Special to the Citizen
DEARBORN, Mo. — First-year coach Reis Wright and the North Platte Panthers entered week two of the season in search of their initial victory of the campaign against the Princeton Tigers and they are still looking after suffering a 58-22 defeat on Friday, Aug. 31 at North Platte High School.
The Panthers were in their second week of the Kansas City Intercollegiate and Grand River Conference crossover and suffered a loss the previous week at home against the Gallatin Bulldogs 31-6.
Much like last week, a few costly mistakes cost the Panthers (0-2) a chance at victory, but they never yielded to a Tigers’ squad that was sporting a new-offense due to an injury to their signal-caller Austin Kelly, a junior, in last week’s loss against Mid-Buchanan.
The Panthers grabbed their first lead of the season after 15-yard TD run by junior quarterback Andrew Hernandez, who also converted the two-point attempt for an 8-0 lead with 10 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Hernandez rushed for 92 yards on 12 carries with two scores.
However, the Tigers (1-1) quickly evened the score when junior quarterback Cam Hartley — subbing in for Kelly — found sophomore receiver Zeb Schwartzkopf on a 5-yard scoring toss. Earlier in the drive a roughing the kicker call on the Panthers gave the Tigers a fresh set of downs. Hartley, knotted the score at 8-8 when he crossed the goal-line for the conversion at 4:57 left in the first quarter.
Hartley went 5-6 for 57 yards and two scores through the air and 9 carries for 34 yards and a score on the ground.
“Andrew (Hernandez) has a special-ability to run the football,” Wright said. “Andrew is a mover and a shaker and our o-line got downfield helping him run with some good blocking.”
The Tigers seized control of the game for good, after an errant snap to Hernandez on a punting attempt led to him being tackled in the end zone for a safety leading to two points and a 10-8 Tigers lead with 3:13 remaining in the first-quarter.
“We moved the ball very well and if we didn’t have some special teams lapses we would have been fine. Wright said. “Kudos to Tigers coach Aaron Hotmer for pulling out the single-wing after I prepared for the spread. The major different look hurt us with alignment issues.”
The Tigers added to their lead when senior running back Cam Jones, found the end zone capping off a six-play, 55-yard drive with a five-yard plunge to paydirt. Hartley, connected with senior Mitchel Hydorn for a two-point conversion stretching the Tigers lead to 18-8 with 11:28 remaining in the second.
A Panthers’ fumble, set the Tigers up for another score. This time, Hartley connected with Hydorn, for six points on a 17-yard strike giving the Tigers a 24-8 lead with 6:52 remaining in the second quarter after the conversion failed.
“We went through a whole week of kids growing up and responding the right way,” Tigers coach Thomas Hotmer said. “We went through the whole week talking about being tough and how everything doesn’t go your way in life. Tonight our seniors and (Hartley) stepped up and showed some urgency.”
With their backs against the wall, the Panthers needed a response and that is what they got.
The Panthers put together a seven-play, 62-yard drive that featured some strong running by junior Caine Huffman, who finished with 11 carries for 65 yards. The drive finished when Hernandez threw a pass high in the sky that seemingly only junior receiver Blake Gibson could come down with.
Gibson, did exactly that and when he hauled in the catch, he had himself a 21-yard TD. The Panthers were unable to convert the two-point try, but closed the gap to 24-14 with 2:20 before half.
The Tigers added scores by senior Logan Dunkin and Hartley before the half giving them a 38-18 advantage. Dunkin had 18 totes for 195 yards and 3 TDs.
The second half opened with a pair of long scoring marches by Dunkin (25 and 54) busting the game wide open at 52-14 by the end of the third quarter.
With the game out of reach, the Panthers continued to show determination.
The Panthers regained possession opening the fourth quarter and Hernandez helped engineer a six play, 51-yard drive that was aided by some punishing runs through the teeth of the Tigers’ defense by Huffman. Hernandez finished off the drive with a 26-yard scramble to the house, his second rushing score of the evening. He connected with Huffman, for the two-point conversion trimming the Tigers lead to 52-22 with 9:52 remaining.
The Tigers added a final score by sophomore Eli Henke for the final 58-22 margin, but not before Panthers junior defensive tackle Dane Walker blew up a Tigers rushing attempt by sophomore Ben Berwanger for a 6-yard loss.
“Big Dane (Walker) in the middle is a big-man and he is fully-capable of playing pretty good,” Wright said. “He got his back popped for a second and that ached him, but I was proud of him for making a mans play.”
The Panthers will hit the road for the first time this season where they will take on a familiar foe, KCI member Plattsburg.
The Tigers, coached by Jeff Wallace, are 1-1 this season, but are coming in after defeating Sumner Academy (Kan.) 44-18 last week.
Plattsburg upended North Platte twice last season including a 54-22 win in the first-round of the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 1 District 7 playoffs. The teams will meet at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 7 at Plattsburg High School.
“I’m excited about opening conference play,” Wright said. “I’m excited to go every week and if we get ourselves right internally we will be all right. I am never going to stop believing, that we won’t be able to compete with anybody. I just have to make sure they understand that.
“Plattsburg is going to be moving and shaking and we have to be ready for that. Nobody can believe in them more than me and once they do that look out. They just aren’t ready yet.”