With only 43 seconds remaining, Smithville senior running back Charlie Nihart finished the Missouri Class 4 District playoff game the way he started it.
Nihart scored a touchdown on a 15-yard run, lifting Smithville to a thrilling 44-38 victory over Platte County on Friday evening at Pirate Stadium.
“Oh my gosh, it was huge,” Nihart said. “The whole game I was determined to punch it in. It was so stressful at the end, very stressful.”
The first two times Nihart touched the ball, he scored on runs of 15 and 71 yards, staking the Warriors to a quick, two-touchdown lead. It was a stellar performance for Nihart, who finished with 312 yards, three touchdowns in 35 carries.
“He’s a gritty kid, and he is a great kid,” Smithville coach Greg Smith said. “It is always fun to have your superstar or your top players be great kids. He is one of them. It was good to see him reap the rewards of his hard work. At times, he was getting yards on pure will.”
Smithville, 9-2, advances to the district championship game. Platte County ended its season at 9-2 but showed plenty of character in erasing a 31-10 deficit early in the second quarter and forging a 31-31 tie in the third quarter.
“We kind of lost our mentality coming out at half,” Nihart said.
Smithville went back in front 38-31 on a 51-yard run by junior quarterback Mitch Orr with 9:56 left in the game.
“Our guys have been huge about unity all year,” Nihart said. “We told ourselves at halftime that whatever happens we have to stick together.”
Once again, Platte County battled back and tied the game at 38-38 on 2-yard run by junior running back Alex Minter with 7:44 left.
Smithville’s game-winning drive started on its 35 with 3:51 left. Nihart carried the ball six times in the final drive.
“This game says a lot about our kids’ resolve,” Smith said. “The one characteristic of this team that is pretty special is a lot of togetherness. Our rallying cry all year is unity and that came into play tonight. When the chips were down, they were able to fight through and win.”
Before 4 minutes ticked off the clock, it was clear points were going to be scored in abundance.
In the first 2 minutes, Nihart already had two touchdowns and nearly 100 yards rushing.
“To open up like that against a team like this helps momentum go to one team,” Nihart said. “We slowed down a little bit after that, but we picked it back up.”
Platte County quickly responded to Smithville’s second touchdown by going 75 yards in six plays, scoring on a 5-yard run by sophomore quarterback Justin Mitchell with 8:34 left in the first quarter.
After both teams settled for field goals in the remainder of the first quarter, offense and big plays came to the forefront again in the second quarter.
Smithville built a 31-10 lead on a touchdown pass from junior Mitch Orr to junior tight end Jacob Bohlken, followed by a 47-yard punt return by senior Quintin Mueller. The Warriors appeared to be in complete command with the 21-point lead with 10:29 left in the second quarter.
The Pirates gathered themselves and put together two scoring drives the remainder of the second quarter. The most impressive one came with just more than 2 minutes left in the first half. Platte County started at its 12 and then was sacked back to the 6 on the first play of the drive.
The one setback failed to keep the Pirates from going nearly the length of the football field. They reached the end zone on a 2-yard run by junior running back Alex Minter with 8 seconds left in the second quarter.