NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. — North Kansas City closed in on the goal line late in the fourth quarter with a chance to spoil a superlative but not the result.
Platte County held strong, even with mostly reserves on the field as the final seconds ticked off the clock, to finish off a dominant 29-0 shutout of the previously Class 5 No. 6-ranked Hornets on Friday at North Kansas City High School. Pirates senior quarterback Jared Parsons threw a pair of touchdowns in a gutsy performance while facing a fierce pass rush — one going to junior Nate Walls, who also ran for a touchdown in a breakout role.
But defense remained the overarching theme for streaking Platte County. Interceptions on back-to-back early possessions from senior safety Cade Fowler and senior cornerback Dylan Mitchell helped the Pirates turn the North Kansas City offense mostly one-dimensional, but the Hornets’ run game didn’t find much success, either.
North Kansas City (2-2) managed just 178 yards of offense, and 30 of the 107 on the ground came on a late run for junior J’Len Friar to set up the Hornets’ lone real scoring threat. However, Platte County sophomore Markus Delfin recorded a sack on the final play to preserve the first shutout of the season and continue an impressive run of play from the defense.
“I’m happy with the performance all around,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “They’re growing. They’re getting better all the time. The older guys with experience are obviously making plays and are fun to watch, but the young guys are doing their part to in trying to get things going and doing what they’re supposed to do.”
With the shutout, Platte County (3-1) has now allowed just three points on defense in the last 12 quarters and none since a field goal for Kearney on the opening drive of their Week 2 matchup. The Pirates won that game 35-3, and Grandview’s lone points in a 24-7 loss the following week came on a second-half interception return for a touchdown. Prior to Friday, the Pirates’ last shutouts came in back-to-back games against Raytown South (41-0) and Lansing (27-0) to close out the 2020 regular season.
Platte County’s senior linebacker duo of Trevor Scott (team-high eight tackles and one sack) and Blaine Keuhn (five tackles, four for loss) again led the way, while Junior safety Cameron Wolfe added five tackles and senior safety Landon Fulk four more.leading the way, but Cameron Wolfe and Landon Fulk added. Chandavian Bradley, a junior defensive end and high-end Division I recruit, remained disruptive with a pair of tackles (one for a loss) and big hit late on North Kansas City quarterback Christopher Johnson, while senior defensive end Jaydon Walls looked nearly unblock able in recording a pair of tackles (one for a loss) while also drawing multiple holding penalties.
Mitchell contributed a pair of tackles in addition to his first career interception.
“We thought we would stop the run, and we did,” said Fowler, who also finished with three tackles. “If you stop the run, you’re going to like playing the pass. It was true. We came up with some big picks.”
The solid defensive effort led to a second straight win against a ranked opponent and vaulted Platte County from having not received a vote at any point this season in the Class 5 Missouri Media poll to a seventh-place ranking this week. Coming off back-to-back state title game appearances in Class 4 and Class 5, the Pirates fell off the radar following a 42-14 loss to Class 6 No. 10-ranked Park Hill South in Week 1 but have since recovered with back-to-back convincing victories over then-Class 4 No. 9 Grandview and North Kansas City, which dropped outside of the top 10 but continued to receive votes with losses to No. 3-ranked Raytown and the Pirates their lone, respectable blemishes.
That sets up a huge ranked matchup for Platte County this Friday at Pirate Stadium with Suburban Conference Blue Division rival Smithville (4-0), which has been ranked No. 1 in Class 4 all season and has yet to be challenged through four weeks.
In 2020, Platte County went into the Smithville game off of a stunning loss to North Kansas City, which used a dizzying array of defensive and special teams touchdowns for a wild 42-37 victory after trailing 31-7 early in the second half. The Pirates quickly recovered with a tidy 28-7 win over Smithville, their seventh in the past eight meetings between the two teams. The lone victory in that stretch for the Warriors came in the 2018 Class 4 District 8 championship game.
Last year’s win ended up leading to Platte County’s second outright Blue Division championship, and the two teams along with Winnetonka are all 2-0 and the lone unbeatens left in league play.
“It’s going to be a work week; that’s for sure,” Fowler said. “We’re going to go in, we’re going to grind all week and be ready to play Friday.”
This will again be the only meeting between the two teams this season with Platte County now firmly entrenched in Class 5. That made the matchup with North Kansas City pivotal with the two teams again at the top of the District 8 standings.
Platte County won a second straight against North Kansas City after avenging last year’s loss in the Class 5 District 8 semifinals. Despite the regular season loss in 2020, the Pirates ended up with the No. 1 seed a season ago, and this time, the Pirates confirmed their hold on the No. 1 spot and took control of their destiny in the race for a first-round bye.
The current standings look like this:
1. Platte County (3-1)
2. Fort Osage (3-1)
3. North Kansas City (2-2)
4. Staley (1-2)
5. William Chrisman (1-3)
6. Oak Park (1-3)
7. St. Joseph Central (1-3)
“I think it’s a huge win,” Nate Walls said. “Utz was saying whoever gets this will probably get the 1 seed so we needed to come in here and get the win.”
Platte County came up with a dream start this time around against North Kansas City, forcing a quick punt near midfield on the game’s opening possessions.
Parsons immediately led a touchdown drive to give Platte County a 7-0 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. After mishandling a snap on the Pirates’ second play, he completed a 14-yarder to junior wide receiver Carter Salzman on an initial third and 8. The pair connected again on a well-placed over-the-shoulder pass on a third and 11 that went for 32 yards and backed the Hornets’ defense into their own territory.
