Shepherd's kick, big plays, defense lift Fort Osage into state quarterfinals

Bill Althaus
The Examiner
Larenzo Fenner (1), who returned a blocked punt for a 71-yard touchdown, and teammates celebrate with the Fort Osage student section after the Fort Osage Indians edged Platte County 22-20 in the Class 5 District 8 championship game Friday.

When Xander Shepherd hooked an extra point early in the third quarter, he never feared that the moment might define his season with the Fort Osage football team. 

And he was right, as the Indians drove to the Platte County 8-yard line with 7:24 left in the Class 5 District 8 championship game in which they trailed 20-19. 

With David Jacquez snapping and quarterback Greg Menne holding, Shepherd lofted the ball far and deep between the goalposts for a 25-yard field goal to give Fort Osage a 22-20 lead. 

On the Pirates’ next possession, Elijah Bernard picked off Jared Parsons and Menne and the Indians methodically marched the ball down the field, running 4:53 off the clock. When the scoreboard showed 00:00, many of the Indians ran over to the student section to celebrate with their friends as they claimed a memorable 22-20 win. 

One by one, Shepherd's teammates walked by, giving him the business. 

"He told me he was going to miss that extra point so he could kick the game-winner at the end of the game," running back Javen Hall, who scored the Indians’ lone offensive touchdown of the game, said jokingly.

Linebacker David Jacquez, who returned a fumble for a 32-yard touchdown, and receiver Larenzo Fenner, who scooped up a blocked punt and returned it 71-yards for a score, are in a festive mood following Fort Osage's 22-20 victory over Platte County in the Class 5 District 8 championship game Friday.

Added junior receiver Larenzo Fenner, whose 71-yard return of a blocked punt was one of the most electrifying plays of the season for the 10-1 Indians: "He was just trying to make it exciting for the fans." 

But Jacquez jumped in and stated, "We work 24/7 for plays like that. We all knew he was going to make it. It was automatic." 

It's the second week in a row that Shepherd, also a soccer standout, has kicked the game-winning field goal, as Fort Osage edged Staley 17-14 last week in the final seconds. 

"I could get used to this," Shepherd said, grinning. 

But old school offensive line coach Rick Ammons brought him down to earth when he quipped, "I usually don't like soccer players, but I'm beginning to like this one." 

Shepherd's extra point miss was a rarity this season. 

"We scored going into the wind, and I tried to compensate," Shepherd said. "The field goal was with the wind to my back and I knew it was going to be good – a perfect snap, hold and I hit it good." 

The win sets up a rematch at Grain Valley, where Fort Osage claimed a hard-fought 9-8 win during the regular season on the way to the Suburban Middle Six Conference title. 

"I'm going to enjoy this win tonight," said Fort Osage head coach Brock Bult, a graduate of Grain Valley High School who was inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame this year, "and start preparing for the next game at midnight." 

Grain Valley edged Raytown 38-37 in a three-overtime thriller to win the Class 5 District 7 title. 

But let's talk about thrillers. 

The Indians trailed the 9-3 Pirates 14-0 when the Indians drove to the Platte County 4-yard line at 1:58 of the second quarter. Bult put in the jumbo package, adding Jacquez to the backfield, and Hall ran up his back for a 4-yard score. Shepherd hit the extra point to cut the deficit to 14-7 at halftime. 

Daniel Tapusoa then sacked Parsons, forcing a fumble, and Jacquez picked up the ball and ran for a 32-yard touchdown at 11:09 of the third period. Shepherd shanked the extra point and it was 14-13.

Coach Zach Dudley and linebacker David Jacquez walk off the field at Fort Osage after the Indians defeated Platte County 22-20 in the Class 5 District 8 championship Friday. Jacquez had a 32-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

"The big guy upstairs," Jacquez said, pointing towards heaven, "gave me the perfect bounce. Daniel made a great tackle and all I had to do was pick up the ball and run into the end zone." 

A group of Indians then blocked a Parsons' punt and it skidded toward Fenner. 

Surrounded by a swarm of would-be tacklers, Fenner flew toward the near sideline and went in untouched for a 71-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful and the Indians led 19-14 with 7:24 left in the third quarter. 

"You know me," a grinning Fenner said, "I have a nose for the ball. When we blocked it, I just followed it and knew some guys were around it. But I knew that when I got past them, there was nothing left but green grass and I scored that touchdown." 

Jacquez, who was sitting near his teammate, nodded in agreement. 

"Just the way it happened," Jacquez said. 

But the game was far from over as Parsons lofted a perfect 12-yard touchdown pass to Hasan Merduman in the far corner of the end zone to give the Pirates (9-3) a 20-19 lead with 5:33 left in the third quarter. The two-point pass play failed and that was the score going into the final quarter. 

"We knew we had the wind at our backs, and we were going to take advantage of it," said Menne, who gutted out a fierce Platte County pass rush to complete 9 of 15 passes, including a 26-yarder to Christen Penamon, who played a big role in the game-winning drive. 

"I heard my mom Jennifer yell, 'Throw the ball!'" Menne said, grinning, "and I always do what my mom tells me, and Christen did a great job getting open." 

Penamon said he saw Menne get hit twice, and wondered how he threw such a perfect pass with another Pirate hanging onto his legs. 

"That's Greg, he's the ultimate competitor," Penamon said. "When he got me that pass, I knew I had to get a first down. It was crunch time and I was ready to go." 

The Indians then marched to the 8-yard line and Shepherd booted the game-winner. 

"That felt so good," Shepherd said. 

Lost in all the monster plays was the steady play of the Indians’ defensive line, as the Pirates rushed for just 36 yards on 19 carries. 

"Before the start of the second half, I called (junior defensive lineman) Brock (Branstietter) over and told him, 'You have to go out there and be a man.’ And he was a man – all the guys on the line were men,” Bult said. 

Branstietter said he accepted his coach's challenge. 

"I love a challenge," the 6-foot-4, 330-pound defensive lineman said. "We knew they were good, but they had weaknesses on their line and we were able to take advantage of those weaknesses, especially in the second half."