WEBB CITY, Mo. — Platte County didn’t quite extinguish the clock and left just enough time for some dramatics.
Forced into predictable pass situations out of the normal comfort of the veer option, Webb City needed big chunks of yards in a hurry. The Cardinals drew a pair of personal foul penalties to reach midfield in the final 38 seconds of Saturday’s Class 5 quarterfinal, but a final pass attempt from reserve quarterback Eli Goddard while in the grasp of Pirates senior defensive linemen Alex Stearns and Forrest Boynton fluttered harmlessly to the turf at Cardinal Stadium.
Platte County senior quarterback Chris Ruhnke threw three touchdowns, including a 9-yarder on fourth and goal to senior wide receiver Colby Rollins with 5 minutes, 58 seconds left to provide the final lead change in a 24-21 victory over No. 2-ranked Webb City. The Pirates then came up with a pair of stops to topple one of the state’s most revered and successful programs.
“This whole year has been awesome with this new group of guys. I don’t know. I’m at a loss for words,” said Ruhnke, who went 19 of 46 for 218 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. “It’s awesome, especially moving up classes to go back to the state championship (game) again.”
The two teams met in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
Webb City won a 21-18 thriller in a 2017 Class 4 semifinal, and the Cardinals romped to a 48-0 victory in last year’s Class 4 Show-Me Bowl. Both teams moved up to Class 5 this season to set up the possibility of a unique rematch.
The third matchup looked much more like the first.
After a scoreless third quarter, Webb City took its first lead of the game in an abnormal manner with senior quarterback Cole Gayman converting a third-and-14 with a 49-yard bomb to wide receiver Cohl Vaden and then adding a 33-yarder to Mekhi Garrard on a second and 17 to set up first and goal at the 4.
Two plays later, Webb City running back Dupree Jackson went into the end zone from 4 yards out to make it 21-17 with 9:25 remaining. The Cardinals had 82 of their 88 passing yards on those two plays, and the Pirates otherwise held the vaunted veer option to 11 yards rushing in the second half.
Yet, Webb City suddenly found itself in position to steal another win late, just as the Cardinals did against Platte County in 2017.
“When it was 21-17, I had some bad déjà vu moments for a second,” said Platte County junior linebacker Trevor Scott, who recorded a team-high 11 tackles.
Ruhnke provided the answer, guiding a 64-yard touchdown drive. He converted third and 4 with an 8-yard pass to senior Joey Schultz (five catches, 66 yards) and third and 4 with a 24-yarder to sophomore Carter Salzman (four catches, 70 yards). Webb City then committed a roughing the passer penalty on fourth and 9 to set up first and goal at the 9.
Two incompletions sandwiched around a scramble for no gain set up fourth and goal for Platte County. After a timeout, Ruhnke looked right and connected with Rollins on the edge of the end zone for the game-winning score.
“It’s kind of crazy,” said Rollins (five catches, 34 yards), who dropped a potential long pass play on the previous drive leading to a punt in the third quarter. “I was beating myself up a little bit. I dropped a wide-open ball, would’ve been a touchdown; I had the beat on him. … Play call was just perfect. We knew what we were gonna do.
“Chris lobbed it up. That guy’s been talking smack all game so it was nice to get him back.”
Webb City (11-2) immediately faced a fourth and 6 at its own 29 and went for it rather than punting. Gayman’s pass fell incomplete, and Ruhnke scrambled for an initial first down on a fourth and 9 to finish with 36 yards rushing on seven carries before the Pirates turned it over on downs with just 25 seconds left and the Cardinals at their own 15.
On the next three snaps, Platte County’s defense harassed Gayman, who lost his helmet on a personal foul penalty forcing Webb City to sub in Goddard for the last two snaps — a roughing the passer penalty and then the final incompletion. The Pirates then rushed the field to celebrate another program-first.
In 2017, Platte County reached the state semifinals for the first time in Class 4 and the first time since winning three straight state titles in Class 3/3A from 2000 to 2002. The Pirates then made their first Class 4 state title game in last year’s runner-up finish and now reached the Class 5 title game in their first-ever season at that level.
“Since I’ve been here, yes,” Utz said when asked if this was the biggest win of his tenure with Platte County. “I won’t take anything away from the state titles, but I would say in my tenure, this is a big one. I mean this is Webb City. Any time you can come in here and beat a Webb City team, then yeah, it’s got to be the biggest.”
Platte County (12-1) now hosts unbeaten and third-ranked Jackson (13-0) in the Class 5 Show-Me Bowl at 1 p.m. next Saturday at Ray Hentges Field on the campus of Helias High School in Jefferson City. The Pirates will enter off of a monumental victory for the program.
In the immediate aftermath of the win, Utz wanted to celebrate what reaching this point in the season meant to everyone associated with the Platte County program. Pirates fans packed the stands for the game with no attendance restrictions in Webb City.
“I’m happy for the kids; I’m happy for our program, too — not just this team but our program,” Utz said. “We finally get a game where everybody can be here, and I’m happy for the community. We all need this. For us to be able to come out on top, it’s very satisfying.”
While the offense authored a third comeback in the span of four games, Platte County continues to rely heavily on an increasingly confident defense.
Webb City entered having scored at least 28 points in every game but didn’t come close to reaching that number this time. Platte County’s defensive line looked much different than the one gashed for more than 400 yards on the ground in last year’s state title game loss. Pirates senior defensive tackle Keaton Smith keyed the balanced effort with four tackles and a half sack from the middle, while Stearns also held position well with a pair of stops.
