Platte County knew there might be a need to provide the energy and motivation in the Class 4 District 8 opener.
Facing a quick postseason rematch with overmatched Winnetonka for the second time in three years, the Pirates found both in the first two plays Friday, Oct. 26 at Pirate Stadium. The Griffins fumbled the ball away on the first play from center to give up the first of four unanswered touchdowns in a dismal start.
Platte County took full advantage of the early turnover and rolled to a 57-21 rout that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated.
After the fast start, Platte County’s offense hummed along with senior running back Adel Freitek scoring two rushing touchdowns in his return after missing the previous two weeks — including a 45-20 win over Winnetonka in Week 8 — due to illness. Additionally, Spencer Stewart threw a career-best six touchdowns, spreading them out to seniors Dylan Gilbert (three), Brice Bertram (two) and Carter Utt (one).
Gilbert turned in a career day with nine catches for 193 yards, breaking the program’s career receiving yardage mark on the first of his three touchdown catches.
“This game was tough, especially coming off just two weeks ago,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “Everyone is in a situation where you are trying to get a second season started and get some emotion that way. I thought our kids responded well. We challenged them to come out and play with some energy and effort, and they did.”
The No. 1 seed in Class 4 District 8 via a head-to-head tiebreaker, Platte County (9-1) won a seventh straight since a Week 3 loss to Kearney.
The four remaining teams in the bracket all sport a record of 8-2 or better, and the semifinals feature one exceedingly rare pairing and a grudge rematch. Despite their geographic proximity, Platte County’s matchup with No. 4 seed Excelsior Springs (8-2) will be only their second meeting and the first between the two schools since a 6-6 tie in 1915.
Smithville (9-1), which dropped to the No. 2 seed due to its loss in Week 6 to Platte County, hosts Kearney (8-2) just two weeks after their regular season game. Smithville won the first matchup 17-14 on a last-minute touchdown to force a three-way tie for the Suburban Conference Blue Division championship with Platte County and Kearney.
In District 8 openers, Smithville (45-15 over Kirksville) and Kearney (51-6 over Marshall) were easy winners. Excelsior Springs went back-and-forth in another yearly tight matchup with St. Joseph Lafayette, pulling away late for a 46-37 win to knock out the 2017 district runner-up.
“(Rankings and seedings), that’s all out the window. That’s crazy talk all around,” Utz said. “We’re going to be playing a really good team, and we know we have to be prepared and ready for it. This district is insane. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it quite like this where there are so many good teams fighting in this round.”
Platte County, which entered district play ranked No. 4 in the final Class 4 media poll of the regular season, might need its quick strike offense again. The Pirates put up 50 points against eighth-seeded Winnetonka (1-9) in the first half with Stewart throwing five of his touchdowns before the break in what turned into an eventful two quarters.
The fast pace put extra pressure on the Platte County defense, which has now allowed 19 or more points in eight straight games. The Pirates forced two turnovers but were also vulnerable to big plays, allowing three touchdowns in the second quarters.
However, Winnetonka managed 143 yards rushing on 36 attempts with Platte County’s defense chasing quarterback Javon Satterwhite around all night to record five sacks (1 ½ for freshman linebacker Trevor Scott, one for senior linebacker Omar Garcia and senior defensive lineman Peyton Stoner and a half each for junior linebacker Gabe Harmon, senior linebacker Albert Guerra and junior defensive lineman Jonathan Owen. Satterwhite finished 11-for-26 for 171 yards.
Harmon (eight), Scott (six) and Stoner (five) were Platte County’s top tacklers.
“Mistakes here and there, but that will happen,” said Garcia, one of four players with four tackles (Nolan Saale, Garret Watson and Cade McNicholas). “The last time we played them, we weren’t really satisfied with our performance. We felt like we let a team hang around that shouldn’t be hanging around. But this week, our coach said all week, ‘It’s not about the 8 seed; it’s about the 1 seed.’ I’m very proud of how our defense played.”
Garcia provided the needed fast start.
