It was something of a great escape, but Platte County was in no hurry to leave Preston Field on Friday after holding off Park Hill South to win 14-12 at Park Hill High School.
From the midfield handshake line to an impromptu victory lap into the visiting bleachers for more high fives from black-and-orange clad supporters, the Pirates were practically breathless from celebration by the time they huddled in the end zone.
“That was the most intense game I’ve ever been in,” said a voice from the middle of the pack.
“That’s the best game I have ever seen you guys play,” said head coach Bill Utz in his post-game speech.
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Yes, it was just the fourth game of the season, but Platte County is now 4-0 with all of its wins over larger Class 5 schools.
Judging by those reactions, it was clear how big a deal this win was for a team made up almost entirely of juniors and sophomores.
And it didn’t come easily.
Trailing late in the fourth quarter, Park Hill South mounted its longest drive of the game as quarterback Shaefer Schuetz completed four passes and ran for a pair of first downs as the Panthers, 1-3, managed the clock and got out of bounds to move inside the Platte County 40.
But the Pirates’ defense got the stop it needed, benefiting from an intentional grounding penalty, a Tyler Clemens sack and an Aliek Reed interception on successive plays to hold on.
Minutes earlier, Schuetz used a play-action fake to find Mitch Henderson uncovered for a 43-yard touchdown pass. But the Pirates stopped Derrick Cook short of the goal line on what would have been the game-tying two-point conversion.
“We came up real big as a defense,” said linebacker Topher Kilkenny, one of six Platte County seniors. “We found ourselves as a team tonight. That was our best performance of the year.”
That touchdown was Park Hill South’s first since the opening play from scrimmage, when Cook ran through a hole, bounced and spun off a linebacker, then out-sprinted the rest of Platte County’s defense on the way to an 82-yard touchdown.
But Seth Hudson’s point-after attempt hit the upright, and Platte County answered with a 66-yard, eight-play drive capped by sophomore Justin Mitchell’s 1-yard quarterback keeper on fourth and goal.
While Platte County didn’t extend its lead to 14-6 until Mitchell hit Reed for a 43-yard touchdown with 6:47 left in the game, the Panthers — despite forcing four turnovers — were stifled by a lack of consistency and offensive rhythm that has plagued them all season, said coach Mark Simcox.
“You’re not going to win when you have to go for 80 (yard runs) every time,” Simcox said.