Double take

Todd Nugent/Special to PrepsKC

By Andy Meyer PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: November 5, 2016 - 12:18 AM

When put to the test, Kearney displayed its championship credentials and took another massive step toward its ultimate goal — winning another state title.

The Bulldogs built a huge lead and then held on tight for a 58-41 victory against Platte County in another instant classic Friday night in the Class 4 District 8 Championship game.

In a battle between two of the best squads in Class 4, the fierce rivals combined for 99 points and more than 1,000 in total offense. Still, Kearney ultimately prevailed in the slugfest thanks to perhaps its most explosive offensive performance to date.

Kearney coach Greg Jones had to sweat out a few nervous moments in the second half, but praised his team for finding a way to make defensive stops when it mattered most.

“That’s the ultimate point, but they’ve got to be foaming at the mouth to win,” Jones said. “We’ve got a target on our back and an our front. Everybody wants Kearney, so we’ve got to go out and defend it.”

Through the first half, it looked like the Bulldogs would run away with the district title.

Kearney scored 24 straight points during a rampant second quarter showing that saw the squad build its lead to 34-3 in the final minute before halftime. The Bulldogs feasted on three turnovers — an interception, a fumble recovery and a muffed kickoff — that resulted in points each time.

Bulldogs’ senior receiver Jess Davis caught a touchdown pass during the stretch and said momentum played a major factor in building the big lead.

“We knew that we could put it to them,” Davis said. “We just had to execute.”

Backed into a corner, Platte County charged out of the locker room with a vengeance.

The Pirates scored touchdowns on their first three possession of the third quarter, and suddenly cut the lead to 10 points — 37-27 — midway through the third quarter.

Senior quarterback Justin Mitchell led the comeback effort, practically taking the team on his shoulders thanks to his electric play-making ability.

Platte County coach Bill Utz challenged his team during halftime and was proud of the way his squad banded together and put unrelenting pressure on Kearney.

“We just didn’t want to end our season that way,” Utz said. “The way that second half went, we wanted to challenge them, make sure we played better and played with more urgency.

“Obviously, they did that, but the hole in the second quarter, we couldn’t get out of it.”

Indeed, the Pirates continued to score points but never got closer than 10 points during the second half thanks to some key plays by Kearney.

Davis’ third and final touchdown during the fourth quarter kept Kearney out in front, and Patrick Connery sealed the victory with a touchdown run with just more than a minute remaining.

In the process, the Bulldogs scored 55 points or more for the third consecutive week. Davis hauled in 213 receiving yards three touchdowns, while senior quarterback Anthony Pritzel threw for 311 yards and six touchdowns, along with 122 rushing yards.

“We’ve built and built as the year’s gone on,” Davis said of the team’s steady offensive improvements. “And it paid off tonight.”

Mitchell put together another outstanding display for the Pirates, throwing for 388 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 95 rushing yards and another two scores on the ground. TJ Guillory (eight catches, 142 yards) and Dylan Gilbert (8-102) both surpassed 100 receiving yards.

Kearney’s defense rose to the occasion in the final stages, holding Platte County scoreless on its final three drives.

Following the game, the Bulldogs seniors accepted the district championship plaque at midfield in front of a boisterous crowd, reveling in the moment. Jones said the team’s ability to regain composure made all the difference, as Kearney advanced to a quarterfinal matchup against Hannibal.

“I’ve been on this group all year about our mental toughness, being able to battle back,” Jones said. “We talked about that, finally got them composed a little bit and settle down. Then we came back and played much better.”