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by Jim Soendker
Contributing writer

The three-peat is complete. Platte County’s Pirates are the 2002 Missouri Class 3 State Champions. Again.

Coach Chip Sherman’s Orange and Black wrecking crew administered a 34-13 whipping to the Salem Tigers before more than 5,000 fans in St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome on Saturday to claim their third consecutive state title.

The Pirates are beginning to make this an annual Thanksgiving “get-a-away” weekend for their fans. For the past three seasons the Dome has been the Pirates’ home away from home and one has to wonder if the Rams helmet painted on the 50 yard line should be replaced by a black Pirates helmet with the orange “PC” emblazoned on it. OK, maybe that’s a bit much but it seems more fans have to call the school for directions to games in Maryville or Chilicothe than they do for the Dome.

In addition to capturing a third straight title, the Pirates have now won 42 consecutive games, second longest winning streak in Missouri history. Over the past four seasons the Pirates have won 54 of 55 games with only a 1999 semifinal loss to Aurora as a blemish on this senior class’s resume. With the exception of all-state defensive end Travis Frogge, no senior has tasted defeat in his varsity career.

“Losing that day (to Aurora) was the worst day of my life. I made my mind up that I didn’t want to lose again,” said Frogge.

The Pirates played a typical Pirates game. It was a very physical game with a lot of hard hits and a bruising running game led by seniors Matt Prout, Aaron Bernard, and Justin Houpe. The defense was constantly swarming to the ball and gang-tackling Salem ball carriers all day. Travis Frogge, Sean O’Conner, Nick Jaros, Luke Rainey, Ryan Weedin, Ben Houpe, and company harassed Salem’s one-two punch of quarterback Tyler Dillon and fullback Joe Harris the entire game.

The Pirates dominated early but were unable to dent the scoreboard in the opening quarter for the first time this year. Salem fumbled the opening kickoff and was lucky to recover. As the referees unpiled the players it looked like shades of the last meeting between the two teams two years ago when Salem committed five turnovers. The Tigers recovered the fumble but went three plays and out. Following Salem’s punt the Pirates began their opening drive at their own 24-yard line. Salem stopped PC on the first two plays but Chris Hawkins found Nick Jaros on a key third down pass to keep the drive alive. Three plays later Matt Prout broke loose for a 38-yard run to the Tiger 14-yard line. Everything was clicking at that point. But Aaron Bernard coughed up the ball on the next play and Salem recovered at their 10-yard line, stopping the Pirate threat.

After forcing another Salem punt, the Pirates took charge. They began from their 27-yard line and marched 73 yards in 13 plays to score the game’s first points. Chris Hawkins scored on a 1-yard sneak at the 10:32 mark of the second quarter. The drive took 4:39 to complete. The key plays were a 21-yard pass to Prout and a 15 yard run by Prout which set up Hawkins’ touchdown.

The Pirate defense continued to stop Salem and following another punt, PC took over at its 29-yard line. The Pirates continued to pound the ball with an effective running game and timely passing as they drove 71 yards to paydirt. This drive ended with Matt Prout leaping a would-be tackler at the goal line on a 9-yard scoring run. Justin Houpe had a 19-yard reception and Nick Jaros had a catch for 16 yards in the drive, which took 10 plays and 4:12 to complete. The final score of the half came with only 46 seconds remaining before intermission when Prout capped a 9-play, 57-yard drive with a 2-yard run. The Pirates were in command 21-0 at the half.

Platte County had a two to one edge in total yards in the first half, 271 yards to 124. With 40 offensive plays and 15 first downs, the Pirates had dominated the first half by controlling the ball, keeping Salem’s high-powered wishbone offense off the field. Offensively, Matt Prout had 92 yards rushing in the first half while Chris Hawkins had 97 yards on 8 of 10 passing to pace the Pirates’ balanced attack. Defensively, the key may have been the Pirates’ ability to hold Salem’s wishbone quarterback Tyler Dillon to an average of 2.4 yards per rushing attempt, well below his season average of 10.1 per carry. As a result, Salem often found itself in second or third and long situations, which for a run-oriented team usually spells trouble.

In the second half, the Pirates picked up where they left off. Behind a Bernard 14-yard run and a Houpe 13-yard run the Pirates marched deep into Tiger territory. Facing a 4th and 2 at the Salem 18, Hawkins threw behind Nick Jaros on a sideline route and the drive stalled after a 48-yard march.
Salem couldn’t capitalize on its defensive stand, however. The PC defense once again stopped Salem’s Tyler Dillon on first down with a 1-yard loss. Salem, being in a second and long situation couldn’t convert as a run and an incomplete pass forced them to punt the ball back to PC.

