RAYTOWN, Mo. — Raytown’s mistakes piled up and eventually provided too many openings.
Not able to fully take advantage of four turnovers, Platte County still took enough advantage of consistently beneficial field position and pulled away for a 35-12 victory Friday night at Chittwood Stadium in a Suburban Conference White Division matchup that also carried Class 5 District 8 seeding implications. The Pirates trailed the majority of the first half, but a pair of bad snaps on punt attempts — one either side of halftime —helped swing the momentum.
Platte County sophomore quarterback Rocco Marriott threw three touchdowns, while senior cornerback Jordan Burnett returned the second of his two interceptions for a 27-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to provide the final comfortable margin despite more than a few extended periods of uncertainty.
“Gosh no, we won’t apologize,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “You come down here on the road, and you get a win. No team’s just going to let you win, so for us to come in and do that, we’ll take it.”
Platte County turned only one of four total interceptions — two from Burnett and one each for senior cornerback Ayden Watts (two tackles) and sophomore safety Ty Christopher (three tackles plus one for loss) — into points, but the defense also limited Raytown (1-5) to just seven total first downs. Both of the Blue Jays’ touchdowns came on big plays, and they managed just 81 yards of offense on 52 of the 55 snaps that weren’t a direct contributor to the scores.
Continuing a season-long trend of disruptive play, Platte County senior defensive end Tucker McDowell consistently created problems and finished with three tackles plus two for loss, a half sack and a pass breakup. The Pirates were strong up front with junior defensive tackle Kameron Doyle turning in a career night with two tackles for loss and a sack, while junior defensive end Jordan Miller added three tackles.
Platte County’s linebackers were again consistent with junior Darrell Smith (team-high seven tackles plus one for loss), junior Cobe Pollard (six tackles) and senior Seth Martin (two tackles and a half sack) making the majority of plays, while junior Archie Wesley (three tackles) and sophomore Cale Buntz (one tackle) continued to rotate in with mostly front-seven looks.
Still without junior linebacker Trevor Hay (wrist), Platte County benefited from Smith’s return after a one-game suspension but also officially received word junior safety Caden McGhee would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL, meaning Burnett, Watts and junior Taylor Stambersky (five tackles and two pass breakups) rotated at cornerback while Christopher and junior Montez Clemons (five tackles) took the majority of safety reps, although Stambersky factors there, as well. Additionally, the Pirates were without senior rotational defensive lineman Kevin Taylor (ankle), opening up more snaps for sophomore Cooper Hammontree (one tackle).
“It was a one-score game a lot of the way,” Utz said. “For us to fight through that, that will be good for us as we go on this season.”
Yet, Raytown led 6-0 after just three plays. Travon Johnson returned the opening kickoff, and on the second offensive snap, Blue Jays quarterback Talib Williams escaped pressure and scrambled 40 yards for a touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, but the early strike left Platte County, which entered on a two-game losing streak, in an expected hole after just 44 seconds.
Platte County’s first two drives ended with punts — the second after three penalties eventually doomed the Pirates’ possession after reaching Raytown’s 42-yard line. The kick went short and right, and a miscommunication from the coverage team allowed Tylan Carroll to scoop up the ball and go 62 yards on the return that put the Blue Jays just outside the red zone.
Raytown running back Ghustice Brownlee, who finished with 44 yards rushing on nine carries before leaving in the third quarter due to injury, went 21 yards on the next play down to Platte County’s 2.
Williams, who ran for 67 yards, fumbled the next snap and lost 4 yards, only for a facemark penalty on McDowell to advance the ball back to the 3 on second down. Raytown ran for 1 yard on the repeated down but threw incompletions on third and fourth down — the first a pass breakup for Burnett in the end zone — to return the ball to Platte County deep in its own territory.
“It’s a game of momentum, and there for a while, they had all the momentum,” Utz said. “To get that defensive stand and not give up any points was a big moment.”
Platte County used a 29-yard screen from Marriott to sophomore running back Adam Gisler to convert an initial third-and-long, and an 18-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Braiden Stevens put the Pirates just outside the red zone, only to end up with a turnover on downs.
However, the field flipped, and four plays later, an errant snap led to Raytown’s punter being considered down at the Blue Jays’ own 20. Gisler ran for 4 yards on the next snap to put Platte County in the red zone for the first time, and Marriott then hit sophomore wide receiver Tres Baskerville for a 16-yard, catch-and-run touchdown to put the Pirates ahead 7-6 with 1:31 left before halftime.
Marriott and Baskerville have now connected on five touchdowns this year but hooked up for a score for the first time since having at least one in each of the first three games.
“Field position is huge,” Utz said. “We gave up two returns that were bad, missed some tackles and allowed them to make up field position that way. We don’t take our kickers for granted, and by having good kickers over the years, it makes a huge difference, and we saw the difference their struggles made.”
