Prior to the season, Bill Utz promised to regularly utilize the tight end position for the first time since 2014.
A combination of opportunity and circumstance have finally forced Platte County’s veteran coach to make that personnel adjustment, and senior Brody Fulk earned his starring role in Friday’s Class 5 District 8 semifinal. He accounted for both of the Pirates’ offensive touchdowns — one early and one late — in a tight 21-6 victory over third-seeded North Kansas City at Pirate Stadium.
Platte County lost junior wide receiver Tristan Magnuson for the season to a broken collarbone in the regular season finale, while senior wide receiver Cole Rhoden continues to handle kicking duties only in his recovery from the same injury. He has not played on offense since a Week 7 victory over Winnetonka.
In the four weeks since, Brody Fulk carved out a role as a nearly every down contributor.
“We really did plan on it all year to use him even more, but it kind of evolved to where because of injuries or a better run game we’ve found spots to use him,” Utz said of Brody Fulk, who had two catches for 21 yards and the two scores against North Kansas City to bring his season totals to 11 receptions, 94 yards and three scores — all in the past six weeks. “Brody’s a great athlete who is able to run around and use his size in a way that benefits him. He’s not just a big blocking tight end. We use him as a threat.
“Brody is such a great young man that I’m very happy to see him have some success and soak it all in.”
Second-seeded Platte County (9-2) ran its win streak to six straight since a loss to Class 4 No. 1-ranked Smithville and advanced to a seventh straight district title game. The Pirates will travel to No. 1-seeded Fort Osage (9-1) on Friday with a chance to earn the fourth playoff berth in that span.
Platte County improved to 3-1 in four matchups with North Kansas City the past two seasons, having won each of the past three in an intriguing and competitive series. The Pirates held a 7-6 lead for the majority of this meeting, consistently winning the field position battle but unable to stretch the advantage.
Brody Fulk reeled in his second touchdown catch of the game with 5 minutes, 27 seconds left in regulation to increase the lead to 14-6, and junior safety Cameron Wolfe’s second defensive touchdown of the season 3½ minutes later on an interception return put the finishing touches on the victory. Wolfe has recorded four turnovers in the past three games, recovering two fumbles in Week 9 against Lansing and adding interceptions in each of the Pirates’ two district victories.
“Cameron’s just a dog. All of our DBs are a dog, in fact,” said Platte County junior defensive end Chandavian Bradley, who recorded a pair of tackles. “But Cameron knows how to time it right. He’s always right where he needs to be.”
North Kansas City (4-7), which entered with a deceiving record against a tough schedule, came out with a much different offense from the one used in the past three games against Platte County — an improbable 42-37 comeback win in Week 4 of 2020, a 24-17 district semifinal loss to end last season and the regular season meeting seven weeks earlier. The Hornets went to a mostly I-tight look with two top wide receivers and two starting offensive linemen out.
In addition, North Kansas City turned to standout defensive linemen Edric Hill and Dominique Orange to block on offense. The Hornets converted two initial third-and-shorts on the game’s opening drive before being turned back on third- and fourth-and-short near midfield after more than 5 minutes with the ball, going with 10 straight run plays.
Platte County’s defense went on to record 20 tackles for loss split between seven players — senior linebacker Trevor Scott (five plus team-high eight tackles), senior defensive end Jaydon Walls (four plus seven tackles), senior safety Cade Fowler (four plus three tackles), senior linebacker Blaine Keuhn (three plus six tackles), senior cornerback Garrett Smith (two plus two tackles), junior defensive tackle Mar’Ques Brown (one plus one tackle) and Wolfe (one plus six tackles). Landon Fulk, a senior, added four tackles from his free safety spot, while sophomore defensive tackle Kohry Woessner filled gaps and made a pair of stops.
North Kansas City finished with only 80 yards of total offense, rushing for just 71 on 44 attempts while dropping back to pass only nine times. Jaydon Walls recorded a pair of sacks, and Hornets senior quarterback JJ Johnson went 2-for-6 for 9 yards.
