Hot at the right time

Fred Posse/Special to PrepsKC

By Andy Meyer PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: October 22, 2016 - 7:27 AM

Very few teams have successfully slowed down Lee’s Summit’s explosive attack, which has been lighting up scoreboards across the metro area for years.

But Raymore-Peculiar put together a remarkable defensive performance and avenged a prior loss against the Tigers with a 21-7 victory on Friday at Lee’s Summit High School during the first round of the Class 6 District 4 Tournament.

The Panthers (6-4) sprung the upset against their higher-seeded opponent, holding Lee’s Summit to a single-digit point total for the first time since 2013.

“We knew we had to come out and prove ourselves on every down,” Ray-Pec senior Anthony Payne said. “That was our proving point. We had to buck up every single down, and get the job done.

“We just wanted to step up to the plate and take that challenge. And we ran with it.”

Just two weeks ago, Lee’s Summit reeled off its seventh win in a row during a 44-23 victory against the Panthers. But Ray-Pec’s defense proved from the get-go that things would be different this time around.

The Panthers forced a fumble on the Lee’s Summit’s first possession, and made a monumental play when Zerryn Gines intercepted Tigers’ QB Dalton Hill and return it for a pick-six to open the scoring.

“From our standpoint, it totally energized us,” Ray-Pec coach Tom Kruse said.

Raymore-Peculiar added to the lead when Chris McKinzy found a seam on a touchdown run during the second quarter, giving the squad a 13-0 advantage at halftime.

Despite the deficit, Lee’s Summit (7-3) seemed to flip the switch after halftime. The Tigers drove into the red zone on the opening possession of the second half before turning it over on down inside the 5-yard line.

On its next drive, Lee’s Summit converted on two fourth down plays and pulled within a single possession, 13-7, after Preston Whitworth’s touchdown scamper late in the third quarter. The Tigers then blocked a field goal and took possession with the chance to tie or take the lead.

But that’s when Ray-Pec took control for good.

The Panthers forced an immediate three-and-out and then went to work on a methodical drive that chewed up 6 minutes off the clock and resulted in a game-clinching touchdown run from quarterback Grant Ardito.

The crucial, fourth-quarter drive featured some tough running from senior running back Trent Mitchell, who returned from injury and rushed for 162 yards on 25 carries. McKinzy also played a big factor, rushing for 66 yards on 22 attempts.

“There late in the game, the ability to keep getting first downs,” Kruse said. “It was kind of old-school, but it was effective.

“I thought our effort was gutsy, and our seniors were good leaders for us.”

Ray-Pec forced its fourth turnover on the ensuing kickoff return, not even allowing Lee’s Summit a chance to get back in the game. Three lost fumbles and an interception prevented the Tigers from getting into a groove.

Hill still threw for 129 yards and rushing for another 37, while Salvatore Garozzo led the Tigers with 49 rushing yards.

Coming off a victory against Blue Springs the week before, Payne said Panthers have pulled together down the final stretch of the season, and that unity is one of the biggest factors behind the turnaround after the defeat against Lee’s Summit just 14 days earlier.

“I think it’s been the way we’ve been able to jell together,” Payne said. “That’s been something we’ve been able to depend on, and that’s made a difference.”

Kruse praised the resilience of his team, and he said he’s thrilled to see the team continue its season by banding together and turning in a complete effort with its season on the line.

“We had an awesome bonfire last night with the team, and the seniors got up to speak, each one of them individually,” Kruse said. “It was pretty powerful, and we were able to use that energy.

“And we’re going to need it again next week.”