Bright spots to be found despite tough season for Polk Middle football

Ava Marino set a Polk County Middle School record in the team's final game by kicking five extra points (April Lowman photo).

A 2-6 season was far from what Polk County Middle head football coach Billy Alm expected this season.

But a dominating 48-20 win over Smoky Mountain Middle to close the season did help raise expectations for the 2015 campaign.

“Obviously, the last game, we played our ‘A’ game. That was the first time we did that all year,” Alm said of the Wolverines’ playoff win. “Every aspect of the game, we did an excellent job. Special teams, offense, defense, we played well in all phases.”

One season removed from an undefeated regular season and berth in the Blue Ridge Middle School Conference championship game, Polk Middle found itself competitive in most games this season – three of the team’s losses were by a touchdown or less – but often on the wrong end of the score due to key points in each game where things fell in the opponents’ direction. That led to a 1-6 regular-season record, the lone win coming at Apple Valley midway through the year.

“Every game, we had a key turnover,” Alm said. “We were in every game, with the exception of the Hendersonville game, but there was a key turnover in every game that was a key turning point.

“Usually it happened near the end, so it wasn’t something that we could rebound from. We faced a lot of adversity and sometimes we didn’t handle it well.”

But there were bright spots, including an offense that put up 20 or more points in five of the team’s eight games.

“We were able to run the football,” Alm said. “Bryson Seay and Elijah Sutton did real well. Bryson, being a seventh grader, will be able to take over next year. He’s a football player through and through. The seventh graders on the line got a lot of experience. I know that if they see competition as good next year, they will be ready for it. I expect them to have a big year next year.

“Offense was never an issue for us. We scored a lot of points. Defensively, tackling is something we’re going to have to work on. Plus, coming from two different defenses and having to learn a new defense was tough. By the end of the season, you could tell they were beginning to grasp the concepts.”

One other bright spot that emerged – kicker Ava Marino, who became not only the first female player to score at Polk Middle, Alm said, but also set a school record in the process.

“She’s the first girl, to my knowledge, to actually play,” Alm said. “Keileigh (McMurray) got hurt before she got onto the field. Ava not only kicked in a game, but kicked five extra points. That’s definitely a school record.

“She went out and worked every single day. She also kicked three onside kicks in the last game that we recovered. She practiced well, practiced hard and had a great work ethic.”