KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Dillon Thomas’ season could have ended when he tore his right ACL back in early September.
Instead, the pain of not being able to play might be worse than any part of the season-ending injury. The Park Hill South senior has maintained a role with the team, even without being on the field for games.
Thomas again served as captain ahead of a Class 5 District 7 semifinal Friday, Oct. 28 at Park Hill District Stadium. He then celebrated with teammates after a 45-21 win against North Kansas City put the Panthers back in a title game for the first time since 2010.
On Sept. 9, Thomas tore his ACL against St. Joseph Central, and he underwent successful reconstructive surgery earlier this month. Park Hill South had a 2-1 record at the time of his injury but has now won eight straight in a restorative season.
“Dillon Thomas is the heart of this team and our program,” Park Hill South coach Mike Sharp said. “He’s still a part of our identity, and our kids feed off him, even on one leg, so he’s still vital and crucial in our ability to kind of overcome things that have gone wrong.
“And that’s why we’ve been successful.”
Committed to continue his football career at Division I Northern Illinois, Thomas entered the season as part of a vital wide receiver/cornerback duo.
Jake Springer, a fellow senior and Division I recruit, became even more important in the wake of Thomas’ injury. He’s become a versatile threat on offense despite drawing defensive focus from opponents during Park Hill South’s unbeaten run through the Suburban Conference Red Division and the district opener against North Kansas City.
Park Hill South scored the first 45 points against the Hornets with Springer capping the first half onslaught with a 70-yard interception return with Thomas enjoying the play from the sidelines.
“I really very much appreciate what he does for us back there to have that kind of support behind us,” Springer said.
Park Hill South (9-1), ranked No. 5 in the final Class 5 Missouri media poll of the regular season, led 45-0 at halftime and coasted to the win despite allowing three touchdowns.
Emanuel Butler, a senior running back, ran for 139 yards on just 11 carries, scoring four touchdowns, continuing his impressive return from an early-season injury. Caeden Bowen, another senior running back, has moved back to his H-back slot, but the run game has been steady behind all-conference linemen seniors Chris Carpenter and Noah Salisbury and sophomores Ben Becker and Christian Holferty.
“We’ve got really good guys who have really stepped up and different guys have taken over on offensive plays,” Thomas said.
Park Hill South’s defense also continued to shine.
So far this season, the Panthers have allowed more than 24 points just once — against Central in a 50-37 win spread across two days due to inclement weather. Nick King, a senior linebacker/defensive end, led the defense in the district semifinal with eight total tackles, two for loss.
Jake Karns, a senior linebacker, tackled North Kansas City punter Avery Williams after a bobbled snap, leading to the second of four touchdowns in the second quarter. Butler scored from 17 yards out on the next play.
After Stephen Personelli opened the scoring with a 41-yard field goal, Park Hill South scored six unanswered touchdowns.
“It’s awesome,” Sharp said. “Our goal was to fight for the district championship and we have that opportunity, especially here at home.”
Park Hill South moves on to play Fort Osage (5-5) in the Class 5 District 7 title game on Friday, Nov. 4 at Park Hill District Stadium. The defending state champions, Fort Osage defeated state-ranked William Chrisman for a second time in a span of four weeks in the other semifinal, an easy 33-8 victory.
Conversely, Park Hill South has a shot to reach the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2010, when the state was under a different playoff format.