Williams, who finished 4-for-23 passing, threw his first interception moments later with Burnett ranging back for an uncontested over-the-shoulder catch. A block in the back penalty negated his return, and Raytown sacked Marriott on third and fourth down of the resulting possession to avoid giving up back-to-back scores.
Watts picked off a pass on the final play of the first half and attempted to lateral the ball back to a teammate. The return went nowhere, but Platte County went into the break with a lead and the ball coming out of halftime. The Pirates took advantage with Raytown attempting an onside kick that appeared to go backward.
Jack Utz, a sophomore tight end, stopped up the live ball for Platte County, setting up a quick 41-yard touchdown drive that included completions to Baskerville (13 yards) and senior Dawson Mizell (20 yards) that set up Gisler’s 9-yard touchdown run — his seventh on the ground this season and eighth overall with at least one in all six games. The Pirates were suddenly up 14-6.
Raytown immediately went three-and-out, and for the second time, a bad snap on the punt attempt led to a turnover on downs. Two plays later, Marriott found Platte County junior wide receiver Lane Webb behind the defense for a 28-yard touchdown — the first of his career — to increase the advantage to 21-6 with 8:29 left in the third quarter. Webb stretched out for a finger-tip catch that carried him across the goal line for the first touchdown of the Pirates’ season — rushing, receiving or passing — that did not come from a sophomore.
“It’s always good to see kids score touchdowns in big spots,” Bill Utz said. “I’m glad he got one.”
Instead of devolving into a blowout, the game remained tight for much of the second half.
Williams’ two longest completions came on the ensuing drive — the second a tip drill that could have just as easily been an interception that ended up going for a 30-yard touchdown to close the deficit to 21-12 after another failed two-point try after a penalty negated a completion that would have trimmed Platte County’s lead to seven. The Pirates’ offense turned into a collection of near-misses with Marriott eventually finishing 11-for-27 for 157 yards while missing open receivers on a couple of occasions that could have created more separation.
However, Gisler remained consistent and totaled 146 yards rushing on 26 carries, going over the century mark for the fourth time this season.
Platte County’s offensive line remained with the same starting five, although junior Riley Hixson started his second straight game at center with senior Becker Grego shifted over to right guard opposite of junior left guard Drew Doll. Muyonta Maxwell, a senior, remained the staple at left tackle, while senior Gage Fulk continued to start at right tackle after moving over from defense late in the preseason. However, he suffered an ankle injury early, allowing for sophomore Quinn Lightle to substitute into that spot before eventually rotating in at both guard spots after Fulk returned to the field.
Lightle missed the first four games of the season with a knee injury after starting the majority of his freshman season at right tackle.
“You’ve got to keep trying,” Bill Utz said. “The offense is so close, and it’s going to finally click, and when it does, holy heck. That could be something really good. The positive of the whole thing is that when those things (in the passing game) aren’t quite clicking, our running game is still getting stuff done. We’re happy with the way that’s going.”
Marriott completed passes to five Platte County receivers with Baskerville totaling a team-high four catches for 31 yards, while Steven added three for 32 yards. Gisler, Mizell, Webb and sophomore tight end Brooks Hall all finished with one catch. The inconsistencies led to a turnover on downs after Christopher’s interception late in the third quartering a penalty negated a long touchdown run from Gisler in the fourth quarter.
There were 22 penalties enforced overall — 11 on each team.
Hall’s catch came on a fourth and six midway through the fourth quarter. Gisler ran for 31 yards on the short drive, and Marriott found Hall in the right side of the end zone to put the Pirates up 28-12. Three plays later, Burnett went high to pick off a third-down pass from Williams before returning it 27 yards for the game’s final touchdown.
“We saw some things we need to work on, that need to get better,” Bill Utz said. “At the same time, we saw some really great plays. We’ll get better and move on from here.”
Platte County retained the No. 2 spot in the Class 5 District 8 standings by the slimmest of margins over Fort Osage (3-3), which started 0-2. The Pirates had lost in back-to-back weeks to Class 5 No. 3 Grain Valley (5-1) and Class 6 No. 7 Oak Park (6-0) after a perfect start that included victories over Class 4-ranked Kearney (4-2) and Smithville (5-1).
However, the media voters dropped Platte County out of a tie for ninth in the most recent Class 5 poll to 10th after the tighter-than-expected outcome in Week 6. The Pirates now must travel to Belton, which sits at 4-2 with the only losses so far to Fort Osage (50-14) and Grain Valley (43-7).
Platte County likely can’t catch Grain Valley atop the Class 5 District 8 standings but wants to retain the advantage over Fort Osage, which hosts Truman (1-5) this week. The top three teams hold a sizable advantage over No. 4 North Kansas City (2-4), No. 5 William Chrisman (2-4), No. 6 Raytown and No. 7 Winnetonka (1-5).
Going into Week 7, Platte County’s first seven opponents currently have a combined record of 27-15 with only North Kansas City and Raytown having fewer than four wins.