Polk County Middle School’s young football team continues to learn important lessons this season.
Thursday taught the importance of every inch.
The Wolverines were inches away in the waning minutes from what might have proved the winning touchdown, but instead saw that chance go awry in dropping a 14-6 decision to Smoky Mountain Middle at Polk Middle. It was the home opener for the Wolverines.
Trailing 8-0 entering the fourth quarter, Polk Middle (0-2) reached the end zone on Dakota Twitty’s 26-yard fourth-down touchdown jaunt. The 2-point conversion failed, though, leaving the Wolverines trailing by two.
Polk Middle squibbed the ensuing kickoff, the ball bouncing through Smoky Mountain’s kickoff team before a final hop left it on the turf for the Wolverines’ Bryce Jorgensen to recover at the Mustang 32. A Chan Barber 10-yard run on third-and-9, plus a penalty, then moved the ball to the Smoky Mountain 11.
Twitty ripped off nine yards on first down, and Barber ran a sneak on second down to give the Wolverines first-and-goal, the ball almost touching the end zone. Polk Middle then ran a play and scored, but drew a flag for illegal procedure, pushing the ball back to the six.
Smoky Mountain’s interior pressure proved problematic for Polk throughout the day, and it did so again at that point, the Wolverines losing four, two and eight yards on their next three plays. With fourth-and-goal at the 20, the Mustangs again swarmed in and hit Barber as he was trying to pass, ending the Polk threat with 1:05 left in the game.
Smoky Mountain broke free for a long touchdown run in the final seconds to account for the final margin.
“We fought hard. The kids worked hard and kept after it,” said Polk Middle head coach Ethan Edwards. “We were 100 percent improved from last week (a 28-0 loss at Waynesville). The defense, especially, looked much better.”
Polk Middle also missed a scoring chance in the second quarter as Jacon Knighton hauled in a long Barber pass on a fourth-down play at the Smoky Mountain 4. But as they did at the end of the game, the Mustangs steadily pushed Polk away from the end zone, the Wolverines eventually turning the ball over on downs.
Polk also reached the Smoky Mountain 15 with five seconds left in the half, but a fumbled snap ended that opportunity.
Still, there was much for Polk to build on, its defense largely keeping Smoky Mountain in check after a 54-yard scoring drive to open the game and the running of Twitty, who broke several long runs on sweeps.
“The guys hung in there,” Edwards said. “We just need to keep practicing hard and working hard and continuing to get better.”
Polk Middle returns to the road next week, traveling to Brevard Middle on Thursday for a 5 p.m. kickoff.