While continuously dealing with a string of injuries to important players on offense, Platte County continues to find playmakers at opportune times. County junior wide receiver Dayne Wimberly as the most recent to grasp the starring role.
Platte County’s junior wide receiver turned all three of his catches in Friday’s Class 5 District 8 opener into the first three touchdowns of his career. He hauled in a Hail Mary from senior quarterback Jared Parsons in the end zone on the final play of the first half to give the Pirates the lead back against upset-minded St. Joseph Central, and the pair connected again twice in the fourth quarter as they pulled away for a 38-17 victory to keep the season alive.
The final margin ended up closer than many would have expected, but second-seeded Platte County (8-2) advanced to host North Kansas City (4-6) in a Class 5 District 8 semifinal this week with no one playing a bigger role than Wimberly, who played offense as a sophomore but moved to defensive back to start this season before finding his way back to wide receiver out of necessity.
“Never could’ve imagined it. That was so surreal,” Wimberly said.
Platte County’s defense entered having allowed eight points or fewer in each game of a four-game winning streak and with three shutouts to its credit. Seventh-seeded Central (1-9), which entered on a four-game losing streak, caused problems through a successful quick passing game that eventually opened up some running lanes.
Still minus key pieces, Platte County’s offense responded with 414 yards in one of the best performances of the season. The Pirates were without sophomore right tackle Muytonta Maxwell (concussion), and senior center Connor Harmon didn’t start in his return after missing one game due to COVID-19 protocols. The offensive line did welcome back junior right guard Braden Parker, although Harmon replaced him at that spot for the second half, while junior Sage Lutz started at center for a second straight week and junior Jackson Eller replaced Maxwell at right tackle.
With only seniors Caleb Kelley (left guard) and Joe Nicholson (left tackle) in normal spots up front, Platte County junior running back Nate Walls ran for a career-high 127 yards on 19 carries — his fourth straight game over the century mark — and a touchdown, while junior running Ben McDaniel returned after missing the past three games with a shoulder injury and added three rushing attempts for 17 yards and another score, while hauling in three passes for 52 more yards.
Platte County remained especially thin at wide receiver with senior Cole Rhoden returning to kicking-only duties after suffering a broken collarbone four weeks earlier and junior Tristan Magnuson out for the season after suffering the same injury in last week’s regular season finale vs. Lansing, but Parsons finished an efficient 12-for-21 for 213 yards and three scores, all to Wimberly. The Pirates continued to give more snaps to senior tight ends Brody Fulk (two catches, 27 yards) and Chandler Steinmeier, but Wimberly made the most of playing as the No. 2 target alongside junior wide receiver Carter Salzman (five catches, 70 yards).
Wimberly totaled a team-high 93 yards on his three touchdowns.
“We’ve had several games where the running game got going, and it was nice to see it continue to go,” Utz said. “Jared made some nice plays. You can’t not mention Dane having a great night at receiver. We were able to make some plays, and that’s good.”
Still, Central hung close and tied the score at 10-10 with 1 minute, 44 seconds left in the fi
rst half on a 38-yard scoring connection between junior quarterback Stone Wetlaufer to juniors wide receiver Asher Katakis.
Platte County took over with time for a response, but when three-and-out and immediately punted the ball back. After an initial first down, Central started using timeouts, but Pirates senior defensive end Jaydon Walls sacked Wetlaufer on two of the next three plays to halt the drive.
“Jaydon likes to keep things going,” said Platte County senior linebacker Trevor Scott, who finished with six tackles, two sacks and two blocked punts. “Once he got one, he wanted another one. He was on (Wetlaufer) all night.”
Platte County took a timeout with 8 seconds left, and Central’s punt traveled just 12 yards out of bounds and left just enough time for one play at the Indians’ 37. Parsons took the snap with 3 seconds on the clock and threw a pass up the right seam that at first appeared to overshoot his targets.
Instead, Wimberly’s long strides brought him into the end zone where he stopped and outjumped three Central defenders for a touchdown. Platte County ended up taking a 17-10 lead into halftime and avoided a scenario of allowing the Indians to go into the break tied and taking the opening kickoff of the third quarter with a chance to take the lead.
“We were talking about it on the sideline about taking one last shot,” Wimberly said. “Jared was looking at me on the snap, and I just figured one big one, just go up and get it. When I went up and I felt it in my arms and I came down, I thought it was going to come out, but I was on the ground and it was in my hands. I was just really excited I got it.”
