JEFFERSON, CITY, Mo. — Platte County senior offensive lineman Trey Butcher pointed up and beckoned teammate Cayden Davis over. The senior running back had just scored the Pirates’ only touchdown of Saturday’s Class 5 Show-Me Bowl in the waning moments of what would be a disappointing 42-7 loss to Jackson at Ray Hentges Stadium.
Butcher took the opportunity to lift Davis skyward in their usual modest celebration — one final chance to enjoy their time together as teammates on the field.
“Toward the end of the game, I think whenever we knew it was too far out of hand, all this offense had was we were kind of playing for our own pride,” said Platte County senior quarterback Chris Ruhnke, who endured a difficult day against Jackson’s pass rush and completed 10 of 32 passes for 110 yards and three interceptions in the final game of a record-setting career.
Moments after the last-minute touchdown, Butcher and senior defensive tackle Keaton Smith accepted the Class 5 runner-up trophy in what could have been a hauntingly familiar postgame ceremony.
Yet, the undeniable uncertainty on the viability of playing at all this season made a difference in evaluating a second straight superlative season for Platte County (12-2). After taking an unexpected step up from Class 4, Platte County won an outright Suburban Conference Blue Division title, earned the No. 1 seed in District 8 and reached the state semifinals for the third time in four seasons. The Pirates also earned a second straight state runner-up finish — albeit with another lopsided result in the championship game — in what becomes the second best four-year stretch in program history.
Jackson captured the program’s first state championship while dominating a unique matchup of teams coming off state runner-up finishes. The Indians lost 27-21 to in overtime to Carthage in the 2019 Show-Me Bowl.
“It’s obviously disappointing; you don’t want your season to go out like that. You want to go out on top,” said Smith, one half of an outstanding senior duo of defensive tackles after recording one tackle in his final game. “I’m still pretty happy with the way our season ended, considering we weren’t even supposed to really have a season this year. Making it all the way to the state championship in Class 5 in the first year you are in Class 5 is huge, so I wouldn’t really say it’s deja vu.”
Jackson (14-0) completed an impressive unbeaten season, going up 35-0 late in the third quarter to start a running clock. The Indians’ heralded offense actually failed to score 49 for the first time this season, but the star power was evident in repeatedly breeching a Platte County defense that had allowed more than 20 points just twice in the first 13 games.
Cael Welker, Jackson’s senior third-year starter at quarterback, went 15-for-19 for an efficient 165 yards and totaled three touchdowns — two through the air to senior wide receiver Kannen Turley (four catches, 98 yards). Indians senior running back Daniel Dickerson added 193 yards rushing on just 19 carries and two scores on the ground, including a 75-yarder on the their second offensive play to go up 7-0 with 8 minutes, 54 seconds left in the first quarter.
“We got hit on the second (play), and they scored,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said, later adding his Pirates never quite recovered the quick strike.
Platte County opened with possession and gained an initial first down on a 13-yard scramble from Ruhnke before punting the ball away. Two plays later, Dickerson burst through the middle and ran away from the final defender for the first score of the game.
Jackson then recorded its first of three interceptions two plays later and immediately drove inside the 5. However, the Indians went from first and goal at the 2 to second and goal from the 7 after a penalty. Platte County senior Luke Filger then recorded a tackle for a 7-yard loss, and Pirates senior defensive tackle Alex Stearns and junior linebacker Trevor Scott combined on a sack to force fourth and goal from the 20.
Welker threw one of his four incompletions to turn the ball back over to Platte County having avoided a potentially disastrous opening scenario.
“We were feeling pretty good, pretty hype, because against an offense like Jackson’s, coming up with a big stop like that on our own side of the field was huge,” said Smith, who finished with one tackle. “Eventually, throughout the game, they just kind of outlasted us; they just kept the pressure on. We couldn’t keep up with them.”
Platte County then put together what would be its best drive of the game despite a drop from senior wide receiver Colby Rollins on a pass that should have been a 52-yard touchdown. Ruhnke converted a pair of third downs and then drew Jackson offside on a fourth and 1, but Jackson held on a fourth and 5, tackling senior wide receiver Kevin Hughes on his only catch of the day for a 4-yard gain on a fourth-and-5 at the 27.
