Smithville’s players and coaches might be grateful to have seen the last of Dayton Mitchell after Friday night.
Platte County’s star senior wide receiver reemerged in his leading role during a 28-7 bounceback victory at Smithville High School with a trio of touchdown catches, matching the career-high he set as a junior at Raytown South. The third-year starter added to his torture of the Warriors — a memorable run of success which began with a game-winning touchdown catch in the closing seconds of a 28-27 win in 2018 when the Pirates overcame a 27-0 deficit.
In a competitive and often contentious rivalry, Platte County (4-1) won for the seventh time in eight tries in what will be the only meeting between the two teams due to a change in postseason assignments.
“Hey, man, it’s our Highway 92 (rival); we’re neighbors. It’s always circled on our schedule so it’s always an important one for us,” said Mitchell, who finished with four catches for 92 yards in the most recent win. “It’s awesome. I really actually love playing here. It’s a great atmosphere.”
Mitchell likes playing in Smithville for good reason.
Platte County senior quarterback Chris Ruhnke finished an efficient 11-for-17 for 188 yards and four touchdowns — his lowest yardage output of the season but still plenty effective while working around a pair of interceptions in a matchup of state-ranked rivals. In addition to Mitchell, senior wide receiver Joey Schultz had two catches for 40 yards, sophomore wide receiver Carter Salzaman had two for 20, senior wide receiver Kevin Hughes two for 21 and senior wide receiver Colby Rollins one for 6 yards.
But Mitchell was the featured target, hitting the end zone for the first time since Week 1. The stretch since included missing a game at Kearney due to a minor injury suffered earlier in the week during practice and two mostly nondescript games where his best catches set up scores.
“If we’re winning and Chris is doing good and our other receivers are doing good, I don’t really care if I get the ball or not,” said Mitchell, who caught three touchdowns in a breakout game against Raytown South as a junior before going on to finish with 10 scores plus team-highs of 66 catches and 994 yards receiving.
Mitchell caught his third touchdown with 5 minutes, 55 seconds left in regulation, tapping his toes near the left end zone boundary to haul in a pass in a tight window from Ruhnke, who was on a designed second down rollout on a third and 3 play. The 6-yard score made it 28-7 Platte County and sealed the comfortable result in an otherwise tight game.
Platte County bounced back from a disastrous 42-37 loss to North Kansas City a week earlier when the Pirates led 31-7 in the third quarter before a shocking assortment of defensive and special teams return touchdowns fueled a nearly improbable comeback.
Smithville (3-2), which saw a three-game winning streak come to an end, gained 285 yards on offense but only truly threatened to score once, taking advantage of a short field in the first half. Platte County senior defensive tackle Keaton Smith (team-high seven tackles) and junior defensive end Jaydon Walls (two tackles, both for loss, and a sack) were especially disruptive as the Warriors managed just 47 yards rushing, including sack yardage, on 27 attempts.
“Keaton’s having a tremendous year. I mean he’s doing a great job inside,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “Kind of an unsung spot. You don’t hear to much at that spot probably unless they’re making mistakes, but he’s there all the time and he’s in on a lot of plays and pursues great for a nose.
“Jaydon’s basically in a new position. That’s his fifth game he’s played at defensive end. He’s learned, getting better, getting physical, doing a great job.”
Platte County senior defensive back Luke Filger (five tackles, two for loss), junior cornerback Garrett Smith (six tackles) and junior linebacker and leading tackler Trevor Scott (five tackles) were next on the stat sheet, while senior defensive tackle Alex Stearns, junior safety Cade Fowler, senior safety Tae Bailey and junior linebacker Blaine Keuhn added four tackles apiece for a balanced defense that played without senior safety Collin Tyson and senior defensive end Forrest Boynton.
Keuhn had two more tackles for loss, while sophomore defensive end Chandavian Bradley had two tackles (one for loss) in his first career start.
Smithville went just 8-for-17 on third down and was 0-for-3 on fourth downs, and the stops were key for Platte County. This marked the lowest point total of the season allowed by the Pirates on the heels of being charged with 42 against North Kansas City, even if only 14 of those came directly off of offensive production.
“We were very motivated — everyone: coaches, staff down to every player,” Walls said. “We were so motivated. We were like, ‘We’re not letting that happen again.’ At every point this week, we were grinding to make sure we didn’t let that happen again.”
Platte County also forced three turnovers with the last being a muffed punt that Mitchell recovered on special teams late in the fourth quarter. The Pirates were than able to run out the remainder of a victory that puts them in the driver’s seat for the Suburban Conference Blue Division title, having been forced to share it each of the previous two years — with Smithville and Kearney in 2018 and with Smithville last year after an upset loss to Grandview in the regular season finale.
“We don’t necessarily look so much at having to share last year,” Utz said. “We’re looking at this year, so we want to win it. We always put emphasis on our conference games — especially those up in our area — so we want to make sure we win those. We put a little to it, but these kids know.”
Platte County’s defense came up with numerous critical stops to halt drives, and the second turnover proved to be timely enough to change the game’s course.