The momentum didn’t last, and Central drove 80 yards for another tying touchdown in under 4 minutes. Gabe Fields, a freshman running back, accounted for 39 of his team-high 57 rushing yards on the march and caught a 1-yard touchdown on a jump pass to the score again at 17-17.
Platte County inserted Harmon at right guard for Parker, who missed the past two games and continued to deal with a nagging hip injury, and provided an immediate impact. Nate Walls capped a quick touchdown drive with a tackle-breaking 48-yard touchdown run around right end to make it 24-17 and put the Pirates ahead for good.
“All of our offensive line have been (important),” Wimberly said.
Platte County immediately forced a three-and-out, but Central’s stout senior linebacker Matthew Caudill intercepted Parsons on the next play to give the Indians the ball back in plus territory.
A pair of holding penalties marked off from the spot of the foul in the backfield plus a pass for a 2-yard loss immediately backed Central into second and 50 and then third and 50. Scott then blocked his second punt of the game, and the Pirates recovered at the Central 39 —28 yards further up field from where the they took over before Parsons’ interception.
Five plays later on the first snap of the fourth quarter, Parsons lofted a well-placed ball to find Wimberly just behind a pair of defenders for a 26-yard touchdown that put Platte County up 31-17 with a two-possession advantage for the first time.
“All week, I’ve been saying I was going to block a couple of punts tonight,” Scott said. “It was fun. I liked it.”
The opportunistic defense then reemerged to help close out the win.
Platte County junior cornerback Garrett Smith-Dean picked off Wetlaufer two plays later for his sixth interception of the season, a week after a questionable penalty negated his third pick-six of the season in the win over Lansing.
A 26-yard completion from a scrambling Parsons to McDaniel down the field set up a goal-to-go situation, but four straight running plays from Nate Walls didn’t result in a touchdown. The Pirates snapped the ball to Nate Walls on the fourth-down play after an offsides penalty put them just outside the 1-yard line, but his sweep to the right came up just short of the goal line and resulted in a turnover on downs.
On Central’s next play, Platte County junior Mar’Ques Brown and sophomore Kohry Woessner — the Pirates’ starting defensive tackles — provided pressure up the middle and forced Wetlaufer to throw to the left off of his back foot. A deflected pass resulted in a diving interception for Platte County junior Cameron Wolfe, who recorded a pair of fumble recoveries a week earlier against Lansing.
Two plays later and after a penalty wiped out a Nate Walls run back to just outside of the goal line, Parsons hit Wimberly down the right side and behind the defense again for a 30-yard touchdown to account for the final points of the game. Central wouldn’t challenge again, and Platte County junior reserve Dylan Zimmerman went 1-for-2 on the final drive with a 22-yard completion to junior reserve wide receiver Brennan Rich to allow the Pirates to kneel out the final seconds and move on after avoiding a serious upset bid from the Indians.
“St. Joseph Central has some really good players,” Utz said. “They’re probably the best one-win team we’ve seen in a long time. We knew there were going to be some issues. With what they bring to the table, they were able to get some things going. As I told the kids, the first game in the postseason is always the hardest. It just is. I don’t care about the scenario.
“So you get that one out of the way, and it doesn’t matter how as long as we get to advance, and we do.”
Platte County’s fast start after taking the opening kickoff indicated the potential for the game to play out in a different way. Parsons dropped an over-the-shoulder pass to Salzman for 20 yards that ended with him pushed out of bounds at the 2, and McDaniel plowed into the end zone from 2 yards out on the next play for his first touchdown since scoring two in a 35-3 Week 2 blowout of Kearney to open a quick 7-0 lead after the first of Rhoden’s five successful extra points.
McDaniel had all three of his rushing attempts on the opening drive before adding his three catches after halftime, having been limited or out due to his shoulder injury since Week 4. He raced off the field giving out high-fives to teammates and coaches after the initial score, clearly relishing his time back on the field.
“It was really awesome because we thought his season would be over as a senior,” Wimberly said of McDaniel. “It was just awesome to see him come back and score one (more) touchdown. Starting with a touchdown is always big energy, so I was just really excited, especially for Ben being a senior doing it.”
Central answered with a lengthy drive that ended with 33-yard field goal from senior Gary Elder to cut the lead to 7-3. Rhoden then went just 1-for-3 on file goal attempts on Platte County’s next three drives to give the Indians an opportunity to hang around.
