In the end, Platte County’s defense finished the job — just not in the way players and coaches would have envisioned.
A trio of desperation touchdowns led to overtime Friday night in a matchup of ranked foes at Pirate Stadium. Platte County senior wide receiver Devin Richardson hauled in a 14-yard touchdown pass on the first possession of overtime to put the Pirates up seven, and one tackle for loss from senior Kobe Cummings and three straight incompletions set off a boisterous celebration after an eventful 35-28 victory over Liberty, which entered undefeated and ranked No. 4 in Class 5.
More than once Platte County — ranked No. 4 in Class 4 — seemed to have firm control of the game, only to see Liberty take the lead with 1 minute, 43 seconds left and then tie the score with less than a second left in regulation.
“It’s just a sigh of relief, everything off your shoulders,” said Cummings, who recorded two of Platte County’s five sacks on the night. “You win the game; you get to go celebrate with the boys, and it’s just an overall great feeling. It’s undescribable.”
Platte County (5-1) made it three straight wins since a loss to Class 5-ranked Staley but did so in improbable fashion.
Trailing 21-20 with 1:43 to go, the Pirates took over after seeing an 11-point lead evaporate in the span of two possessions. A penalty erased a long completion to junior wide receiver Dylan Gilbert (four catches, 33 yards) on first down, and they faced a fourth and 10 from their own 31 when pressure on the play forced senior quarterback Tanner Clarkson to roll to his left.
Platte County senior wide receiver John Watts faced bracket coverage all night, limiting his chances, but he broke free and streaked across the field from the far side before finally coming open. Clarkson heaved a pass 45 yards in the air that Watts hauled in before breaking free from a defender and racing in for a 69-yard touchdown.
After an injury delay for Platte County junior left tackle Glen Gammill, Clarkson ran in the two-point conversion to make it 28-21 with 48.8 seconds left.
“I didn’t know the ball was coming my way at all,” said Watts, a 6-foot-4 target held to just four catches while gaining 147 yards. “On that play, I got triple teamed — linebacker, safety and corner. I saw Tanner scrambling and threw my hand up to have him throw it in the air. I just made a play on it.
“I knew at that point in the game, I had to get in the end zone, put the team on my back.”
Liberty faced a third and 15 on its next drive.
A completion down the visitor’s sideline for 40 yards put the Bluejays at the Pirates’ 26, and a after a spike to stop the clock, they had just 7.6 seconds remaining. Thomas Heinrichs, who finished with 361 yards passing and four touchdowns, then scrambled before throwing a touchdown strike to Drew Mackie.
On the play, Platte County senior cornerback JP Post knocked the ball away from Mackie, only to see it fall into Mackie’s hands anyway with less than a second left.
“Overtime, I was good,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “We had a chance to kind of reset. The craziness wasn’t in the overtime. That was the normal stuff. The play John made, the play in the end zone that Liberty made was just a crazy deal.
“There were a lot of good high school football players out there making plays.”
In overtime, Platte County took the ball first, and without Gammill, sophomore Max Renner and senior Matthew Knopp were at guard with senior Matt Blaha moving out to left tackle. Facing third and 4 from the 19, Clarkson found Richardson wide open over the middle for the touchdown.
Richardson, who dropped a pass on the third down ahead of Watts’ go-ahead touchdown and another on the same drive in overtime, finished with nine catches for 116 yards — the main beneficiary of Liberty’s attention paid to Watts.
Clarkson went 21-for-37 yards for 350 yards — surpassing the career-high of 317 he set the week before.
“I’m just glad Tanner trusted me, and my team trusted me still. I don’t know. I’m still in a daze,” said Richardson, a first-year starter now with eight touchdown catches in six games. “I want to stay reliable for our team. I hope they still look at me like that after this.”
On the second overtime possession, Liberty went backward five yards on its first run attempt and then threw three straight incompletions. Heinrichs faced heavy pressure on fourth down with Post in coverage to force the stop on the final play.
“J.P.’s a great player, and I know he took that play to heart,” Cummings said. “It was only right he made the last play for us to win the game.”
Liberty (5-1) scored on its first two possessions with short fields — both aided by pass interference penalties — but then went more than 31 minutes without scoring.
Platte County — nearly held without a first down in the first quarter — scored with 8:51 left in the half on a 2-yard pass from Clarkson to senior Dakota Schmidt, a linebacker in at fullback to score his first career offensive touchdown after scoring on a blocked punt return the previous week. The score came after a holding call negated a 30-yard touchdown pass to senior running back Gavin Hardman on a middle screen.
Late in the half, a third down completion to junior wide receiver Brice Bertram set up Hardman’s 1-yard touchdown run to put Platte County up 14-9. After a quick stop, the Pirates took the ball back and drove 71 yards in 43 seconds.
Richardson made three catches on the drive, setting up senior Parker Lacina for a 22-yard field goal that put the Pirates ahead 17-9 at the break.
“To hold them to nine at half was great. Our defense was doing a lot of good stuff,” said Utz, who saw Platte County overcome three first quarter turnovers with a strong second quarter in a 44-28 win the week prior against Belton.
Platte County held Liberty star senior running back Robert Rawie to just 41 yards on 22 carries but also put consistent pressure on Heinrichs, who still went 22-for-44 for 361 yards. Mackie caught six passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns.
Platte County used both sacks from Cummings and one for senior defensive end Michael Smith to end promising drives for Liberty during the lengthy scoreless drought.
“We’re talking about a team that’s really good,” Utz said. “We knew we had to stop Rawie first, and we were able to do that. At the same time, the way the game played out, we were able to get some pressure on (Heinrichs) and help the defense out that way.”
Lacina added an 18-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 20-9 Platte County, which settled for the try after failing to score on three plays inside the 5. Still, the Pirates appeared in position to hold on for the win.
The short field goal turned out to be a big score after Mackie beat the defense for a 39-yard catch on a fourth and 4 from Liberty’s own 42. On the next play, Heinrichs hit Nathan Gray for a 19-yard touchdown, but after a failed two-point conversion, Platte County’s lead still stood at 20-15.
Following a punt, Liberty faced a third and 26 after a sack from Schmidt, but Heinrichs completed a 28-yard pass to Mackie, and he sneaked behind the defense four plays later for the 41-yard touchdown to give the Blue Jays the lead back for the first time in two quarters.
Platte County missed two chances on the drive to wrap up the win.
“At that point, we think the game’s over, but stuff happens,” Cummings said. “It’s how you come back.”
Instead, Platte County answered with a touchdown to seemingly take the lead for good, then gave up the game-tying touchdown to set up overtime. The Pirates kept coming back and upset ranked Liberty for a second straight season.
This one — coupled with undefeated Smithville’s win over Class 2 Bishop LeBlond — vaulted Platte County into the No. 1 spot in the Class 4 District 8 standings. While a loss wouldn’t have hurt much, it could’ve ultimately cost the Pirates the top seed in an eight-team field that features five teams with one loss or fewer.
The importance of the victory went beyond any postseason points system.
“They showed a lot of heart — both sides of the ball,” Utz said. “Nobody quit; nobody gave up. It was a good team win. We had good things happen; we had bad things happen. They kept fighting.”
Platte County travels to Raytown South (4-2) this week in an important Suburban Conference Blue Division — the first of three straight league games to close the regular season.