Platte County took over on their 43-yard line and Hawkins found tightend Cory Williams on a 27-yard pass down the sideline. Prout and Bernard ran the ball effectively down inside the Tigers’ 10-yard line. Again the Pirates faced a fourth down. On 4th and goal from the 3, Hawkins once again threw behind Jaros in the endzone and the Pirates surrendered the ball on downs. The Tigers took over as the third quarter came to an end with the Pirates still leading, 21-0.

For the first time in the game Salem was able to mount a sustained drive against the Orange and Black. The key was their ability to make big yardage on first downs, something they hadn’t been able to do up to this point. Four times on 1st down the Tigers had runs over 10 yards as they drove deep into Platte County territory. Dillon, who had been held in check in the first half, had two of those runs. However, it was Dillon who fumbled at the Pirates 3-yard line. Jaros recovered for the Pirates and Salem’s impressive drive ended after covering 94 yards in 12 plays.
Dillon’s fumble would provide the Pirates an opportunity to put the game away with the game’s biggest play. This time there would be no 4th down failure. The Pirates went 97 yards in only 3 plays. Matt Prout turned the right corner and scored on a Show-Me Bowl record-setting 91-yard run. The run broke the record for the longest run from scrimmage, eclipsing the previous record of 87 yards set by Valle’s Todd Schwent in 1990.

Following the kickoff, Salem took over on their 35-yard line, trailing 28-0. The Tigers were forced to punt after 6 plays and PC took possession at their 25-yard line. The Pirates couldn’t move the ball and had to punt for the first time all day. Salem took over at its 47-yard line.

It took the Tigers six plays to go 53 yards for their first score. Dillon connected with Chad Nichols on a 26-yard slant pattern to cap the drive.

Just as Salem seemed to have a little momentum, the Pirates delivered the final knockout punch. Platte County covered an onside kick at midfield and on the next play Aaron Bernard broke open with a 50-yard run to score the Pirates’ final points of the day. Jaros’ extra point attempt was wide left and the Pirates led, 34-7.

Salem’s fullback Joe Harris scored the final touchdown of the game with only 2 seconds left. The drive covered 79 yards in 9 plays against the Pirates’ JV defense. The two-point conversion was no good and the final margin was 34-13.

For the game the Pirates totaled 519 yards of offense. They ran for 399 yards. Matt Prout capped a record day by running 19 times for 197 yards and 3 touchdowns. Aaron Bernard had 108 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown. Justin Houpe added 78 yards on 11 carries. The Pirates passed for 129 yards as Chris Hawkins completed 10 of 14 passes. Nick Jaros had 3 receptions for 35 yards. Cory Williams had 2 catches for 34 yards. Prout and Brian Connel each had 2 receptions for 26 and 15 yards, respectively.

Defensively, the Pirates yielded 370 yards, 258 on the ground and 112 in the air. They recorded one sack and recovered one fumble. Travis Frogge had 12 tackles, Justin Houpe had 8, Ben Houpe had 7, and Sean O’Conner and Cory Williams had 6 each.

As mentioned earlier, Matt Prout added his name to the Show-Me Bowl record books with the longest run from scrimmage of 91 yards. He joins 3 former Pirates who hold Show-Me Bowl records. In 2000, against Salem, Brandon Gutshall set the Class 3 record for completions with 13. He also set the record for passing yards with 244 that day. Todd Jaros set the Class 3 record for receiving yards with 166 in 2000. Todd also set a record for receptions with 7 in the same game. Chase Verdoorn set a single game record for tackles with 17 against Salem in 2000.

For the seniors on this team it has been very special. They have been a part of 42 straight wins and 3 state titles. Most of these players have never tasted defeat. When asked which of these championships means the most to them, Travis Frogge, Nick Jaros, and Matt Prout all agreed that this one was the most special. “We were a part of the others,” said Jaros, “But this was our team.”

“Coach always says that the team belongs to the seniors. Each year it is the seniors’ turn to lead so this is the most special one,” added Frogge.

As for Coach Sherman: “That first one is maybe the most special,” he said. “But each one is special as well.”

As fans, coaches, and players reflect on this championship season, it is only fitting to salute the seniors who led this team. Here they are: Nick Jaros, Justin Houpe, Luke Rainey, Aaron Bernard, Sean O’Conner, Matt Prout, Cory Williams, Zach Hibdon, Matt Frey, Travis Frogge, Nick Butrous, Steve Jones, Sean Miller, Kevin Scrivener, Stewart Brought, Mike Tucker, Daniel Whitford, Brian Connel, Brent Parker