Boynton (two tackles, one for loss, and 1½ sacks) and junior defensive end Jaydon Walls (five tackles, two for loss) benefited, as did junior linebacker Trevor Scott, who recorded a team-high 11 tackles and a pass breakup in his first game since being named the Suburban Conference Blue Division defensive player of the year.
Platte County’s defensive backs were also disciplined with junior Cade Fowler adding seven tackles (one for loss), including tripping up Vaden on his 49-yard reception to prevent a big-play touchdown. Pirates senior Luke Filger added five tackles and two sacks from his in-the-box safety spot, while senior safety Collin Tyson continued his strong postseason play with four tackles and three quarterback pressures, and sophomore cornerback Garrett Smith added four tackles and a pass breakup.
“The whole mantra of the year was to be fearless, and it was based on this game, against these guys,” Utz said. “For us to step up and take that challenge on right from the start, I couldn’t be more proud of the way they prepared and came out and executed.”
Platte County bolted to a 14-0 lead with Ruhnke throwing a 15-yard touchdown pass to Salzman on the Pirates’ opening possession to make it 6-0 following a botched snap on the extra point, and the pair hooking up again early in the second quarter 16-yard scoring play. Webb City gained an initial first down on its first possession before punting and then fumbled the ball away on each of its next two possessions — both times deep in Pirates territory.
Filger delivered a crushing blow to Gayman on a blindside rush to force the first fumble, but Ruhnke threw the first of his three interceptions on the very next play to negate the momentum. Webb City senior star running back Devrin Weathers then busted a 30-yard run to create a goal-to-go situation at the Pirates’ 4 with a chance to the score. Instead, Tyson stripped him at the 1.
Platte County senior defensive end Forrest Boynton recovered both loose balls, falling on the second in the end zone for a touchback that led to an 80-yard scoring drive, capped with Ruhnke’s second touchdown to Salzman.
“Both of those plays, I broke the pocket, and I found him just sitting wide open in the end zone,” said Ruhnke, who scrambled in for the two-point conversion after the second touchdown to render the earlier special teams miscue irrelevant.
Webb City eventually erased the 14-point deficit with long touchdown runs on consecutive offensive snaps.
The teams traded punts early in the second quarter, and Platte County’s from Ruhnke pinned Webb City at its own 2. Weathers broke off an 82-yard touchdown run three snaps later after taking an option pitch to make it 14-7 with 4:46 left in the half. The Pirates then went three-and-out, and after a short punt, Weathers went 38 yards up the middle and into the end zone on a counter play to make it 14-14 with 3:32 left in the half.
A key series followed with Platte County draining the remainder of the clock and also putting up points. Ruhnke converted an initial third and 6 with an 11-yard completion to Schultz, and senior running back Cayden Davis made big runs on a third and 7 and fourth and 3 to keep the drive moving.
A personal foul facemask penalty on Webb City negated a sack and moved the ball to the 21 with 3 seconds left in the half. The Cardinals took their final two timeouts to try and ice Platte County junior Cole Rhoden, but he calmly booted the 38-yarder through the uprights — similar to a kick he made against Staley two weeks earlier in the Class 5 District 8 title game — to send the Pirates into halftime with a 17-14 lead.
“Our defense was playing really well the whole time,” Utz said. “They gave up some big plays that they scored on, obviously, but getting the field goal was big — just to have a lead at halftime. Last time we were down here, we gave up a late score, and we were behind coming out (of the break), and they had the ball, so complete difference in the situation. It completely changed the face of the game.”
Neither team scored in the third quarter with Ruhnke throwing a pair of interceptions that essentially served as long punts, and Rhoden missing a 26-yard field goal that bounced off the left upright.
Webb City simply couldn’t move the ball to take advantage.
Weathers finished with 18 carries for 195 yards for the bulk of Webb City’s 245 rushing yards. He recorded 150 on three of his carries, and the Cardinals other 31 attempts went for a combined 95 yards — right at a 3 yards per carry average. Outside of the two big pass plays, the Pirates were stout enough.
“Second quarter, there were three plays, 3 minutes that we messed up on,” Scott said. “They scored on us, and tied it up. Other than that, (Platte County defensive coordinator Eric Mitchell) just said, ‘3 minutes of bad football.’ Then we came back out here, one pass play got us; we were looking at the line; they threw it over the top.
“But we bounced back, and the offense finished it off for us.”
Davis ran for 90 yards on 27 tough carries to give Platte County enough of a run threat to make Ruhnke even more effective. He spread his 19 completions out to five receivers with senior wide receiver Dayton Mitchell grabbing two passes for 32 yards despite facing regular bracket coverage, and Davis caught three passes out of the backfield for 16 yards. The Pirates held a slight edge in total yards at 344 to 333 but perhaps more importantly, they outsnapped Webb City 80-47.
The production came with the offensive line reshuffled again.
Platte County senior Trey Butcher moved over to center, while junior Joe Nicholson flipped from right tackle to left tackle after spending most of the season at right guard. Pirates senior Cole Guffey came back at his right tackle spot after missing the past two games. Caleb Kelley, a junior, continued to start at left guard and junior Connor Harmon started his third straight game at right guard since moving over from the defensive side of the ball to fill in with Guffey unavailable.
“We just do what’s best for the team. We aren’t really selfish people,” said Butcher, a starter late in his sophomore season, all of last season and the only returning starter up front this season. “We’ll do whatever it takes to get in the situation like we are right now.”