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One more win means a trip to the Dome

by Jim Soendker
Contributing writer

What an atmosphere there was in Pirates Stadium on Monday night. Beautiful weather for football, a quarterfinal rematch between the top two rated teams in the state, and a packed house for the event.

The game lived up to its billing as the Platte County Pirates outlasted the Odessa Bulldogs in a see-saw battle, 21-14.

Top-ranked Platte County moves on to the semi-finals with a home game this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against Seneca. The Pirates, in their quest for a three-peat, upped their record to 12-0 and extended their winning streak to 40 games, second longest in state history. The Pirates have now won 52 of their last 53 games.

The Odessa Bulldogs came to town looking to avenge last year’s 29-13 playoff loss to the Pirates but came up short once again. The Bulldogs provided the stiffest test of the year for Platte County. They even held a 14-7 halftime lead, which marked the first time in 40 games that the Pirates had trailed at the half.

They say when two evenly matched and talented teams play, the team that makes a critical mistake usually loses. But whoever said that forgot one thing. Teams with character and poise can overcome their mistakes. That’s exactly what happened Monday night.

The Pirates made two costly mistakes, a blown coverage on a long scoring pass and an interception deep in their own territory, setting up another touchdown. Then the Orange and Black dug in and fought their way back to defeat a talented and big Odessa team.

The game was a tale of two halves. Odessa took advantage of the Pirate miscues and built a halftime lead only to be outplayed in the second half by a determined Pirate squad.

This game will rank as a classic along side the double overtime playoff victory over Chillicothe three years ago. Each of the previous two state championship teams had a turning point in their seasons where their character withstood a challenge. Two years ago, the Pirates snapped a 21-21 tie in a sectional game against O’Hara and won 35-21 enroute to the first state title.

Last year, the Pirates came from behind in the championship game on an electrifying kickoff return by David Poolman, who leapt the last would-be tackler to go 90 yards for the score. This year’s team overcame two costly first half mistakes with the most inspired half of football Pirate fans have seen in a very long time.

The game began well for PC as they stopped Odessa on three plays. PC’s first possession was highlighted by a long 33-yard pass play to Nick Jaros that set up the game’s first score. Aaron Bernard capped the drive with a 10-yard run through the right side, giving the Pirates the early 7-0 lead. The drive went 61 yards in 5 plays. Things were looking better as the Pirates got the ball back with a chance to extend the lead. They drove about 40 yards down inside the Odessa 10 yard line before stalling. Jaros’ field goal attempt was just wide.

In the second quarter on a third and long from their own 41, Odessa quarterback Brady Madsen rolled left and found Zach Adams with a pass. Adams took the ball against the grain and down the right sideline 59 yards for the tying touchdown. Moments later Odessa linebacker Ryan Barnes intercepted PC’s Chris Hawkins and returned the ball to the Pirates’ 18 yard line. From there, the Bulldogs needed only 3 plays to get into the endzone as Madsen found a wide-open Jacob Cahill with an 18-yard scoring toss. The remainder of the quarter found the Pirates being frustrated as Odessa continually stuffed Platte County’s running game. About the only highlight for the Pirates in the first half was a 67 yard punt from Aaron Bernard. The Odessa faithful were very vocal as their team left the field at the intermission.
Pirate fans waited for what seemed like an eternity for the second half, wondering all the while if this could be the end of the season for the Pirates, or would they rally. Until now, the Pirates had not been tested and now all would see if this year’s team could answer a defining moment. The answer would come soon.

The Pirates came out for the second half with a vengeance. You could feel the determination in the team that this would not be their last game of the season. The Orange and Black took the kickoff and marched downfield to score quickly and tie the game. Chris Hawkins capped an 11-play, 55-yard march with a sneak from two yards out. The drive set the tone for the half. Platte County decided to stick to its running game and rode the strength of Matt Prout and Aaron Bernard.

The Pirates had made one adjustment at the half. Coach Chip Sherman said, “In the first half we were fanning their line out with our blocking scheme. So we decided in the second half to focus on sealing the defensive ends to try to open up some room on the corners. The backs would have to read the block and either take the ball around the corner or cut it inside the defensive end and find a seam.”

The adjustment was just what the doctor ordered. The Pirates time and time again ran Prout and Bernard off the corners for substantial gains. In fact, the winning score by Matt Prout came on a run around the left corner. Prout read the block, cut inside the defensive end and rambled 33 yards into the endzone early in the fourth quarter. The run concluded a 62-yard drive in 7 plays.

The Pirates attempted only two passes in the second half. They relied on Prout and Bernard to carry the load.

On the defensive side, the Pirates may have played their best half in three years. Sean O’Conner and Travis Frogge were unstoppable. They harassed the Odessa quarterback, sacking him a couple of times and batting down a pass. They held Odessa to 37 total yards of offense in the second half. The Bulldogs were only able to make 2 first downs in the half, and one of those was courtesy of a Pirate pass interference penalty. Justin Houpe sealed the victory with an interception in the game’s final minute.

For the game, the Pirates totaled 259 yards of offense, 203 on the ground and 56 in the air. Matt Prout led all ball carriers with 21 carries for 157 yards and a touchdown. Aaron Bernard had 19 carries for 74 yards and a touchdown. Chris Hawkins completed 4 of 11 passes for 56 yards and 1 interception. Nick Jaros had 2 receptions for 38 yards.

Defensively, the Pirates yielded 155 yards of offense to Odessa. Odessa had 117 yards passing and only 38 yards rushing. As mentioned earlier, the Pirates held Odessa to only 37 yards of offense in the second half. They also had one interception.

This game showed how much character this team has. Prout and Bernard would not be denied. They carried three and four tacklers on each run and it seemed as if they were carrying the entire stadium as well. The defense was outstanding. O’Conner, Frogge, Luke Rainey, Nick Jaros, Ben Houpe, and the rest of the defense were like a brick wall. Pirate fans could sense the confidence in the Odessa sideline start to erode early in the fourth quarter before Prout’s touchdown run.

Although the players play the game and both teams put on a terrific show, the coaching may have been a deciding factor as well. In a close game such as this, winning and losing may come down to the adjustments made by the coaches during the game. Sherman’s staff had the right answers just as if this were a chess match.

After the game Matt Prout commented, “We made a couple of blocking adjustments at halftime. Coach told us this is why we did two-a-days back in August. So we could finish the game strong. He had faith in us and we knew we’d come back.”

Sean O’Conner said, “We just got after them in the second half. We didn’t make any mistakes.” As for their next opponent, O’Conner said, “I don’t care who it is. Bring them on.”

Travis Frogge added, “We weren’t going to have our first and only loss tonight.”

Up Next -
The Pirates will host a semi-final game this Saturday against Seneca. Game time will be 1:30. Like the Pirates, Seneca will bring a 12-0 record into the game. Platte County and Seneca are the only undefeated teams remaining in Class 3. Seneca defeated Mountain Grove 42-20 on Monday night.