On Winnetonka’s opening play, Garcia chased Satterwhite down from behind, and the Griffins quarterback lost the ball as he went to the ground. The referees didn’t blow the play dead, and Bertram — who also plays cornerback — scooped up the loose ball and nearly scored as an unaware Garcia celebrated the sack.
Bertram went out of bounds at the 2-yard line, and on the next play, Freitek scored on a run around left end after taking a behind-the-back handoff from Stewart on a “Statue of Liberty” play. Platte County led 7-0 after just 16 seconds and wouldn’t trail.
“Turnover’s a turnover. I don’t care how it happens,” Garcia said.
Platte County scored the first 29 points unanswered with Stewart throwing touchdowns of 4 yards to Bertram and 39 yards to Gilbert in the first quarter. The Pirates were up 22-0 after the second scoring strike — thanks to Saale’s 2-point conversion run after Bertram’s TD.
Already having set the program’s all-time receptions record earlier in the year, Gilbert’s over-the-shoulder grab with 58 seconds left in the first quarter gave him the yardage record. He passed current assistant coach Todd Jaros, who gave a nod to the new leader on the sideline and readily admitted “records are made to be broken.”
Gilbert now has 2,206 yards in three years as a starter, leaving behind Jaros’ mark of 2,060 set from 1997-2000.
“(Jaros) was my defensive coach last year, and he really meant a lot to me,” Gilbert said. “Passing his record is a great honor. I’m truly grateful because he could’ve got a lot more in his career, but it’s a great achievement.”
On the first play of the second quarter, Garcia intercepted Satterwhite and nearly returned the pick for another Platte County touchdown. However, his 47-yard return ended when he was pushed out of bounds by a back-tracking lineman along with a penalty on the Pirates.
“I was thinking six, but that lineman, he was nimble. He was moving faster than I thought he would,” Garcia said.
However, Stewart hit Utt wide open in the middle of the field on the next play for a 37-yard touchdown. Utt’s post pattern beat two Winnetonka defenders, and the reserve wide receiver hauled in just his second catch of the season and his career for his first touchdown.
While the pass might have been just a touch underthrown, Utt adjusted first and had no trouble reeling the ball in before rushing out of the end zone to celebrate with teammates.
“Honestly, I didn’t know how open I was,” said Utt, a defensive player for most of his career prior to this season. “I thought there was someone behind me and maybe I should jump for it. I appreciate (Stewart). He’s a good quarterback. He can sling that thing.”
Up 29-0 after Utt’s touchdown, Platte County surrendered its first touchdown on the next drive when Satterwhite completed a 29-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Triplets. The Pirates responded with back-to-back scoring marches capped with a 13-yard touchdown for Freitek (12 carries 78 yards) and a 30-yard touchdown pass to Gilbert.
On the latter, Stewart started to scramble before jumping and perfectly dropping a pass over the shoulder to an in-stride Gilbert to make it 43-7 with 4:19 left before halftime.
However, the first half concluded with three touchdowns in a span of 1:23 to leave Platte County without the running clock going into the second half. Winnetonka first drove 71 yards and scored on a 31-yard pass to Hayden Shay, but Bertram responded with a weaving, spinning 74-yard kickoff return to the Griffins’ 18. Stewart hit him with an 18-yard touchdown on the next play.
Winnetonka scored on the last play of the half to cut the deficit back to 50-21, but Stewart and Gilbert connected for a 50-yard catch-and-run touchdown on the first drive of the third quarter to make it 57-21 and start the running clock for the final 22:44 of the game.
“Winnetonka started making some plays to kind of make it interesting again,” Utz said. “I think this time we responded a little better than we did last time and put a stop to it there after halftime. They did what they’re supposed to do, and we’re all on the same page on what we want to accomplish.”
Stewart finished an efficient 17 for 21 for 297 yards and most importantly no interceptions to go with his six touchdowns. Gilbert’s nine catches matched his season-high from a Week 7 comeback win over Raymore-Peculiar and the 193 yards and three touchdowns were both career-highs.
Bertram finished with four catches for 36 yards but brought his season total for touchdowns up to 11 on the season with at least one in each of the last eight games. Dayton Mitchell, a sophomore, had two catches for 25 yards, while junior Donny MacCuish had one for 10.