The first and third quarters of Friday’s annual Highway 92 Showdown rivalry game featured exchanges of long, time-consuming drives resulting in little. The second and fourth quarters belonged to Platte County and featured big plays that led to a third straight rout in a series that suddenly belongs to the Pirates after years of chasing Kearney from behind.
Platte County junior cornerback Garrett Smith returned one of his two interceptions for a touchdown, and senior linebacker Blaine Keuhn added another pick-six late against error-prone Kearney senior quarterback Ian Acosta in the home opener at Pirate Stadium. The Pirates added a historic, record-setting 99-yard touchdown completion from senior quarterback Jared Parsons to senior wide receiver Cole Rhoden in the second quarter on the way to a convincing 35-3 win that quickly erased any lingering doubts from a Week 1 loss.
Having long struggled against Kearney, Platte County retained the traveling trophy given annually to the winner of this matchup, celebrating long after the final snap to add the orange 2021 sticker to the Highway 92 road sign. The Pirates have outscored Kearney 121-31 in the last three meetings (51-14 in 2019 and 35-14 in 2020).
This time around, Platte County trailed 3-0 early in the first quarter, but Smith’s pick-six became the go-ahead touchdown in what ended up a comfortable — and important — victory coming off a rare season-opening loss.
“Just amazing. The momentum went up; everything about our morale went up,” Smith said. “We’re a better team out of it, and all we can do is build from here.”
Platte County scored 35 unanswered points, mostly thanks to the defense harassing Acosta into four turnovers — three interceptions and a fumble — and limiting Kearney to just 210 yards of offense on 72 plays (2.9 yards per play). Pirates junior defensive end and Division I-recruit Chandavian Bradley recorded three sacks and applied pressure that led to one each for junior defensive tackle Blake Rueckert and senior linebacker Trevor Scott, who added four tackles (two for loss).
Opposite of Bradley’s speed rush, Platte County senior defensive end Jaydon Walls totaled four tackles, five quarterback pressures and a pass defense to keep Acosta mostly contained.
“Chandavian was able to get to him a couple of times,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “Honestly, what doesn’t get seen on that is the setup on the other side. Jaydon did a great job of beating his guy to where the quarterback has to move a little bit, and Chandavian’s there to clean it up. That tandem’s a pretty good tandem.”
Forced into predictable passing situations, Acosta finished 7-for-25 passing for 83 yards and wound up with only 22 yards rushing on 25 attempts after the five sacks and five tackles for loss were factored into his total total. Kearney senior running back KJ Smith led the Bulldogs’ offense with 79 yard-earned yards on 20 carries.
Platte County junior safety Cameron Wolfe and senior safety Landon Fulk recorded a team-high nine tackles apiece, while Keuhn came up with six tackles (two for loss) in addition to his defensive touchdown, the first of his career. Other top tacklers for a balanced unit were senior safety Cade Fowler (five tackles, one pass breakup) and Smith (three tackles, one pass breakup).
“I thought the defense stepped up,” Utz said. “Garrett came back with the pick-six that kind of opened things up and turned things up, gave us on offense a little bit of a cushion, if you will. And then I think the offense did a nice job, got things rolling.”
The two teams exchanged nearly 6-minute drives in the first quarter that amazingly resulted in just three points total.
Platte County took the opening kickoff, and Parsons deployed an efficient short passing game in the first possession of his second career start. He completed five passes to Rhoden and another to junior Tristan Magnuson for 10 yards in what became a 13-play drive. However, the Pirates settled for a 34-yard field goal attempt that Rhoden uncharacteristically shanked left with 6 minutes, 3 seconds left in the first quarter.
Kearney (0-1), which did not play last week due to COVID-19 protocols, responded with a long drive of its own, and a 34-yard scramble from Acosta on third-and-long gave the Bulldogs a first-and-goal at the 3.
