The last time Raytown had the ball Friday night, the Bluejays couldn’t convert a fourth down far from the red zone.
But they did run the clock out on Belton’s season.
Raytown punctuated a night of smash-mouth, up-the-gut football with a 15-play drive in the fourth quarter, soaking up nearly eight minutes and sealing a 14-10 victory in a Class 5 District 7 semifinal at Belton’s Southwick Stadium.
Raytown (8-3) churned out all its offense on the ground and to greater effect than in the Bluejays’ 22-6 loss to the Pirates on Oct. 2. The Bluejays had 122 rushing yards in that game; this time they tallied 194 yards on 41 carries in its 192 total yards of offense.
That’s right: Raytown had minus-2 yards pass on just two attempts.
“We worked and worked at (the running game),” Raytown coach Logan Minnick said. “It took us five or six weeks early in the year to figure out what our identity was. We knew we wanted to run the football, we were just figuring out what was best for personnel and how we wanted to run it.”
Belton (8-2) was in many ways a mirror image of Raytown. The Pirates backfield by committee of Greg Lyles, Dominic Thomas and Ayden Holt combined for 113 of the Pirates’ 154 total yards. And both teams played run-stuffing defense that made all the yards up the middle well-earned.
But Belton was mistake-prone, and that was the difference. Two critical miscues set up both of Raytown’s touchdowns.
“We did some really good things defensively tonight,” Belton coach Todd Vaughn said. “Our defense played their rear ends off. They just got let down by special teams and offense. We turned the ball over on special teams and offense and you can’t do that and expect to beat a quality football team.”
Belton had a 10-7 lead and was moving the ball nicely late in the third quarter until Lyles fumbled the ball at midfield. The ball rolled toward Raytown’s Anthony Stanford, who scooped it up and ran it back to the Pirates’ 15-yard line.
Five plays later, Raytown quarterback Nate Whitebear ran it in from two yards out for his second touchdown and a 14-10 lead in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
“We were planning on airing it out a little bit,” said Whitebear, who finished with 134 rushing yards on 22 carries. “But the running game is what we do.”
And Raytown did it to perfection in running out the fourth quarter. The Bluejays got the ball back after forcing a Belton punt with 8 minutes 29 seconds left in the game and the Pirates wouldn’t touch it again until just 32 seconds remained. In that time the Bluejays marched from their own 22 to the Belton 37 before giving it up on downs with Whitebear accounting for 10 of the 15 plays.
All Belton could do was throw three long passes that fell incomplete.
“Nate Whitebear carried the load for us tonight,” Minnick said. “We were just trying to get three yards, three yards, three yards. That’s all our mentality was that whole fourth quarter.”
Whitebear’s first TD, a 10-yard run up the middle, gave Raytown a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. That score came five plays after Belton bobbled a punt return and the Bluejays recovered the ball on the Pirates’ 24.
Belton pulled within 7-3 with a field goal in the second quarter and took a 10-7 lead on Holt’s 8-yard TD run just before halftime. Holt’s score came three plays after a Whitebear fumble on the Bluejays’ 18.
But the Pirates would score no more, and soon they would watch their remarkable bounce back from last year’s winless season come to an end.
Raytown, meanwhile, could look forward to another rematch, this time with Grain Valley, next Friday for the district title at Grain Valley. Raytown handed Grain Valley its only loss this season, a 21-14 squeaker back on Oct. 16.
“We’re going to go over there and give it our best shot,” Minnick said. “We know it’s going to be a heck of a football game and we’re looking forward to it.”