasons, the Pirates didn’t want to take an underdog lightly.
Only a first-place plaque would do.
Platte County remained relentless from start to finish, hobbling Lafayette senior quarterback Diego Bernard while recording nine sacks in a 38-0 victory Friday, Nov. 3 at Pirate Stadium. The second-seeded Pirates earned their first district title since 2012 with the breakthrough coming at home against an expected opponent.
Kearney — the top seed — won each of the previous three district titles in the current postseason format and reigned until No. 4 seed Lafayette (9-3) pulled an upset in a semifinal a week earlier.
“Whoever is put in front of us, we just have to take the next step to our final goal,” Post said. “Our final goal is to win that last game and go out as champions.”
Platte County (10-2) came out ahead after a tight first half and then scored on the first five possessions of the second half to open up a running clock blowout.
For 18 seniors on the roster, the result provided some measure of relief. The Pirates went on the road as underdogs in each of the past two District 8 title games but couldn’t spring an upset in what’s become an active seven-game losing streak to rival Kearney.
Platte County earned the first champion title on a path that continues at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 10 in a Class 4 quarterfinal at Moberly (10-2) — the unranked District 7 champion from the No. 2 seed in that bracket.
“They’re a great group, and you knew right from the beginning that they were here to play this year,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said of his seniors. “The best thing about them is they’re not done. That was just another step for where we need to go. (The district championship) means a lot.”
Platte County’s running game produced a season-high 314 yards in what became a bruising effort.
During the second half, junior running back Adel Freitek rolled up the majority of his career-high 154 yards — his first 100-yard game — on just 17 carries while senior running back Gavin Hardman added a career-high 112 yards on 19 carries. The pair combined for three touchdowns after halftime, including Freitek’s 1-yard plunge to push the lead to 38-0 and start the running clock with 10 minutes, 8 seconds remaining.
Even record-setting senior quarterback Tanner Clarkson ended up with 45 yards rushing, 41 on a scramble down the visitor’s sideline for 41 yards to set up Hardman’s first touchdown — a 16-yarder to cap a 47-second possession to start the third quarter.
Platte County continues to split carries between Hardman and Freitek, while a remade offensive line continued to gel in the wake of a season-ending knee injury to junior left tackle Glen Gammill. For the second straight game, junior Peyton Stoner started at left guard with senior Matt Blaha in his sixth game over one spot at left tackle.
Trevor Tietz (senior center) and Reid Sutter (junior right tackle) remained anchored in their spots on Platte County’s line, while sophomore Max Renner and senior Matthew Knopp also rotated in at guard.
“Linemen couldn’t have played any better,” Hardman said. “Whenever I get the ball, I’m going to impact the game as much as I can. No matter how much I play, I don’t care. Adel’s a good player, so is Tanner.
“Great players make a great team, and that’s what I think we are.”
Lafayette’s high-powered offense never found footing.
After scoring all six touchdowns in the 38-32 upset of Kearney, Bernard completed just 11 of 25 passes for 164 yards and managed only 33 yards rushing. The Fighting Irish totaled just more than 200 yards of offense, most of them on two first quarter drives into Pirates’ territory that resulted in no points.
Platte County’s defensive line of seniors Michael Smith (three sacks, four tackles), Chase Blankenship (one sack, six tackles) and Sage Smart (one sack, two tackles and sophomore Garret Watson (one sack, three tackles) provided consistent pressure. Pirates senior linebacker Kobe Cummings and Smith delivered hard shots to a scrambling Bernard to end back-to-back possessions, leaving the Irish’s star with an apparent sprained ankle and an obvious limp going into halftime.
“We knew that if he got loose, he was probably going to score,” Utz said. “We also knew from watching film on him, teams kind of sat back and let him dictate the game. When you do that, he’s really good.
“We kind of made the decision to simply try and make him get rid of the ball fast. We did some things that no other team has done to him.”
Platte County and Lafayette traded deep drives for the first four possessions, but Clarkson’s interception early in the second quarter halted the Pirates’ best chance to take an early lead.
On the next possession, Bernard took a sack on second down after escaping out of the end zone, and Cummings delivered a punishing hit on him to help halt the third down play. After a short punt and a penalty on the Pirates, Hardman broke off a 15-yard run, and a pass interference penalty moved them into the red zone.
Three plays later, Clarkson rolled out right before scrambling in from 4 yards out for the opening touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 7:31 left before halftime.
Bernard never looked the same after Cummings’ hit. Lafayette gained three first downs in two more drives before halftime then started the third quarter with three straight three-and-outs.
“When you’re out there, you’re going 110 percent so whatever happens happens,” Cummings said. “He left his ribs open, and I got a nice shot on him.”
Platte County’s offense started rolling from the first play of the third quarter.
Hardman scored on runs of 16 and 13 yards on the first two drives with Clarkson (11 of 15, 109 yards) attempting just one pass in that span. After the second three and out, Pirates senior Parker Lacina drilled a 44-yard field goal to make it 24-0.
Lafayette gained just three yards on the next drive and punted.
Four plays later, Clarkson hit Platte County senior wide receiver Devin Richardson over the middle with a pass, and he dragged a player into the end zone for his team leading 14th touchdown reception of the season — at least one in 10 of 11 games played and now tied for the second most in a season in program history. He finished with four catches for 55 yards, while junior Dylan Gilbert added four for 34 yards and senior John Watts ended up with two for 19 yards despite facing constant double-teams and drawing the key early pass interference penalty.
Platte County’s defense did the rest.
Smith’s three sacks brought his season total to 15½ — believed to be a program record for a single season — with at least one in 10 of 12 games after being kept off the stat sheet in a district semifinal win against Smithville. In addition to the four defensive lineman, Cummings (two) and junior Nathan Martinez (one) also had at least one sack from linebacker spots.
Cummings totaled a team-high 11 tackles, while senior linebacker Dakota Schmidt added six total, helping Platte County record its first shutout of the season.
“From here on out, you have to make statements in every game you play,” said Cummings, who recorded double-digit tackles for the second time in 10 games played. “We knew they were an explosive offense and could make plays, but we knew as long as we were disciplined we’d get the job done.”
Platte County did more than just complete the task. The Pirates looked dominant for a second straight week, extending their win streak to three since an overtime loss to Kearney to close the regular season.
The last playoff trip for Platte County in 2012 ended with a quarterfinal loss to Harrisonville, and the Pirates already have their best win total since that 10-3 season. They need a win over Moberly to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2005 — and the first since moving to Class 4 in 2008.
Platte County entered the postseason at No. 6 in the Class 4 Missouri media poll, and the only teams ranked higher remaining are No. 1 Webb City (12-0), No. 3 Parkway Central (11-1) and t-No. 4 Ladue (10-2). While a potential semifinal with powerhouse Webb City looms, the players first must take care of Moberly but only after enjoying the elusive district title past teams — dotted with players still on the roster — missed.
“It’s even better than what I thought it was going to be,” Post said. “Like I said earlier, it doesn’t matter who is in front of us. We just have to go out and play our football game.”