Stingy defense at heart of Wolverines’ 3-0 start

Polk County's defensive front, including Luke Sellers (53) and Hayden Shumate (55), have played a key role in the Wolverines' early-season success.

Polk County has played 12 quarters of football this season. Opponents have scored in three of them.

No need for an advanced math degree to understand why the Wolverines are off to a 3-0 start.

As Polk County prepares for Friday’s Homecoming matchup with East Henderson, the non-conference clash set for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff in G.M. Tennant Stadium, its defense has been perhaps the key factor in the team’s early-season success. Polk County is off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2011.

“One thing about the guys on defense is that they’re very confident about what they’re doing,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “I like to tell people that what we do on defense is not simple, but it’s not complicated, either. The players understand it.

“With (defensive coordinator) Jamie Thompson, he has an uncanny knack for sensing what people are going to do. That’s an attribute that not all people have, but he has it, and he gets the kids in the right places. We’ve bent some, but we’ve not broken.”

Polk County’s 24-0 win over Landrum last week marked the Wolverines’ first shutout since a 34-0 rout of East Henderson on Sept. 19, 2014 and the first blanking of Landrum since a 42-0 win in 2008. The victory has helped fuel the team’s confidence heading into Friday’s matchup.

“It was hugely uplifting for our team,” Ollis said. “The players have a great tendency to swarm to the football. It’s one of those deals where no one cars who gets the credit. They’re all working toward the common good.”

Though 1-3, East Henderson’s new-look spread offense may provide a challenge to Polk County’s defense. The Eagles have averaged almost 30 points per game in those first four outings, including a 44-41 shootout loss to North Henderson in Week 2.

Junior quarterback Chris Hemphill leads the East attack, having thrown for 339 yards while rushing for 224. Senior Jake Shattuck has averaged 8.2 yards per carry in his team-high 52 carries.

“We’re going to see an offense similar to Chase,” Ollis said. “Their quarterback is very athletic. He’s a 6-5, 210-pound kid who can really run.He can beat you with his feet and he’s at his best when he’s flushed out of the pocket. We’ll have to contain him and keep him in the pocket.

“(Shattuck) is a good in-between-the-tackles runner. They don’t ask him to get to the edge and do a lot, but, boy, he runs well between the tackles. They’ve also got a couple of really good possesion receivers (Tyler Pace and Garrett Stiwinter).”

With a large crowd expected for Homecoming in what will be Polk County’s last home game until Oct. 19, Ollis hopes the Wolverines can continue to give home fans reason to cheer.

“We’ve won three games that were close early, which is another mark of a good football team,” Ollis said. “Last week we didn’t have much momentum at halftime, but nobody panicked. Nobody dropped their chins on their chest. We just kept grinding.

“The players are expecting to win now. Winning breeds confidence.”