KANSAS CITY — Josh Hood finally got the check mark he long sought.
The Park Hill head football coach has racked up plenty of wins since taking over in 2013, but until Friday, Aug. 30, there was one team in the Suburban Conference Gold Division he had yet to beat.
His Trojans helped him accomplish that feat with a 19-6 victory against Lee’s Summit West in the season and conference openers for both teams at Preston Field.
Hood has faced the Titans four times and lost all, though closing the gap since a 42-14 loss in 2013. Since moving up to the Gold, the Trojans lost by a combined 12 points in 2016 and 2017 and lost the season opener 34-21 last year in Lee’s Summit.
“That is the only team we haven’t beat and that is a testament to them, they have a wonderful coach staff and I love those guys,” said Hood, who is coaching with a detached retina suffered almost two months ago. “They got great players and they are a wonderful team and they will win a lot of games. Our kids were prepared and tonight we had a lot of energy. It was good for us.”
The turning points in this win, the fifth in seven years in openers under Hood, came in the second quarter.
Scoreless after the first quarter, despite Park Hill running 30 plays, the Trojans finally got things going in favor of the home team after a turnover.
The teams traded interceptions early in the quarter, with Shane Fredrickson picking off Anthony Hall, giving Lee’s Summit West the ball at the Trojans’ 21-yard line. Two plays later, Javion Gathrite intercepted Titans quarterback Sammy Cooper, a Notre Dame baseball pledge, at the 19-yard line.
Six plays after that, Hall connected with Jaylin Noel for a 54-yard touchdown. He had 111 yards on six catches.
The extra point was blocked by Lee’s Summit West, ranked No. 9 in Class 6.
The No. 10-ranked Trojans held the Titans to only three yards on the next two drives — the latter ending in an interception by Jacob Schreck. Cooper was hit as he threw by Vince Reichert.
Noel hauled in a 10-yard catch on the first play of the drive at the 40-yard line, before six straight running plays followed. The last was a 4-yard run by Darion Neal to make it 12-0 with 1 minute, 15 seconds left in the first half.
Park Hill got the ball back with 41 seconds left at the 28-yard line, but a pass by Hall toward the end zone was intercepted by Jerome Grace to end the half.
Five plays into the second half, the Trojans nabbed their third interception. Antonio McCullough got the pick at midfield. The pick-happy contest continued when Grace got his second interception of the contest.
The Titans turned that turnover into points though they had to convert on 4th-and-goal from the 1 when Cooper got the ball across the goal line. The drive featured a 28-yard pass by Cooper to Grant McAtee and then Taylor Wilson rumbled for 40 yards, getting knocked out at the 9-yard line.
The point after attempt was blocked, cutting Park Hill’s lead down to 12-6.
The Trojans added the final points of the game early in the fourth quarter, when Neal scored on a 7-yard touchdown run five seconds into the final frame.
The big plays of that drive came in the final minute of the third. Hall hit Noel for a 9-yard gain on 3rd-and-14 and then on 4th-and-5 from the 26, Noel got a 16-yard first-down catch to move the ball to the 10-yard line.
“We came out feeling so much more prepared,” said Noel, who posted on Twitter this weekend he will take unofficial visits to Kansas State, Iowa State and Minnesota over the next two months. “We are way more comfortable with the offense and I think we can improve from here. Our running backs were pounding the ball up the middle and our wide receiver spread it out and we have a versatile quarterback that can get around.”
After Neal’s second touchdown, the Titans fumbled the kickoff and Gabe McCullough recovered at the 18-yard line.
That drive ended with a 42-yard missed field goal and later in the quarter, the Trojans missed a 43-yard.
The game was essentially sealed when Johnny Wilson and James Gore combined to sack Cooper and forced punt with less than 3 minutes to play.
Park Hill rattled off 77 plays on offense, compared to only 40 by Lee’s Summit West. The Trojans had 53 plays in the first half and had a 417 to 188 advantage in terms of total offense.
Eric Carey ran for 104 yards, while Neal added 77 on the ground for Park Hill.
Kansas commit Trevor Kardell was held in check by the Trojans with one catch for 13 yards.
“How we approach the week leading up the game and how we approach the middle of the games has changed,” Hood said.
Park Hill travels to face district foe Liberty on Friday at HyVee Field.
Liberty is coming off a 17-12 win last week against Lee’s Summit and will look to run a win streak to three in a row against the Trojans.
The Blue Jays won at Preston Field, 24-21, in Week 2 last year and then won 20-10 in a district showdown in Liberty.
“They got us twice last year,” Hood said. “We played poorly in both and that is on us.”
In the most recent match up, the Blue Jays controlled the clock and ran 56 plays, 44 more than Park Hill did in the opening two quarters. Liberty led 3-0 at the break and built on that lead in the second half.
“We will have to do good on limiting them to big yards on first down because they will try to control the ball,” Hood said of Liberty.