KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Platte County might have solidified status as a contender for the Class 4 postseason, even if the so-far-defining performance came in defeat.
The big yardage total and offensive highlights still couldn’t cover up the obvious disappointment in a 55-42 loss to Class 5 No. 2-ranked Staley on Friday, Sept. 2 at North Kansas City District Activities Complex. The Pirates never led but were never truly beaten until Staley running back Julian Ross scampered 34 yards around right end on a fourth-and-11 with 27 seconds left.
Ross’ fifth touchdown on his 40th carry finally provided an insurmountable lead after Platte County quarterback Justin Mitchell racked up nearly 500 yards of offense by throwing mostly to senior TJ Guillory and junior John Watts, and senior defensive back Kevin Neal provided a memorable kickoff return touchdown to rejuvenate the Pirates’ upset hopes early in the fourth quarter.
Platte County dropped to 2-1 but played the most complete game of the season following a shutout of Grandview in Week 1 and a more-difficult-than-necessary blowout of Oak Park in Week 2.
“They’re going to have all these fans tell them how great they did, how proud they are, all that stuff,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “But they’re disappointed in it. I’m disappointed in it. We legitimately thought we had an opportunity to win and did.”
Platte County’s next chance for a statement win arrives this week.
On homecoming, the Pirates host Harrisonville (3-0) in a rekindling of an old rivalry. The two teams combined to win seven Class 3 state championships between 2000-2007 (Platte County 2000-2002, Harrisonville 2003, 2005-2007) but met just once in that span.
Harrisonville has won each of the past two meetings, ending Platte County’s season in the 2005 and 2011 playoffs. All time, the two teams have split four meetings.
The loss to Staley dropped Platte County one spot to No. 6 in the most recent Missouri media Class 4 poll, while Harrisonville moved up to No. 2 and received a first-place vote.
“We as a team like to be the underdogs,” Mitchell said. “We think that we can contend really well in Class 4. With the talent and experience we have, we feel like if we keep working during the week we can achieve the goals we want.
“This is another big game.”
The performance against Staley provides evidence the gap between the two teams might not be that wide.
Both teams fumbled their opening snap and recovered on the way to quick three-and-outs. Those turned out to be limited blemishes for the offenses in a game that featured more than 1,100 yards of offense and nearly 100 points.
Platte County forged ties at 7, 14 and 28 but ended up regretting a series of miscues that could’ve given the Pirates a chance at a lead. Ross’ 31-yard halfback pass on third and 21 led to the Falcons’ first score, Platte County’s defense committed a costly offsides penalty on the next drive leading to the second and Mitchell fumbled a snap early in the fourth quarter on a fourth-and-1 sneak attempt from Staley’s 7 with Pirates again going in for a tying score.
On the next play, Staley quarterback John Raybourn, returning from injury, ran 67 yards for a touchdown and his third total touchdown. Staley led 42-28 at that point.
“There’s always plays to look at, but that’s the biggest play,” Mitchell said. “If I make that play, they don’t get the ball in the field position they did; we probably get that first down, and it’s just a totally different game from there.”
On the ensuing kickoff, Neal took the ball down the visitor’s sideline for an 86 yard touchdown return to close the gap back to seven.
Platte County’s defense needed just one more stop to give the offense another chance, but Staley needed just seven plays and 2:08 to score again. Raybourn completed two third-down passes to keep the drive alive before Ross scored from 11 yards out.
Down 14 again, Platte County struck back with Mitchell throwing his second long touchdown pass, this one a 40-yarder to Watts. The two have combined for a touchdown in each of the first three games, and the lanky speedster finished with career-highs of eight catches for 137 yards in his third career start.
Staley drained nearly all of the remaining 4:08 after Watts’ touchdown to preserve the win.
The lone third down of the drive ended with Staley taking a knee, but Utz burned his final timeout with 27 seconds left. With the Falcons in Platte County territory, they opted to run a play. Ross finished off his virtuoso 240-yard performance with not just a game-sealing first down but a tackle-breaking touchdown to provide the final margin.
“When things are going well, our offense is tough to defend,” Utz said. “Staley’s really good, a very good team. I know we have a solid team, and I expected them to come out and play extremely well. Obviously, we gave up 55 points but to an offense that’s pretty good.
“The nice thing is they learned what they can do and hopefully can build on that.”
After Ross’ first touchdown, Platte County began its series of answers.
Mitchell went 60 yards on a quarterback draw, outsprinting defenders to the end zone for his biggest play of the season to that point. On the Pirates’ third drive, he started showing off his passing game with a 42-yarder to Guillory behind the defense on a third-and-21.
The march ended with Mitchell’s second rushing touchdown, tying the score at 14.
Staley scored on four straight possessions in the first half and took a 28-21 lead into the break after Guillory caught a 48-yard touchdown from Mitchell with 5:48 left in the second quarter. The Pirates finally forced a punt but couldn’t score in the final 1:12 nor on their opening possession of the third quarter.
For four straight drives, Staley punted, but Platte County’s first three tries to tie the score for a third time ended punt, punt and Parker Lacina’s missed 35-yard field goal off the left upright.
“There’s definitely some opportunities that could’ve played differently,” Utz said.
The fourth chance with the ball down 28-21 resulted in a two-play touchdown drive — a 36-yard pass to Watts and senior running back Mike McNair’s 36-yard power run into the end zone to tie the score for the final time. Mitchell finished with 353 yards passing and 88 yards rushing, while McNair totaled 78 on the ground for his lowest output of the season.
Guillory grabbed five catches for a team-high 157 yards for an offense continually putting pressure on Staley to match scores.
“We were just having fun and that just made the game a lot easier,” Platte County senior left guard Austin Gammill said. “Justin kept making plays. When we were making big gains, it gave us confidence.”
Staley scored on its final four possessions, while Platte County’s costly fumble proved too much to overcome. The Pirates ended up with both of the game’s turnovers, and despite 519 yards of offense, the inexperienced defense finally showed cracks after allowing only seven points total in the first two games.