KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Turnovers kept giving Oak Park reasons to gamble and believe.
Platte County’s sloppy play put a youthful, inexperienced defense on the spot Thursday, Aug. 25 at North Kansas City District Activities Complex. The Pirates finally allowed a score after one of five turnovers gave Oak Park a short field in the third quarter.
The response included consecutive touchdown drives and the second defensive score for Platte County on the way to a 37-6 win. The Pirates’ scoreless streak ended midway through the third quarter, but the defense continued to impress despite injuries to junior defensive end Michael Smith and junior safety Kobe Cummings.
“It always hurts to give up scores, but you just have to flush it and keep going,” said junior linebacker Dakota Schmidt, who recovered a fumble for the Pirates in the end zone for their first touchdown of the nonconference matchup. “I was proud of the way we battled through adversity.”
A 38-yard touchdown pass from Oak Park quarterback Andrew Harris to running back Remington Brelsford split Platte County’s defense open on a fourth-down play with 3 minutes, 54 seconds left in the third quarter.
Platte County’s lead shrank to 17-6 despite a mostly dominant performance from the defense to that point. The Pirates were held scoreless on their first two offensive drives of the second half, the second ending on senior quarterback Justin Mitchell’s fourth interception.
Oak Park’s Forrest Rhea returned the pick from the red zone 60 yards to set up the Northmen’s only score.
Platte County responded with a 13-play, 74-yard drive that included a pair of third-down conversions. Mitchell ran for 23 of his 100 yards on the march, but running back Michael McNair officially started putting his stamp on the game.
The senior workhorse carried on eight of the plays, racking up 44 of his team-high 148 yards on the ground. He finished the drive with a 3-yard touchdown plunge — his second of the night — on the final play of the third quarter to extend Platte County’s lead to 24-6.
Following a three and out and short Oak Park punt, the Pirates drove 54 yards in a minute, capped with Mitchell’s 4-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver John Watts — their second scoring connection in as many weeks.
“We just knew we got off to a slow start, and we had to pay the defense back for all of our mistakes,” said McNair, who now has 260 yards and five touchdowns through two weeks after carrying 28 times against the Northmen. “The defense carried us most of the way, and we just wanted to make that up to them.”
Down 30-6 after Platte County botched the conversion attempt, Oak Park made one last push for points.
The Northmen reached the Pirates’ 33 before facing a fourth-and-long. Pressure up front forced Harris to rush a throw to the left, and Platte County junior linebacker Gavin Hardman tipped the ball. Cade Goettling, a senior cornerback, grabbed the ball off the ricochet at the 18.
With a block from Schmidt early, Goettling raced up field, broke through some tacklers at the 40 and then went all 82 yards for a touchdown with sophomore defensive lineman Peyton Stoner (seven tackles) blocking Oak Park’s quarterback out of the play. Schmidt admitted Goettling’s defensive touchdown looked better than his, but Goettling shrugged off the compliment, saying he wouldn’t have made it 5 yards without Schmidt’s blocking on the highlight-reel play.
“I was just in the right spot at the right time,” said Goettling, who started parts of his junior season but recorded his first career interception and touchdown on the play. “I saw Schmidt take one (defender), saw D-line take their quarterback, and I saw nothing else but the end zone.”
Goettling’s interception gave all four starters in Platte County’s defensive backfield at least one interception through the first two games.
Now 2-0, the Pirates — moved up from No. 9 to No. 5 in this week’s Missouri media Class 4 poll — pitched a shutout in Week 1 against Grandview in a game shortened to two quarters due to inclement weather. Smith didn’t play against Oak Park due to a foot injury after a stellar debut as a starting defensive end, leaving sophomores Stoner, Glen Gammill and Chase Blankenship plus junior Sage Smart to anchor the front.
Cummings left early against Oak Park with a lingering back issue, changing Platte County’s defense to more of a 4-4 setup.
The Pirates featured seniors Austin Shoemaker (six tackles, four for loss) and Jason Young and juniors Hardman (six tackles) and Schmidt (12 tackles, four for loss, one sack) at linebacker for the majority of the game. Only Schmidt boasted significant varsity experience for them prior to this season.
The challenges change starting this week with a road game against Class 5 No. 2 Staley back at North Kansas City District Activities Complex next Friday followed with tests against Class 4-ranked Harrisonville and Class 5 Belton.
“From here on out, we’re going to see some big kids; we’re going to see some strong kids, aggressive kids,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “They’re going to be tested very quickly.”
Platte County has an extra day to prepare for Staley after having a short week to prepare for the Thursday night game against Oak Park, broadcast on the Time Warner Cable Sports channel.
Early on, the Pirates appeared ready to roll in a matchup they were favored to win. After forcing a quick three-and-out, they took over at Oak Park’s 33 and drove into the red zone, but costly penalties backed them up, leading to a 49-yard field goal for junior kicker Parker Lacina.
The 3-0 lead ended up lasting a while with Mitchell throwing three interceptions in the first half, stalling Platte County’s offense.
Pirates senior safety Kevin Neal intercepted Harris on the third play of the drive after Lacina’s kick, but Mitchell gave the ball back on a tipped pass in the red zone. Mitchell’s second interception, which came on Platte County’s next possession, managed to set up the game’s first touchdown.
Backed up inside the 5, Oak Park’s third-down snap, which came out of the shotgun, rolled past Harris into the end zone, and Schmidt fell on the loose ball, beating three of his teammates to the fumble and the touchdown — the first of his career.
“I think Cade’s was better. Pick and return of 80-some-yards? He earned that one,” Schmidt said.
After Schmidt’s touchdown with 9:46 left in the half, Platte County managed just one more short touchdown drive, unable to string together momentum.
McNair ran for half the yardage on a 54-yard march, which also included a fourth-down conversion on a pass from Mitchell to senior Carter Nugent. McNair finished the drive with his first 3-yard touchdown run to give the Pirates a 17-0 advantage that held up until Oak Park finally breached their defense for points.
Oak Park racked up a huge advantage in time of possession, but Platte County outgained the Northmen 317-149. The mistakes stood out, ones that can’t be repeated if the Pirates hope for another extended unbeaten run to start the season with difficult opponents waiting.
“That was all being in a situation where we had high expectations of coming out and expecting the game to go one way, and Oak Park didn’t let it go that way,” Utz said. “What I hope our kids learn from this is we need to come out and worry about the opponent and focus on the opponent rather than letting other things grab their attention.”