Despite dominating most of the quarter, Jackson led just 7-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Platte County’s defense then created another potential stop with Jackson facing third and 24 after a pair of costly penalties — the Indians had 12 total in the game — but Welker found Turley wide open down the middle of the field on a busted coverage for a 41-yard touchdown. The Indians led 14-0 with 8:08 left before halftime, and after a three-and-out forced another punt that resulted in a short field, the Pirates were completely on their heels.
Welker scored on a 1-yard rush to make it 21-0, and Platte County’s final two possessions also ended in interceptions. Surprisingly, the Pirates didn’t allow any points off of the three turnovers, but Jackson held firm control at halftime with the third quarter kickoff also coming their way.
“Just seemed like today, we couldn’t do the little things right,” Ruhnke said.
Platte County didn’t manage a first down on either of its first two drives of the second half, and Jackson came up with the big plays to put the game away.
Jackson’s Flint Guilliams returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown after the initial three-and-out to make it 28-0. After next three-and-out, Welker completed another 41-yard pass down the middle to Turley, and three plays later he converted a third-and-8 with a 10-yard TD pass to his top target with 4:44 left in the third quarter.
“Obviously, game got a little bit out of hand for us,” Utz said. “Great team. Hats off to Jackson. I thought they had a very good game plan. Their offensive line is good and it kept us from getting some things we wanted to do on defense, and we had a few miscues on offense that maybe would have helped keep the game a little bit different.”
Ruhnke led second-half comeback wins for Platte County in the postseason against North Kansas City (District 8 semifinals), Grain Valley (quarterfinals) and Webb City (semifinals), but the Pirates were unable to conjure up any more magic this time around.
“(Jackson) didn’t make any errors; they did a good job there,” Utz said. “Usually with all of our second-half comebacks, we were able to put pressure on them also; I mean the mental pressure.
“They had momentum early; we had a chance to kind of put a stop to that and match it. It didn’t happen, and we were never really able to get a grasp on it.”
Platte County trailed 42-0 late in the fourth quarter when senior wide receiver Dayton Mitchell busted a 59-yard kickoff return into Jackson territory. Ruhnke hit Rollins for 38 yards down he home sideline on the next play, and following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Indians, Davis scored almost untouched from 1 yard out. His touchdown marked the first points for Platte County in its back-to-back state title game appearances after losing 48-0 to Webb City in last year’s Class 4 Show-Me Bowl.
Davis managed a team-high 30 yards rushing on 10 carries to finish with a second straight 1,000 yard season — 1,009 as a senior and 1,043 as a junior — to go with one catch for 6 yards in his final game. The Pirates again leaned on a shape-shifting offensive line to try and neutralize an aggressive defense with Butcher again at center in a starting lineup that mirrored last week’s unit from the state semifinal win over Webb City — senior Colby Guffey (right tackle), junior Connor Harmon (right guard), junior Caleb Kelley (left guard) and junior Joe Nicholson (left tackle). The Pirates have made frequent adjustments since a season-ending knee injury in Week 4 to senior center Grant Gomel, and that included moving Harmon from defensive tackle to guard to start the final four games of the season after previously never taking a snap on offense in his career.
Platte County also rotated in senior Jesse Schillinger and freshman Muyonta Maxwell at guard but managed just 157 yards of offense. Ruhnke scrambled for 44 yards but lost 27 from his total on three sacks.
“Coaches did a great job of making game plan adjustments, especially defensively,” Jackson coach Brent Eckley said. “We were doing all kinds of different things we don’t normally do so it was a little bit outside of our normal scope. I thought our secondary played outstanding; I thought our guys in the box just were relentless all day long.
“I think we dominated their offense; I thought our defense played better than our offense during the game.”
Ruhnke’s 110 passing yards helped him top the 3,000-yard mark passing to finish the season 3,032, and his 5,979 yards in two seasons as a starter ended up being the final total for his program career record to go with 52 passing touchdowns — second only to Justin Mitchell’s 59 from 2014-2016. Mitchell caught a team-high three passes for 21 yards and finished his three-year career with 132 receptions, breaking a tie with TJ Guillory (2014-2016) for the second-most catches in program history behind Dylan Gilbert.