Platte County held with Keuhn and junior defensive tackle Mar’Ques Brown wrapping up Kearney’s quarterback in the backfield on a third down run. The Bulldogs then converted a 25-yard field goal Braxton Breedlove to take 3-0 lead.
Kearney wouldn’t score again and threw two interceptions and punted twice in four possessions during the second quarter.
“It was a really good stop at the end of the day,” Smith said. “I mean, yeah, we gave up points, but it was a long drive. To give up three like that and be able to put up a score like that, it’s OK.
Kearney appeared to have the momentum after taking a lead against Platte County for the first time since winning the 2018 matchup. The Bulldogs forced a punt after Parsons completed an initial 14-yard pass to Magnuson, who finished with two catches for 24 yards, to convert a third and 9 before throwing three straight incompletions. The Pirates kicked the ball away on the first play of the second quarter, but seconds later found themselves with a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
On first down, Acosta faked a handoff and threw out to the right, but Smith read the play and jumped the route. He intercepted the pass and raced 29 yards untouched for his third career interception return for a touchdown in his 16th career game.
“He was going an RPO, and I was waiting for him to pull it back,” Smith said. “As soon as he pulled it back, I knew he was throwing its so I just read it like a book.”
Kearney drove into Platte County territory for a second time on its third possession but quick-kicked a punt on a fourth down. The ball rolled dead at the Pirates’ 1.
On the next play, Parsons dropped back in his own end zone and lofted a pass from the back of the end zone to Rhoden, who streaked up the seam from the right slot and behind the defense. Kearney senior defensive back John Timchak made a late recovery to contest the catch, but Rhoden snared the ball off of his arm and broke away for a 99-yard touchdown.
“(Kearney) was playing up, and they weren’t expecting, obviously, because there was no one in the back,” said Rhoden, who had six catches for 137 yards in the first half and finished with team-highs of seven catches for 135 yards. “Jared just threw up a great ball, and I went up and got it and then got away for a touchdown.”
For the second straight week, Platte County put up a non-offensive touchdown and then a 90-plus-yard touchdown pass from Parsons to Rhoden, but this time the combination led to a win.
A week earlier, Platte County gave up 28 unanswered points in a 42-14 loss to Park Hill South (2-0), which moved up from Class 5 to Class 6 this season and ranked No. 9 in this week’s Missouri Media state poll. The Pirates lost their season opener for the first time since 2008 but bounced back to avoid starting 0-2 for the first time since that same season 13 years ago.
“I hope this brings us together more,” said Rhoden, who has recorded his first two career 100-yard receiving games in back-to-back weeks to start 2021. “Because I feel like we played more like a team today. Hopefully, we’ll just carry that on to next week.”
Up 14-3, Platte County allowed another drive to reach the red zone, but after a procedure penalty, Kearney faced a first and 15 from the 22. Two plays later, Acosta tried a screen pass over the middle, and Smith again read the play for his second interception, which he also nearly returned for a score. His legs locked up on him as he reached the Bulldogs 40 causing him to trip up, but officials had called an extremely questionable hold on Walls during the return as he blocked Acosta to the ground.
“I expect the ball. The ball comes to me, I’m going to make a play. That’s all that happens,” Smith said.
Platte County needed just six plays to go 58 yards with senior running back Ben McDaniel extending the Pirates’ advantage to 21-3 after breaking around the left end on a counter play that resulted in his first touchdown of the season. Kearney’s final drive of the first half resulted in nothing with Bradley, who finished with three tackles, recorded his first sack of the season and the game to stall the Bulldogs out.
With the score 21-3 coming out of halftime, two teams then engaged in a contentious back-and-forth third quarter that resulted in no points. However, a series of 15-yard penalties on Kearney helped Platte County drive inside the 5, and on the first play of the fourth quarter, McDaniel barreled into the end zone from 2 yards out for his second score to put the Pirates up 28-3. He finished with a team-high 48 yards rushing on 13 carries.