“Our linebackers started hitting the hole better,” Bradley said. “I mean I tightened up on my end. I was playing bad in the first half so I had to tighten down. Had that boy Blaine, had Trevor, they’re going through their hole, Jaydon getting through and squeezing everything. Mar’Ques and Kohry tightened up their (stuff) so we were good.”
After the initial stop, Platte County took the first opportunity to face the fearsome defensive line of Orange, Hill and junior Adepoju Adebawore — all highly coveted Division I recruits. Orange recorded a tackle 5 yards in the backfield on the opening play, and the Pirates immediately went three-and out.
Unlike the first meeting this season, Platte County did not force early turnovers but still took an initial 7-0 lead on the fourth drive of the game. After forcing North Kansas City into a three-and-out, Pirates junior running back Nate Walls recorded the first big offensive play of the game on a 27-yard sweep around right end.
Two plays later, Parsons found Brody Fulk up the right seam, and the linebacker-turned-tight end scooped the pass up short of hitting the turf for a 15-yard touchdown 1:02 left in the first quarter.
“We always knew he was going to play some sort of role in the offense,” Parsons said of Brody Fulk, “but for him to come out and step up and play the way he has and done what he’s done the past couple of games is awesome.”
Platte County wouldn’t score for 2½ quarters, and a combination of mistakes led to the defense allowing potential tying score. The Pirates’ first drive of the second quarter ended with an intentional grounding penalty on Parsons as he tried to throw the ball away and avoid a third-down sack, and the ensuing punt bounced backward and went just 8 yards.
North Kansas City’s second pass attempt resulted in a pass interference penalty on a third-and-long to extend the drive and move the Hornets just outside the red zone. Three plays later after a facemark penalty against Platte County, junior Keilan Powell, a defensive back forced into limited offensive duty, took a handoff on a reverse and raced 20 yards for a touchdown.
However, Jaydon Walls tore through the line on the extra point attempt and recorded a block that left the score at 7-6, where it remained until the fourth quarter.
“As long as we were the 7, I’m good with that,” Utz said. “Even at halftime, I was in there saying even at 7-6, that’s still a win, so that’s good stuff. It’s the little things. You play this game so long, and it’s four quarters and 12 minutes a quarter. But literally a play on an untimed down could’ve been the difference in the game, and that’s what makes this game so special.
“And on a play where a senior just wills it to happen. Jaydon getting that block was huge because it puts them on their heels the rest of the time.”
North Kansas City’s touchdown with 3:52 left in the first half gave the Hornets the momentum which carried into the second half.
Platte County took the opening kickoff of the third quarter and promptly went backward with a run for negative yardage and another intentional grounding penalty. The Pirates punted the ball away but immediately came up with a key three-and-out, and a mishandled snap on the fourth-down punt snap allowed Scott to tackle the punter in the backfield a week after he blocked two punts in a 38-17 district win over St. Joseph Central.
However, Platte County could only manage a 37-yard field goal attempt from Rhoden, and the officials ruled the ball sailed wide right despite protests from the Pirates’ coaches.
“From my angle, it was pretty close, but obviously, they see it better than we do,” Utz said. “Again, part of the game. You have to deal with sudden change. Whether it be adversity a team gives you or something else, you have to be able to let that go and be ready to play for the next play.”
Platte County’s swarming defense continued to hold.
Jaydon Walls came up with his first sack to help end the next drive, and the Pirates drove into North Kansas City territory. The Pirates eventually allowed Rhoden to try a 50-yard field goal, which definitively fell short as the score remained at 7-6.
Scott and Jaydon Walls then combined on a tackle for loss to snuff out North Kansas City’s best drive of the second half.
Parsons hit junior wide receiver Dayne Wimberly for what ended up a highlight-reel one-handed catch for 34 yards to push Platte County back across midfield, but the Pirates were forced to punt again after a holding penalty stalled the momentum. North Kansas City again went nowhere, and the Pirates finally cashed in on the field position after junior wide receiver Carter Salzman’s 28-yard punt return provided the setup.
“Carter’s a dog. He is. He’s tough, always making great plays,” Parsons said.
