Special to The Citizen
With a lot of new faces on the Park Hill offense, the inexperience showed early on as the Trojans dug themselves a 24-0 first half hole in their 34-21 season-opening loss to Suburban Gold Division rival Lee’s Summit West.
A 16-play, 69-yard opening drive that included three conversions on and a fourth-down conversion set the tone for a first half that was all Titans, who took a 7-0 lead on a 5-yard touchdown run by Taylor Wilson. A fumble on Park Hill’s first play from scrimmage led to another touchdown run by the Titans, this one a 1-yard plunge by Sammy Cooper on fourth down.
“There was definitely some nerves” said Park Hill senior quarterback Ryan Graves, who was making his first career start. “I think we got it under control. Obviously the first quarter screwed us a little bit, but we’ll be alright.”
A three-and-out and a pair of Lee’s Summit West interceptions later; the Trojans headed into the locker room looking for answers after a first half that elicited just one first down.
“We came out, and there’s no bones about it, we lost that first half,” Trojans’ head coach Josh Hood said. “We ran way too many plays defensively. We were on the field too much in the wrong position
At halftime, Hood and his staff challenged the team, and what came out of the locker room was what he described as a “whole different team.”
A nine-play, 66 yard drive that took just 2:33 off the clock was capped with the Trojans’ first points of the season, a 1-yard pass from Graves to senior Joe Webb, who ducked around a block from sophomore Jaylin Noel and into the end zone.
“We can’t put ourselves in a hole,” Hood said. “Not in these games, not in the games we play here in this conference and this league or with this schedule, we can’t put ourselves in a hole. We know that, and we did it, and I’m going to tell you it won’t happen again. We’ll fix stuff. We played out of it, we just didn’t have enough time there at the end, but our kids gave great effort.”
Cooper scored his second rushing touchdown of the night on the ensuing drive, to push the lead back to 31-7, but early in the fourth quarter Park Hill found its rhythm. Graves, who finished 7-of-16 passing for 108 yards and another 56 rushing, and the offense marched 87 yards in just under three minutes with the senior signal-caller finding Noel wide open in the corner of the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown on fourth-and-nine.
“We just got in a rhythm,” Graves said. “We actually started running multiple plays where we could see what they were doing a little bit. The first half, it was hard to see what they were in, but the second half we got in a rhythm and got things going.”
After recovering the onside kick, Graves and Noel, who caught four passes for 64 yards, hooked up again for a 9-yard score to cut the Titan lead to just 10, 31-21, but Lee’s Summit West salted away nearly six minutes before kicking a game-sealing 27-yard field goal with 19 seconds to play to notch its eighth straight victory in the series.
“Our tempo was good, we felt like we kind of had them on the ropes there a little bit,” Hood said. “A couple of plays here and there and we’ve got a shot to come back in this ball game.”
Hood said his team would watch film of the first half, and look to fix the mistakes then try and build on being able to get the first varsity snaps under the belt of a young offense.
“We needed a lot of guys to do their first thing, and we got it,” he said. “Guys did their first thing, got their first catch, got their first run, got their first tackle and now we’re ready to work. We’ll be ready for week two.”
Week two brings a matchup with former Suburban Red Conference foe Liberty for the Trojans’ home opener at 7 p.m. Friday night at Preston Field. Liberty will also be coming in off a loss, falling 43-19 to Lee’s Summit in week one.
“We’ll watch the film of the first half and break it down then we’ll use the momentum of the second half and take that into this week and hopefully take that into our game with Liberty,” Hood said. “They always have speed, and I know they’ve got good size up there, so we’ll have a challenge in front of us, but it will be good for us to go back and fix a few things and see exactly where we are.”