Kearney decided to take a different approach.
Having already played Platte County twice this season, the Bulldogs opted to shadow Pirates forward Chandler Peterson with three defenders for most of the Class 3 District 16 championship match Wednesday, Oct. 26 at Pirate Stadium. The unique strategy worked — to an extent — but Peterson set up Platte County’s first goal and still managed to score twice in a 3-0 victory, sending the Pirates into the playoffs for the second time in three years.
Platte County (17-8) was scheduled to host Kansas City East (13-3) in a Class 3 sectional at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. Nov. 1 at Pirate Stadium, looking for the first playoff win in program history. The result was not available at The Citizen’s deadline.
The Pirates have only won three district titles in program history.
“It’s a great second opportunity, good last year for me,” Platte County senior midfielder Mason Hays said. “We won districts two years ago, and last year was upsetting. Coming out, winning this one, it’s just big.
“We played pretty strong tonight.”
Peterson’s two goals gave him 59 for the season, tying him for third with current Major League Soccer player and former Kickapoo standout Jack Jewsbury for third in state history for a single season.
However, Kearney’s defense forced Platte County’s speedy junior into more of a facilitator role. Peterson responded by traversing the end line in the ninth minute before hitting a short pass to sophomore Blake Cochran, who tapped in from close range to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead.
The early goal proved pivotal with Platte County forced to alter its attack and try fewer long balls to Peterson.
“If he has five players on him, how many players does that mean we have open?” Platte County coach Ashlyn Brantley said. “I think in the past that could’ve really hurt us, to shut down one player, but I think we have so many players that can play off of him that we were still able to create opportunities.
“We’ve got to be able to make those adjustments. We can’t wait until halftime to have that talk.”
Hays nearly doubled the lead on a similar play in the 32nd minute, but Kearney goalkeeper Brendan Sweeney stoned the chance. Less than a minute later, Peterson broke loose in the box and beat Sweeney to put the Pirates up 2-0 in the minutes just before halftime on an assist from Hays.
Platte County senior goalkeeper Bailey Ride made a pair of key saves in the 7 minutes before halftime. He ended up with five saves to keep the solo clean sheet – the first this year in three wins against Kearney, second straight in this year’s district tournament but just the ninth of the season for the Pirates, who have also generously used junior Turner Hess in goal.
“It’s much more comfortable (after the early goal); it’s a lot less nerves, less tense,” said Ride, who ended up with a cut on his lip from one collision in the box.
Peterson continued to receive touches in heavy traffic during the second half with Platte County struggling to break down the defense. He sent a cross in to Hays in the 52nd minute for a free header that went straight at Sweeney.
That ended up being Platte County’s best chance for much of the second half.
Peterson also knuckled in a free kick from 34 yards out in the 74th minute, forcing a save Sweeney spilled. Platte County senior midfielder Sam Stuteville pounced on the rebound, but his shot also went straight at Sweeney before a collision between the two led to a foul on the Pirates.
Ride’s two second half saves kept Platte County with a two-goal advantage.
A long ball from freshman reserve Grant Allen finally sprang Peterson loose again in the 76th minute, and he buried a right-footed shot from the left side into the right side netting to dash any lingering hope of a Kearney comeback. The Pirates went on to celebrate another district title despite some tense moments and some physical play.
Now, Platte County will have to wonder if Kansas City East – and potentially future opponents – might try a similar defensive strategy to force the Pirates’ supporting cast to provide more finishes.
“We’ve all got to step up as a team and not rely on Chandler so much,” Hays said. “We’ve got to work our best to not only feed him the ball but look for everybody else on the field. Then it will end up getting to him at some point.
“He just makes each of us a better player when he touches the ball.”