On third and 6 after a facemask penalty shorted the distance to go, Nate Walls leaked out of the backfield, and Parsons found him for a 16-yard gain to create a goal-to-go situation for Platte County at the 4. After three runs left the Pirates with fourth and goal from the 6, Utz eschewed the field goal try to potentially go up four points.
Parsons rolled right and found Brody Fulk posted up in the end zone for a contested touchdown to make it 14-6 with 5:27 to go.
“Once we got some good field position, some really great field position, we were able to get in and get a score,” Utz said.
“I just let Brody do Brody, use his big body and go up and get it and do his thing,” Parsons added.
Platte County forced a quick turnover on downs and appeared ready to run out the clock, but Nate Walls, who saw his four-game streak of 100-yard rushing performances stopped, fumbled the ball back to give North Kansas City one more chance. The Hornets almost immediately gave the ball back. On second down, Johnson’s swing pass into the left flat caromed off the receiver’s hands, and Wolfe grabbed the interception at full speed and went 39 yards for his second career touchdown — the first coming in the 20-10 Week 5 loss to Smithville.
“The defense play great the rest of the time (after the second quarter touchdown), never really gave up a threat after that,” Utz said.
Still minus Rhoden and Magnuson, Platte County’s offense faced a talented defense providing unique challenges. The Pirates again used senior running back Ben McDaniel, who returned from a shoulder injury a week earlier, as an extra blocker and receiving option in the slot plus Brody Fulk in many formations. That left Wimberly (team-highs of three catches for 60 yards) and Salzman (one catch, 5 yards) as the only wide receivers of note.
In addition, Platte County shuffled the offensive line again with junior Braden Parker out of the lineup as he continues to deal with a nagging hip injury. The Pirates did welcome back sophomore right tackle Muyonta Maxwell after he missed a game due to a concussion, while senior Connor Harmon, the starting center for most of the season, started at right guard. He missed the regular season finale due to COVID-19 protocols then subbed in off the bench for Parker in the second half last week to provide a spark in first round win over St. Joseph Central.
That left junior Sage Lutz to make his third straight start at center, while seniors Joe Nicholson (left tackle) and Caleb Kelley (left guard) remained in their normal spots. Even at full strength, Platte County struggled to create lanes for Nate Walls, who finished with 61 hard-earned yards on 24 attempts, finding most of his success on a pair of outside runs.
Facing a brutally consistent pass rush, Parsons finished 7 for 17 for 102 yards while being forced into obvious passing downs coming through again despite taking repeated big hits just as he did in a 173-yard, two-touchdown performance against North Kansas City earlier this season.
“I couldn’t ask for a better line up front,” Parsons said. “I couldn’t ask for more people who never give up, have the biggest hearts. I know they’ve got my back, and I’ve got theirs.”
Despite some of the struggles, Platte County remained unbeaten in district play over the past three seasons, setting up the first-ever meeting with Fort Osage in the program’s history. The Indians entered the postseason ranked No. 9 in Class 5 and received the top seed and a first-round bye in this seven-team bracket.
Fort Osage’s lone loss came in Week 3 against North Kansas City by a score of 28-13 — a week before Platte County shut the Hornets out 29-0 in their regular season matchup. The Indians needed 17 unanswered points to avoid an upset against No. 4 seed Staley on Friday.
After missing an initial game-winning field goal attempt, a penalty gave Fort Osage another shot, and the Indians converted the redo for a 17-14 victory. Platte County and Staley played in last year’s District 8 final in a matchup of familiar opponents, but the Pirates have not been paired up with Fort Osage at any point since joining the Suburban Conference more than a decade ago.
“To be in the conference as long as we have and never get pair up is rare, but we just haven’t,” Utz said. “I’m sure they’ve seen us on some trade film; we’ve seen them on some trade film where we’re scouting the other team. We definitely have to get in the study mode here a little bit and see what we need to do.”
All three of Platte County’s recent playoff appearances (2017, 2019 and 2020) have included a run to state semifinals, including state runnerup showings in Class 4 and Class 5 the past two seasons.