After taking a 14-7 lead into halftime, Platte County took the ball to start the third quarter and marched into Smithville territory before losing possession on a fumble. The Warriors then converted a pair of third downs and were on the move when junior quarterback Andrew Hedgcorth moved right out of the pocket before attempting to complete a pass.
Hedgcorth, who finished 22 of 37 for 238 yards, watched Walls deflect his pass up into that air with Bailey laying out to scoop the ball out of the air just before it hit the turf.
“Got a hand on it, it popped up and Tae came down with it, which was a really nice play from him,” Walls said.
A starter for most of the second half of 2019 after a season-ending injury to Fowler, Bailey came up with the biggest play of his career thus far while starting in place of Tyson.
“Tae being a great spot did a great job of coming up with it,” Utz said of Bailey’s second interception this season.
Platte County drove 57 yards on nine plays and capped it with Ruhnke’s 5-yard jump ball touchdown pass to Schultz, the 6-foot-6 red zone weapon outleaping two defenders on the play for his fifth receiving score of the season and first since Week 2. Pirates senior running back Cayden Davis did most of the work on the drive, starting it with a 20-yard jaunt through the middle of the Warriors defense to make it 21-7 late in the third quarter.
For the first time this season, Platte County’s running game nearly equaled the production of the prolific passing attack.
Davis and junior reserve running back Ben McDaniel were instrumental in salting away the win. Davis had a season-high 95 yards on 20 carries, while McDaniel had 28 of his 45 yards on the drive that culminated in the third touchdown pass to Mitchell. Ruhnke even added 49 yards on five carries, showing off more of the dual-threat ability not always recognized in his game behind a retooled offensive line.
“We’re going to try and establish the run a lot more next week,” Platte County junior right guard Joe Nicholson said. “We only put up 14 in that first half. We could’ve dropped so much more so we’re going to get a lot of pointers and tips during film.”
Platte County lost senior center Grant Gomel for the season to a knee injury suffered late in the first half of the loss to North Kansas City. The lineup looked the same as it did in the second half vs. the Hornets with senior Trey Butcher pushed further inside for his first career start at center. The Pirates had senior Colby Guffey (left tackle), Nicholson (right guard) and senior Jesse Schillinger (left tackle) in their normal spots, while junior Caleb Kelley received his first career start.
The 186 rushing yards were a season-high for Platte County and only the second time over 100 (116 at Kearney in Week 2).
“It’s a big loss, especially with our center,” Nicholson said. “He’s really good up front; we’re a really cohesive unit when he’s on there, but coach (Jeff) Humberg always preaches, ‘Next man up. Be ready to step into any spot.’ I think we’ve handled it pretty well so far. I guess we’ll try to keep it going.”
Offensive production was slow to start for both teams with Smithville slowing the pace in an apparent attempt to limit possessions for both teams.
Platte County’s first scoring drive started late in the first quarter and finished two snaps in to the second quarter. Ruhnke found Schultz in between two defenders for a 35-yard gain on another contested pass before hitting Mitchell for a 13-yard score one play later to make it 7-0 with 11:32 left in the half.
Smithville drove right back into Platte County territory but threw four straight incompletions at the 32 for a turnover on downs. On the next play, Ruhnke found Mitchell behind the defense, and he hauled in a pass wide open and raced the rest of the way for a 68-yard touchdown to make it 14-0 with 7:19 left in the second quarter.
“(Mitchell’s) pretty special. His hands are very, very good, and his routes are amazing, as well,” Utz said. “It was nice to see him get in the end zone a few times, again — just amazing catches.”
Platte County then missed a few opportunities to increase its lead. Following Mitchell’s second touchdown, Pirates sophomore Cameron Wolfe — playing substantial snaps in the pass defense situations — grabbed his first career interception to set up a short field.
However, a pair of holding penalties and a fumbled snap eventually led to a fourth and 46, and Platte County punted the ball right back. The Pirates went three-and-out on their next possession as well, and after a punt and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Smithville took advantage of a short field for their lone score. The Warriors overcame a holding penalty early on the last drive and scored on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Hedgcorth to wide receiver Rhett Fsoter in the waning seconds of the half that cut the deficit in half.
“We came out kind of lethargic in the first half, I thought,” Utz said. “We still did some decent things, but very proud of how they responded in the second half — made some adjustments and did well. (The defense) had a lot of big stops. They had a lot of times where it could’ve gone the other way really bad, and they got the stops.”
After the initial turnover, Platte County dominated the second half to improve to 3-0 in Blue Division play. The Pirates host struggling Ruskin (1-3) in a break from the difficult start to the season before playing at currently unbeaten Winnetonka on Friday, Oct. 9.
Winnetonka plays at Kearney (2-3) in what should be a good test for where the Griffins stand in the conference pecking order.
Regardless, Platte County will not see Smithville again, ending a unique streak. The two teams had met in the postseason every year from 2012 to 2019, and incidentally, 2011 marked the last time the two teams didn’t share a district.
Platte County found out last week that they have been shifted up to Class 5 District 8 and into the same grouping as North Kansas City (3-2), which lost in overtime to fellow district foe Staley (2-3) last week. Platte County continues to rank No. 1 in the district standings and even moved up to No. 6 in this week’s Class 5 state media poll after North Kansas City tumbled from No. 5 to No. 10.