Rivalry renewed

PrepsKC staff

By Cole Young PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: August 21, 2015 - 11:05 PM

After years of lopsided victories, it’s fair to say the rivalry between Belton and Raymore-Peculiar is back.

The Panthers overcame halftime deficit to beat Belton 43-35 in their home opener. And while some may have seen the close score as a surprise, Ray-Pec head coach Tom Kruse wasn’t one.

With his son Cole, a senior on the team, he’s seen how close in talent the two teams have been the last five years.

“I think in eight grade we beat them 14-12 and in ninth grade it was around 20-18,” Kruse said. “So I knew if their group of talent stayed together, they were going to be a tough team.”

The group of talent Kruse is referring to is led by a massive offensive line and bruising running back Zach Willis, who finished the night with three touchdown runs of 79, 26 and 20 yards.

It was the run from 79 yards that started a momentum swing in the Pirates direction that was almost too much for Ray-Pec.

“Zach has been a varsity football player for three years and wants to have a big year and our offensive line did some good things for him tonight,” Belton coach Todd Vaughn said.

Willis’ touchdown put Belton ahead 35-30 midway through the third quarter. On the ensuing kickoff the Pirates recovered the kick, the second time they were able to do that in the opener.

With the ball and a five-point lead, things would get no better for Belton.

Ray-Pec’s defense stiffened forcing a punt. From there they’d drive 99 yards to eventually score on a five-yard pass from Kory Linaweaver to James Sappington.

It was one of four passes the duo connected on, including one of 54 yards.

That was just part of the big night for Sappington who finished with 124 receiving yards along with converting three field goals of 49,39 and 35. In all he contributed 19 points to the win.

Kruse couldn’t help by smile when he discussed Sappington’s night.

“He’s a weapon,” he said.

It was easy to be relaxed after pulling off the victory, but things looked much more tense, especially trailing 28-27 at halftime.

For the players on the Ray-Pec side however, they expected nothing less.

“They are our rival game,” Sappington said. “Playing them in any sport is always going to be close. Beating them and coming down the wire, a lot of character was built.”

Meanwhile for Belton, the game provided some of the first varsity experience to members of the offense.

“We didn’t start a receiver that had any varsity experience and started a center that has never played before,” Vaughn said. “I’m proud of our kids, we laid a good foundation. “