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To put it simply, the Orrick Bearcats faced a challenge Saturday in their Class 1 quarterfinal battle with West Platte at Tiger Stadium in Excelsior Springs. It was one of the few times during their current 27-game winning streak that the Bearcats have had their backs to the wall. Despite facing a bit of adversity for the first time this season, Orrick held off a very determined Blue Jay squad 48-39, and are just one game away from their second state title game in as many years.
The Bearcats will travel to Princeton Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff with the Tigers in the Class 1 semifinal in a rematch of last year’s semifinal, where Orrick won 44-24 on their way to winning their first state championship since 1975.
Little did the packed Tiger Stadium crowd on a cold and blustery Saturday think that the Bearcats and Blue Jays would be involved in an offensive display, especially after the two teams combined for four fumbles and three turnovers in the first four possessions of the game. The Bearcats entered the game with nine shutouts to their credit and were geared to shut down West Platte senior quarterback Ryan Humes for the third time in as many years.
Humes responded by completing 24 of his 36 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s definitely the best we’ve faced,” Orrick Coach Pat Richard said. “This year he had a lot more control and he did a good job of not getting flustered. In year’s past, we just hit him and hit him and he kind of wigged out. Well this year he stayed under control and did a great job.”
Four different West Platte receivers caught passes with Kyle Haas ending the day with 8 receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown, with Ben Schlick grabbing 8 for 73 yards and a score.
The Bearcats answered the West Platte air attack with their devastating ground game as the two teams combined for over 800 yards of offense. Orrick piled up 364 rushing yards, despite losing their leading rusher, Aaron Blyth, on the final play of the second quarter.
Blyth had ran for 74 yards and a pair of touchdowns to help Orrick to a 28-19 lead at the break, but his loss for the second half did not slow down the ground attack as Logan Eubank, Kalija Rogers and Eric Rodenberg picked up the slack.
Eubank ran for 167 yards and a touchdown, with Rogers pounding away for 65 more yards on 13 carries, and Rodenberg gained 35 more on 3 rushes to go along with quarterback Joe Kaufman’s 23 yards on 5 attempts.
“That’s what we do,” Richard said. “We grind the ball – no matter who’s in there. We’d love to have Aaron back next week, but if he’s not, we’ve shown the ability to score against a good team. I think that gives us confidence.”
Kaufman added that the loss of Blyth seemed to add a spark.
“Eric Rodenberg did a really good job of stepping up,” he said. “I think with Aaron being out, it kind of woke us up a little because we were sort of sleepwalking through the first half and after he went out, it made us play better.”
As much as the Orrick defense spent chasing Humes around for the afternoon, the Bearcats did register a score in the first half when Matt O’Dell sacked and stripped Humes of the ball which went into the end zone and was pounced on by Cam McGlothlin for a touchdown and a 20-6 lead.
After a three and out on the opening series of the third quarter, Orrick scored on the next four, but no possession was bigger than the first scoring drive of the half for the Bearcats.
West Platte scored on Harrison Shipman’s 16-yard run to pull the Blue Jays to within 28-26. Following the kickoff, the Bearcats took over on their own 25, but the drive appeared to be over when they faced a fourth and 3 from their own 49. Kaufman took the snap and went to his right and appeared to be stopped for no gain when he somehow broke the tackle and gained 18 yards to move the chains.
“We ran a play designed for me to go outside and my blockers did a good job making a seam just perfect for me to go through,” Kaufman explained. “I think we had a little leakage and the linebacker came through and he hit me. It was fourth and 3 and I knew that was the ball game so I knew I had to get out of it and get a first down. There was no way I was going down.”
Kaufman capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge, and each team then began to trade scores. Humes added a 3-yard rushing touchdown to his daily total, followed by a 23-yard scoring run from Rodenberg to push the Orrick lead back to 10 with 7:18 to go in the game. Humes would answer with an 18-yard strike to Seth Rulon to pull the Blue Jays back to within 3 points after the conversion kick.
Orrick finally sealed the win with Kaufman’s only pass attempt, a 32-yard strike to a wide-open Jimmy Bilton streaking down the right sideline with 2:14 remaining in the game, and the defense followed by sacking Humes on fourth down on the following possession.
PHOTO: Logan Eubank (16) led the Orrick ground attack with a game-high 167 yards on 17 carries. (Photo by Russ Green/The Daily News.)