One of the best first-round matchups in this year’s state football postseason may well be Friday in Columbus.
It’s a clash of 1A newcomers as Polk County hosts North Rowan in the opening round of the state 1AA playoffs, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. in G.M. Tennant Stadium. All tickets will be $7, and only NCHSAA passes will be allowed.
For the Wolverines (7-4), it marks the school’s first home playoff game since a 2014 win over Lexington in the first round of the state 2A playoffs. It also marks Polk County’s return to 1A playoff competition after eight years as a 2A school.
The Wolverines are being greeted with quite a challenge as their welcome-back gift. North Rowan, which also dropped to 1A in this year’s realignment, enters with an 8-3 mark and a program that has won at least eight games in five of the past six seasons.
“We’re going to have to play really well against a good football team to get a win,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis.
The Cavaliers (8-3) finished third in the Yadkin Valley 1A Conference behind North Stanly and West Montgomery. North Rowan racked up more than 33 points per game this season with an offense led by junior quarterback Willis Mitchell and senior running back Jaleel Webster.
The 5-6 Webster has rushed for 1,416 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging almost nine yards per carry. He also caught 21 passes for 374 yards and three more scores. Mitchell has thrown for 1,719 yards and 18 touchdowns, completing 55 percent of his attempts.
Junior receiver Quintous Smith Jr. (26-473-7) stands 6-3, with fellow junior receiver Logan Stoner (13-156-1) at 6-1.
“The quarterback and tailback are dadgum good football players,” Ollis said. “They’re not a one-dimensional team. They throw and catch well and have big and talented receivers.
“We have to focus on stopping the running game first because that’s what they want to do. But if we do that, they’re not afraid to throw the ball.”
The recipe for success for Polk County could well be similar to what the Wolverines did two weeks ago against Mountain Heritage – look to keep the ball away from the Cavalier offense with a ground-focused game plan. That may also help negate the team speed that North Rowan’s defense possesses.
“We need to control the ball some offensively,” Ollis said. “We have to be satisfied with three-yard gains. We need to run the ball between the tackles, which is something we’ve had success doing the last two games.”
One other weapon the Cavaliers will bring – kicker/punter Jacob Young. The senior has recorded 38 touchbacks on kickoffs, is averaging 46.7 yards per punt and narrowly missed a 51-yard field goal attempt in last week’s 49-0 win over South Davidson, the kick hitting the crossbar.
Perhaps one bit of good news for Polk County – North Rowan posted a 2-3 record this season in road games.
“They won the games this year you felt they were going to win, kind of like us,” Ollis said. “And like us, they probably haven’t played their best against the better teams they faced.
“It’s time for us to put a complete game together, and I can’t think of a better team to do it than in the first round of the playoffs.”