Tough to say Friday night which gave Chase more problems – the warm, muggy weather or Polk County’s defense.
The Trojans had very little success battling either.
Save for two long plays that led to scores, Polk County’s defense turned in a dominant performance in its season opener, sparking a 30-14 non-conference victory at G.M. Tennant Stadium.
Elijah Sutton and Dillon Overholt sealed the win with two long touchdown runs in the final six minutes, squleching any hopes Chase had of sneaking away with a win after closing to within two points early in the fourth period. That the Trojans had that opportunity could be traced, in part, to Polk County’s early offensive struggles, as the Wolverines failed to score on three early drives inside the Chase 30.
But the Polk County defense and the Wolverines’ conditioning made certain those missed chances would prove irrelevant. Chase players battled cramps throughout the night, with frequent stoppages of the game beginning midway through the second quarter. Polk County, meanwhile, had no such problems, even with nearly all of its starters playing on both sides of the ball.
“It’s hard to beat winning,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis, who kicked off his second stint as the Wolverines’ head coach. “Most people will admit to that, especially when you’ve paid the upfront price for victory, which these young men have done.
“The thing I was as proud of tonight as our victory is our conditioning. We’ve got eight playing on both sides of the ball, and I didn’t see a single cramp, nobody asked to come out. Our kids still looked fresh at the end of the game, which was being shown by the fact that we were ripping off some long runs. Guys were still blocking upfront. That means a lot to a coach.”
The Wolverine defense forced four turnovers and only allowed three Chase drives of more than five plays. The final of those ended on the first play of the fourth quarter and made things interesting after a scoreless third period.
Facing a 4th-and-6 at the Polk 42, Chase quarterback Xavier Williams rolled to his right, escaped a near sack, raced all the way back across the field to his left and fired a long pass into the end zone, where teammate Zaharie Washburn had slipped behind the Wolverine defense. The score and extra point trimmed Polk’s lead to a suddenly uncomfortable 16-14.
An exchange of punts gave Polk the ball near midfield, where Sutton delivered his second touchdown of the night. Taking a pitch around the left end, the Polk tailback broke through a couple of tacklers and raced down the Chase sideline into the end zone. Trojans head coach Daniel Bailey called timeout to argue with officials that Sutton stepped out-of-bounds, but the touchdown stood, and Luis Hernandez drilled the extra point for a 23-14 Polk advantage with 5:14 left in the game.
“I just had the perfect block. It was the perfect gap and I just took it,” Sutton said. “It was perfect, and I took it all the way there.”
The Wolverines stopped Chase on a fourth-and-4 attempt on its next drive, and Overholt quickly iced the game with a 58-yard touchdown jaunt nearly untouched through the heart of the Trojan defense.
“Our running game was awfully good tonight,” Ollis said. “We’re going to have to be able to throw and catch the ball a little bit better. That’ll get better. The thing I’m awfully proud of, again, is that our offensive line rose to the occasion and created seams for our backs to run in.”
Williams hit a 47-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Hampton on the opening drive of the game to give the Trojans a quick lead, but then the Wolverines took command of the game. The remaining eight minutes of the first period were all played on Chase’s end of the field, with Braden Miller and Wyatt Derkach each recovering fumbles deep in Trojan territory.
But Polk County failed to convert on any of its three first-period drives inside the Chase 30, turning the ball over twice on downs and a missed field goal on the other.
The Wolverines finally broke through in the second period, a Dillon Knighton punt return giving Polk the ball at the Chase 10. Two plays later, Sutton scored from the 4, with a Hernandez extra point evening the game at 7.
Chase punted on its next possession, giving Polk County the ball at the Trojan 24 – the Wolverines’ first offensive snap of the game in their own territory. Overholt made it a profitable one, evading Chase pressure and firing a deep pass to Derkach, who slipped behind a defender, snared the pass and held off that defender to complete a 76-yard scoring play, giving Polk a 13-7 lead.
The Trojans did mount their best drive of the night on their next possession, reaching the Polk County 10 before Miller recovered another fumble to stop that threat.
Hernandez drilled a 29-yard field goal just before the half for a 16-7 Polk County lead.
“It was good for us to be able to play through a tough game a very athletic Chase team and get a victory,” Ollis said. “I don’t think we could have played much better on defense. We gave up two long balls, which were the only scores we gave up. Other than that, we played awfully solid.”