Kearney held possession three times in the fourth quarter. The first ended with a turnover on downs after Bradley recorded his third sack, the second resulted in a deflected pass that Keuhn intercepted and returned 27 yards untouched for the game’s final points and Wolfe forcing an Acosta fumble against a mostly second-string defense that senior cornerback Dylan Mitchell recovered to effectively end the game.
“It’s so much fun,” Smith said. “Especially to see my boy (Keuhn) get a pick-six, both of us get pick-sixes, defense turn up. It’s just so much fun.”
Parsons finished an efficient 15-for-20 for 212 yards and no turnovers after throwing a pick and losing a fumble in his first start at Park Hill South. Four of his incompletions came on the game’s second drive that resulted in one of just two punts for the Pirates.
“You’re asking a kid to come in with not much experience and expecting him to play error-free right of the gate, and that’s hard to do,” Utz said of Parsons. “I think he’s actually accepted it really well, and he’s doing a great job with it. He literally gets better every week.”
Rhoden caught a touchdown against Kearney for a second straight year, while junior wide receiver Carter Salzman added five catches for 37 yards. Magnuson and Dayne Wimberly (one catch, 16 yards) — a pair of juniors with a chance to carve out a bigger role — were the other two pass-catchers for the Pirates.
Wimberly has oscillated between defense and offense already this year but looks poised to receive more offensive snaps.
“I was really happy for Dayne,” Utz said. “We’ve been kind of trying to find a home for him, and to get him back on offense and to be able to make those plays right of the gate, for him, is great and helps us by giving us another weapon.”
In addition to McDaniel, Platte County junior Nate Walls, a transfer from Park Hill, received two late carries and finished with 8 yards on an impressive first run as he looks to integrate into the offense more. The Pirates looked more balanced and consistent despite being limited to only 41 offensive plays compared to Kearney’s 72.
Platte County again started seniors Joe Nicholson (left tackle), Caleb Kelley (left guard) and Connor Harmon (center) and sophomore Muyonta Maxwell (right tackle) along the experienced but rebuilt offensive line. This time around, Pirates junior Braden Parker received the nod to open the game at right guard, but senior Jaisyn House also received snaps at that spot with junior Sage Lutz also ready to rotate in.
“We got six or seven kids in there that are rotating around, and that’s OK, too,” Utz said. “We need that depth and some ability to move some people around if we need, too. Ben started running a little bit harder; Nate got a carry there late that showed what he can bring to the table, as well. With our defense and what we do now on offense, we have to be able to run the ball.”
All in all, Platte County’s expected defense showed up, while the offense looked more in tune after the Week 1 shellshocked loss. In addition to the rivalry win, the Pirates (1-1) opened Suburban Conference Blue Division play at 1-0 but continued to not receive any votes in the Class 5 Missouri Media state poll despite entering the year off of back-to-back state title game appearances.
Platte County stays in league play this week with a road trip to Grandview (1-1), which dropped from No. 8 to No. 10 in the most recent Class 4 Missouri Media state poll despite a 40-0 loss to Park Hill South on Friday after routing hapless Truman in Week 1. The Pirates have mostly dominated the yearly series with Grandview, but the two teams have split the last two meetings. The Bulldogs scored a Week 9 upset to close the 2019 regular season matchup before Platte County went on a run to the Class 4 state championship game. The Pirates were mostly dominant in last year’s meeting during a season that ended with a state runnerup finish in Class 5, becoming the first team in state history to finish second in different classes in consecutive seasons.
“One of our goals is always to win the opener,” Utz said. “Now with that being said, the opener was a good team; I think we’re going to find out they’re a really good team when we had some new faces against a very quality opponent. One thing we looked at with that, it doesn’t take away anything from what we’re trying to do. It didn’t affect district play or conference play so all the things we have in play are still alive.
“We harped (on the loss) but at the same time didn’t dwell on it to where we made it a big deal.”