After a 23-yard pass to Salzman breeched the North Kansas City red zone, Parsons came up with another third-down completion, this one going for a 20-yard touchdown to an uncovered Walls when Platte County needed at least 14 for a first down. This ended up being the first career catch for Nate Walls, a transfer from Park Hill expected to be a top wide receiver option along with snaps at running back.
“It was just cool,” said Nate Walls, who finished with just the one catch. “I probably wasn’t supposed to get it, and I went back there. It was just a good play. He fell down, and we managed to make the throw and the catch.”
Johnson, a first-year starting quarterback, threw interceptions under duress on each of the next two possessions, but Platte County only took advantage of the second. The Pirates punted after Fowler’s leaping interception after North Kansas City sacked Parsons on third down to force a three-and-out. Mitchell stopped the following drive, going up high like Fowler to grab his first career interception in traffic.
Both stops came on third and long.
Four plays after Mitchell’s short return and a personal foul penalty on North Kansas City put Platte County at the Hornets’ 18, Parsons found junior wide receiver Tristan Magnuson for a 12-yard touchdown. He went low to dig out the pass at the goal line and found the end zone for the second straight week to put the Pirates up 14-0 with 9 minutes, 9 seconds left in the second quarter.
“The more kids that make plays, the more kids who are able to execute, it makes us that much better,” Utz said.
North Kansas City finished the first half with just 49 total yards of offense. The Hornets made a pair of first downs on its opening possession but didn’t have another until after halftime.
The rushing totals looked better for North Kansas City thanks to the late run from Friar (76 yards on 21 attempts), but overall, the Hornets average 3.7 yards per carry on 29 attempts with a total of 107 yards rushing. Johnson finished 9-for-19 passing for 71 yards.
Platte County turned in perhaps the most complete defensive performance of the last three weeks, having shown steady improvement since the Week 1 loss to Park Hill South.
“Honestly, I think from Park Hill South we weren’t rallying to the football,” Fowler said. “And now, every time you see a tackle there’s five dudes on him tackling him. I think that plays a big role.”
With North Kansas City’s offense stuck in neutral and consistently punting after short drives, Platte County extended its halftime lead to 20-0 on a pair of field goals from senior Cole Rhoden — the first a 27-yarder with 3:06 to go in the second quarter and the second a career-long 46-yarder in the closing seconds. Rhoden, a wide receiver with a pair of 100-yard games and two highlight-reel 90-plus-yard TDs in the first two weeks of the season, added his third field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter. The 25-yard kick made it 23-0.
“Cole Rhoden — dawg,” Fowler said of his senior teammate. “He’s a beast. He’s just a beast. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
Rhoden finished with two catches for 39 yards, and his 30-yard reception from Parsons midway through the fourth set up Nate Walls’ 7-yard touchdown run with 7:42 left in regulation. The Pirates led 29-0 at that point after a blocked extra point, and Nate Walls ended up with 15 carries for 69 yards as the prime ball-carrying option after senior starting running back Ben McDaniel (nine carries, 12 yards) left the game with a shoulder injury.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” Nate Walls said. “I’m really glad I could do something for the team, but I’m also kind of sad about Ben being hurt. Hopefully, he’s back for (this) week.”
Facing a North Kansas City defensive line with three Division I recruits, Platte County heavily leaned on Parsons and the passing game during the competitive portion of the game. He hung in while taking repeated hits and went 11 for 22 yards for 173 yards with two touchdows and, most importantly, no turnovers. He completed passes to five receivers with Salzman leading the way at six catches for 101 yards and McDaniel adding one catch for 1 yard.
Platte County only ran for 81 yards total with sacks figured into the total despite having 35 attempts.
“Jared stuck in there at quarterback,” Utz said. “A lot of quarterbacks are going to get hit and not be able to make the throws, and he kept getting it to his receivers. Jared will be the first one to tell you the final stat line is the scoreboard, and that’s what we’re really worried about.”
Platte County’s offense did benefit from the return of senior left guard Caleb Kelley, who sat out the win over Grandview with a shoulder injury leading to repeated shuffles up front in that game. Braden Parker, a junior, made his third straight start at right guard and appears to have solidified that spot while seniors Joe Nicholson (left tackle) and Connor Harmon (center) remained at their normal spots and sophomore Muyonta Maxwell returned to his right tackle spot.
A week earlier, Maxwell started at left guard with Parker and junior Sage Lutz on the left side. Platte County ended up rotating in eight players on the offensive line against Grandview.
Inexperienced in key spots to start the season, Platte County has started to find its identity behind a stingy defense and opportunistic offense. The timing will be right for the matchup with Smithville, which has outscored Grain Valley, William Chrisman, Kearney and Raytown South by a combined score of 184-17 but hasn’t faced the same caliber of opponents as the ones on the Pirates’ schedule.
Platte County has won at least a share of three straight Blue Division titles but likely needs to maintain its dominance of the Smithville series to keep that streak alive. Both teams will be well-positioned to move past Week 5, regardless of results, and make deep postseason runs.
“We put a lot of pressure on (the North Kansas City) game, knowing the district consequences,” Utz said. “I thought felt like they responded very, very well. I thought the offense played well, and the defense put us in great situations to get the ball back in good spots.”
A year ago, Smithville lost in the Class 4 state semifinals to eventual champion Helias Catholic, while Platte County reached the Class 5 Show-Me Bowl before losing to Jackson. The year before, the Pirates beat Smithville in the Class 4 District 8 title game on the way to a state runnerup finish.