Platte County’s second possession ended a miss from 25 yards out on a kick the coaches were adament slipped inside the left upright. Central received its first chance to take the lead but immediately but went three-and-out, and Scott blocked a punt that senior safety Landon Fulk recovered down field. The Pirates could only muster a 36-yard Rhoden field goal despite taking over in Indians’ territory.
Jaydon Walls and Scott recorded sacks on another Central three-and-out, and Salzman’s weaving 21-yard punt return gave Platte County good field position again. Rhoden missed from 35 yards this time, keeping the score stuck at 10-3 with 3:20 left in the first half.
Wetlaufer completed three chunk passes on the ensuring drive, capped with a scramble to the right before finding Katakis running left away from a defender. Katakis caught the pass at full stride and raced 38 yards for a touchdown to bring the Indians even at 10-10 with 1:44 left in the half.
“The feeling on that first drive was almost that it was too easy,” Utz said. “And then Central did what a team is going to do, especially in a scenario where it’s win or go home, they’re going to fight, and that’s what they did. I’ll give them credit. They came out, made some plays, kept it interesting and gave us everything we wanted — especially in the first half.”
Platte County’s defense allowed double-digit points for just the third time this season and first since a 20-10 loss in Week 5 to Class 4 No. 1-ranked Smithville (9-0). The other came in a 42-14 season-opening loss to Class 6 District 4 top seed Park Hill South (10-0).
The final margin of victory ended up relatively close despite nine sacks, two blocked punt and two turnovers.
Platte County senior Cade Fowler finished with a team-high eight tackles, while senior linebacker Blaine Keuhn added four tackles. The Pirates’ defensive line applied consistent pressure with junior defensive end Chandavian Bradley’s four tackles and a sack bookending Jaydon Walls’ three-sack, two-tackle (one for loss) performance. Woessner turned in the best game of his career with two tackles, a sack and a pass defensed, while Brown recorded a half sack.
In addition, Platte County sophomore defensive lineman Tucker McDowell came up with 1 1/2 sacks.
The effort up front eventually helped limit Wetlaufer, who finished 13 for 30 for 179 yards, to just four completions in the second half. Smith-Dean totaled four tackles (one for loss) and two passes defensed in addition to his interception, and Wolfe (two tackles, one for loss) also knocked away a pair of passes in coverage.
Landon Fulk (two tackles) also recorded a pass defensed from his safety spot.
“We were making small mistakes, and every time we made a mistake, they made a stride,” Scott said. “We’re just so used to turning the ball over, giving the offense another chance. First half, we didn’t really do that so we knew we had to pick it up double time in the second half, and that’s what we did.”
The challenge continues against North Kansas City, District 8’s No. 3 seed with a deceiving losing record due to a touch schedule.
Platte County and North Kansas City have met three times the past two years in an erratic series of results with the Pirates taking the last two. North Kansas City overcame a 31-7 deficit with a nearly incomprehensible combination of defensive and special teams scores in the second half of a 42-37 in last year’s regular season meeting. Platte County came back to win the rematch in a District 8 semifinal 24-17 in a matchup that went down to the final snaps.
Back in Week 4, Platte County prevailed 29-0 against the then-No. 5 ranked Hornets to start a span of three shutouts in four games that also included the loss to Smithville.
“Northtown is a very good team. We know that,” Utz said. “It’s just a matter of getting ourselves prepped and coming out to play.”
Parsons played well in his fourth career start while facing a stout North Kansas City pass rush based around three Division I recruits on the defensive line. He went 11-for-22 for 173 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers, while Nate Walls totaled two touchdowns — one rushing and one receiving. McDaniel originally injured his shoulder in that game, and Nate Walls emerged as the primary ballcarrier in the weeks that followed. Most recently, he totaled 451 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns the past four games, including back-to-back games with four touchdowns on the ground against Raytown South and Lansing.
Platte County can likely count on the defense playing well but will need another responsible performance from the offense to have any shot at another home game after this Friday. A loss would end the season after back-to-back state championship game berths (Class 4 in 2019 and Class 5 in 2020), and the Pirates could travel to No. 1 seed Fort Osage (8-1) in the title game or host fourth-seeded Staley (3-6) depending on the outcome of the semifinals.
“It’s kind of gotta-be-there in the moment type of thing,” Scott said. “We’re all ready, just gotta have a strong week and focus up at practice.”