Not again

Steve Bubalo/PrepsKC

By Steve Bubalo PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: October 22, 2016 - 12:14 AM

A week after getting shut out for the first since the first game of the season, Oak Grove made sure early on in its district-opener at Pleasant Hill that it wasn’t going to happen again.

Kenton Wilhoit took off for a 55-yard run to the house on the Panthers first drive of the game and just like that, they were off to the races and on their way to a 45-22 victory to keep their season alive.

“It felt really good,” Wilhoit said of the early score. “We had a lot of motivation in practice this week. We started rolling. We kept the momentum and kept our foot on the gas. The offensive line did a phenomenal job tonight.”

Oak Grove head coach Pat Richard said finishing drives was the problem last week against Grain Valley, but it clearly didn’t carry over.

“This week we scored from deep so we didn’t have to worry about the finishing part,” he said. “We ran the ball exceptionally well early. Kenton was back (from an injury) and he makes such a big difference for our offense.”

With the Oak Grove defense doing its part early - they forced four early punts and a turnover on downs - the offense was able to find a nice rhythm.

Quarterback Jaxon Althaus kept the ball rolling when he found Chase Alexander from 37 yards out for a touchdown, which was followed up by another long Wilhoit scoring run - this one from 59 yards - on Oak Grove’s next possession to make it 21-0 early in the second quarter.

Althaus and Alexander had to keep pace with Wilhoit, matching his two scores with another of their own, this time as they hooked up from 17 yards out and went ahead 29-0 after the two-point conversion.

“It makes us a lot more diverse on offense,” Richard said of the passing game doing its part. “Jaxon is playing so well. And having Chase is such a weapon. He had himself a game.”

Speaking of Alexander, he struck again after Pleasant Hill got on the scoreboard and made it 29-7, as he returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown to make it 37-7.

The Roosters made things interesting briefly in the second half. After cutting the deficit to 37-15 by halftime on a 5-yard Casey Gifford touchdown run, Gifford would strike again for a 47-yard score on the offenses first play in the second half to make it 37-22.

A mishandled punt on the following Oak Grove possession gave Pleasant Hill the ball back on the Panther 45, but on a third-and-15 play, backup quarterback Blake Atkins was nearly sacked by Oak Grove’s Tyler Curd. Instead of sacking Atkins, Curd just took the ball from him and rumbled his way down to the Rooster 9-yard line.

“I wanted him to score,” Wilhoit said with a laugh. “He’s always talking about how he wants to run the ball and he finally got a chance and came up just short. It was a great play by him.”

While Oak Grove was unable to capitalize on the immediate possession following Curd’s play, turning the ball over on downs, it shifted the field position in their favor. Alexander would get the first of his two interceptions three plays later and return it to the Rooster 4.

One play later, Jake Jackson scored from 4 yards out for a 45-22 lead.

“The defense took away a lot of things they like to do,” Richard said. “They made so many plays in the second half.”

For about two-and-a-half quarters the Panther defense faced Atkins, who took over for starter Dalton Bach who injured his elbow making a tackle on defense. Bach tried to return but was clearly not himself and had his right arm in a sling by halftime.

“We had some key injuries already coming in, and then we lost our quarterback and our top two wide receivers by the end of the game,” Smith said. “Our offense became limited. But we got a glimpse of the future with Blake. He came in and played well.

“… We dug ourselves a bit of a hole. It’s difficult to beat a time like Oak Grove two times. You have to give them credit. They were outstanding on both sides.”

The Roosters season came to an end with a 4-6 record. The Panthers improved to 5-5 on the year and will now face a very stiff test next week in third-ranked Center.

“They have a lot of speed,” Richard said. “It’s going to be a good test for us.”