Rollins added two catches for 63 yards, while sophomore wide receiver Carter Salzman had just two for 9 yards after totaling three touchdown catches in the first two playoff games. Joey Schultz, a senior who caught seven touchdowns in his only season on the team, had one catch for 7 yards.
“Obviously, just the Friday night lights, but I think the biggest thing (I’ll miss) is being able to play with a group of guys, the group of seniors in my class and these coaches have been great to me through my four years,” reflected Ruhnke, who has signed to continue his career at Northwest Missouri State.
Platte County allowed more than 20 points for just the third time this season. The first came in North Kansas City’s 42-37 upset victory in Week 4 when the Hornets totaled four combined defensive and special teams scores, and Grain Valley totaled 28 in a three-point quarterfinal loss two weeks ago.
Smith called Jackson by far the best offensive line Platte County encountered this season — the only unit that mostly neutralized the Pirates’ blitzing schemes.
Platte County senior safety Collin Tyson totaled a team-high 11 tackles (two for loss) while Filger added nine stops (1½ for loss). Stearns (eight tackles, one for loss) and Scott (five tackles, ½ for loss) ended up with the only sack for a defense that entered with seven players recording at least four sacks this season. Scott finished with team-highs of 94 tackles and 10 sacks in 14 games.
“We were trying to just pick up the pressure and then we did more quick-game stuff rather than dropback,” Welker said. “So if I didn’t have enough time to necessarily drop back and throw the ball, I was able to get it out quicker so the pressure they brought really didn’t matter because the ball was already out.”
Other top tacklers for Platte County included junior cornerback Landon Fulk (seven tackles), who started a second straight game after senior Spencer Cupp suffered a season-ending knee injury on the opening kickoff in the District 8 title game vs. Staley, junior linebacker Blaine Keuhn (seven tackles), junior safety Cade Fowler (five tackles) and sophomore cornerback Garrett Smith (five tackles). The Pirates didn’t receive the normal production from its defensive line, forcing the secondary into more action than normal.
“If you really look at the offense, what they do, they get people out of position,” Utz said. “They do a great job with their formations; they do a great job with their shifting. What they do with it is if one person makes a mistake, there’s no one else there.”
Platte County tied a program record playing its 55th game in a span of four years, going 44-11 and reaching the state semifinals for the first time in both Class 4 and Class 5. Prior to 2019, the Pirates’ most recent title game appearances came in winning three straight unbeaten Class 3A/3 state championships from 2000 to 2002. This was also the first 12-win season since those three 14-0 seasons.
While the disappointing conclusions will linger, Platte County re-upped the program’s expectations and left an indelible mark on a proud program.
“It’s high school; it resets itself every year,” Utz said. “This senior class has obviously had a tremendous run. I felt like we’ve gone through a lot of adversity and they’ve done a very good job being successful, winning a lot of games that we’ve been up against that maybe we weren’t expected to win and came in and did or put ourselves in spots that were not great and were able to come out of it.
“Our kids have tremendous character. They’re an unbelievable class.”
Platte County says goodbye to 22 seniors — one of the largest recent classes for the reinvigorated program. Those include three-year starters Dayton Mitchell, Keaton Smith, Collin Tyson, and Trey Butcher; two-year standouts Chris Ruhnke, Cayden Davis, Alex Stearns, Forrest Boynton, Colby Rollins; a breakout defensive star in Luke Filger; expected key pieces with a season cut short due to injury in center Grant Gomel and Spencer Cupp; cogs in a completely rebuilt offensive line like Jesse Schillinger and Colby Guffey; first-year contributors Joey Schultz and Kevin Hughes; viable reserves Dalton Hendricks, Tryce Brooks, Tae Bailey, Luke Reynolds, and Khaner Swanson; and Jaxson Crowley, unable to play all season due to injury.
Moving forward, Platte County might not compete in Class 5 every season, but this year’s team showed the Pirates belong regardless of level. The expectation now becomes to compete for a state title as often as possible, no matter the circumstances.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Utz said. “I think we purposely do a good job of culture. I think we purposely do a good job of helping to develop the individual as well as the athlete. Expectations do a lot. When the group ahead of you does something well, you want to match it.
“Again, you’re talking about great kids and a great community that has high expectations in themselves every day. … Hopefully, those expectations stay there.”