As advertised

Todd Nugent/Special to PrepsKC

By Andy Meyer PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: October 15, 2016 - 12:15 AM

High-octane offenses routinely lit up the scoreboard, but it was a key defensive stop that played major role in Kearney’s victory against Platte County on Friday night.

The Bulldogs made a crucial goal-line stand in the third quarter and ultimately held on for a 42-39 win in a matchup of state-ranked teams. In the process, Kearney (8-1) claimed another Suburban Blue league title and seized the No. 1 seed in the Class 4 District 8 bracket.

“It just shows you, never stop. Never give up, right?” Kearney coach Greg Jones said of the defensive stop. “Never, ever, ever give up.”

Second-ranked Kearney, the defending Class 4 state champions, saw its 13-game win streak come to an end the previous week against Staley, and had to contend with a No. 3-ranked Platte County squad that had a chance to clinch a share of the conference title with a win.

After a sluggish first quarter, the contest kicked into gear and resembled a track meet more than a football game at times. The teams combined for five touchdowns and multiple lead changes during a raucous second quarter, when Platte County receiver John Watts hauled in two game-breaking touchdown receptions.

Still, Kearney led at halftime, 28-24, and added another touchdown when quarterback Anthony Pritzel connected with Jess Davis for his second score of the game midway through the third quarter.

Pritzel, who transferred to Kearney from Excelsior Springs before the season, led an explosive Bulldogs’ offense with a balanced attack. He threw for 232 yards, ran for 161 on the ground and enjoyed perhaps his best game in a Kearney uniform to date.

“I feel like we’re getting closer every week,” Pritzel said. “For myself, being new here, I feel like I’m getting that brotherhood bond, especially with my wide receivers.

“I’m definitely getting closer every week.”

Platte County had a chance to pull within one possession but was rebuffed at the goal line late in the third quarter by Kearney’s ferocious defense. The Pirates had three running plays at the one yard line, but came up short and then turned the ball over on downs.

Kearney would soon add another score when Pritzel ran the ball in himself, taking a commanding 42-24 lead, and Jones pointed to the defensive stop as a rallying point for the victory.

“It was huge,” Jones said. “It’s like I told the kids. I had to get them under control because they all wanted to duck their heads when they were down there.

“We’re still winning, boys.”

Still, Platte County refused to go quietly and stormed back in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Justin Mitchell found Dylan Gilbert for two late touchdown strikes, as well as a two-point conversion to pull within three points with less than two minutes remaining.

It appeared the Pirates (6-3) had initially recovered the ensuing onside kick, but Kearney retained possession and ran the clock out thanks to a clutch first-down run from Pritzel.

In his best statistical showing of his stellar career, Mitchell threw for 419 yards and four touchdowns, while Watts enjoyed a monster performance that saw him catch 235 yards and two scores on 10 receptions.

“We’ve been able to put up numbers all year,” Platte County coach Bill Utz said. “In their defense, they stopped our run, so we went to the pass and gave us some opportunities. We took advantage of that.

“... We’re happy with the way we performed, but obviously, it wasn’t enough.”

Not to be outdone, Kearney receiver Jess Davis also hauled in 10 catch for 188 yards and a pair of scores for a Bulldogs’ offense that has made strides throughout the year.

Kearney’s victory not only assured the squad an outright conference crown, but it gave them a vital victory in what could be a preview of the Class 4 District 8 championship game three weeks from now against the Pirates.

Pritzel said the Bulldogs were thrilled to fend off Platte County, and believes they are capable of making even more progress entering postseason play.

“I feel like we can do better than that,” Pritzel said. “That wasn’t even our best game. We’ve got to keep it rolling.”