Platte County hands Liberty its first loss

Todd Nugent/Special to PrepsKC

By Marc Bowman PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: September 23, 2016 - 11:08 PM

Big offensive plays, a strong second-half defense and a blocked punt led the Platte County Pirates to a 38-30 win over the previously-unbeaten and fourth-ranked (Class 5) Liberty Blue Jays Friday.

The Pirates (4-2), ranked fifth in Class 4, trailed 22-21 as the second half began. After the defense forced a Blue Jays (5-1) three-and-out punt, sophomore Jacob Post broke through to block the kick, then recovered the ball in the end zone for a 28-22 lead with 7:51 left in the third quarter.

The game-changing play was “designed.”

“It was a great play,” said Platte County Head Coach Bill Utz. “We saw it, by design. We saw the way they punt. We tried to counter it and luckily he squirted through and was able to make a play and keep the ball in play to where he could recover it.”

“We’ve been preparing for it all week,” Post said of his first-ever touchdown. “We knew that he was going to do some sort of run out, and I got close on the first one. So, he just stayed in the pocket, held it too long, and I just got there in time.”

The blocked kick capped a strong second-half defensive effort by the Pirates. After the Blue Jays had several long first-half drives, Liberty managed just one scoring series in the final half.

“I have great defensive coaches,” Utz said. “The kids did a nice job of taking that and implementing it. We kind of had a little trouble in the first half. We got through that funk a little bit and they responded and did a great job. Liberty’s got a great offensive team, and we knew we had to stop the run. And then when they started throwing the ball that was just another wrinkle we had to throw in there. Once we made those adjustments, I thought the kids stepped up well and obviously put us in a spot where we could get a win.”

“That’s a good football team,” Blue Jays Head Coach Chad Frigon said. “But, bottom line, we can’t come out and do three-and-outs, punt blocked for touchdown, multiple penalties. That really, really hampered what we can do today.”

Platte County got on the board first, with a 40-yard strike from senior Justin Mitchell to junior Jon Watts just 1:48 into the game.

“I studied all week how the DBs played,” Watts said. “I read them right and just ran the best I could and Justin threw a good ball to me.”

Liberty answered with a long pass of their own as junior Thomas Henrichs hit senior Tanner Swenson on fourth-and-goal from the 20, tying the score, 7-7, midway through the first period.

After taking over on downs at the Pirates 45, junior Robert Rawie scored three plays later from 12 yards out for a 13-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Platte County took advantage of Liberty’s fumble at their own 35.

After a blocked 50-yard field goal attempt was nullified by a Blue Jays personal foul, senior Michael McNair scored on an 18-yard run on the next play for a 14-13 lead with 9:03 left in the first half.

“That goes back to the O-line,” Utz said. “Mike’s a good running back. Our O-line played really well tonight and gave him an extra push.”

McNair extended the Pirates lead on the next series, scoring on a 30-yard run for a 21-13 advantage with 5:22 left before intermission.

Once again, the Blue Jays responded. After an intentional grounding call in the Pirates end zone resulted in a safety, Liberty’s Kaiden Hulett returned the ensuing punt 29 yards to the Platte County 44 and Henrichs connected with Swenson again on the next play for a 22-21 lead going into the half.

After Post’s blocked-punt touchdown, the Pirates stretched their lead.

A 36-yard field goal by sophomore Parker Lacina made it 31-22 with 3:23 left in the third quarter, and after the defense stopped the Blue Jays a yard short on a fourth-and-18 run, Mitchell hit a wide-open Watts over the middle three plays later for an 82-yard score and 38-22 lead as the fourth quarter began.

“When you get success running the ball then that’s going to open up a little,” Utz said. “We saw it there and knew we could take advantage of it. I didn’t know he’d be that wide open, but you’re not going to catch him, either. He’s a pretty quick kid.”

“I read the DB right and went to the inside,” Watts said. “Justin made a good pass. I couldn’t believe it; I was surprised that I was that wide open. All of my teammates were right behind me, cheering me on. I just wanted to score.”

The Blue Jays cut the lead in half on the next drive with a couple of long passes from Henrichs to Swenson. Swenson scored his third touchdown on a play-action pass to the back of the end zone with nine minutes left in the game and Henrichs two-point conversion to senior Colton Haines made it 38-30 Pirates.

Platte County then melted the clock with two long drives and despite suffering their own blocked kick, the defense held on as they handed Liberty their first loss of the year.

“Last week was our low point in the season,” Post said. “This week, we wanted this to be our first step and it was a big, hard first step, but we came out and we accomplished it.”

“Our kids responded well, especially coming off the disappointing loss we had last week,” Utz said. “We had two directions to go and the kids, we challenged them and they responded very well.”

It was the first loss of the season for the Blue Jays and their first varsity game played at Liberty High School since the 1970s, as most home games are played at William Jewell College.

“I’m disappointed,” Frigon said. “We haven’t had a punt blocked in a few years. That’s a hard one to overcome, especially when they score a touchdown. And then we had a fumble deep in our own territory in the first half. We just had some things that don’t add up to winning.”

The Pirates return home for a district matchup with Raytown South next Friday.

The Blue Jays hope to bounce back next week in a critical district game against Park Hill South, which stands at 2-0 in district play.

“I’m hoping they’ll respond well,” Frigon said. “They’re kids that have been through adversity before and I’m hoping they bounce back well. It’s been a tough one. I think that if we would have played our best game and lost… I don’t think they feel like they played very well. I don’t feel like we played very well. That takes nothing away from Platte County. They have a great football team, but they’re the reason we didn’t play very well. They have some good players there and they’re very well coached in that respect.”