NEWLAND – They held a fireworks display late Friday night at Avery High School, which seemed unfortunate given the thick fog that lingered over MacDonald Stadium most of the evening.
Not to mention the third-quarter fireworks that Polk County’s offense had already delivered.
The Wolverines barely had the ball in the quarter because they kept scoring every time they touched it, hitting three long touchdown plays to key a 38-15 win over Avery in a Western Highlands Conference tussle.
Visibility may have been poor by night’s end, but clarity on the difference in the game could be found in the boxscore. Those who could run – Polk County (6-2, 2-0) had 415 yards on the ground – held the upper hand over those who could not – Avery (2-6, 0-2) had just 39 yards rushing. Elijah Sutton had 152 of those yards and a score to lead Polk County, giving him 993 yards for the season, with Dillon Overholt gaining 116 and scoring twice.
“One of our things coming into tonight was to establish the fullback, which we did, and get the ball on the edge if they tackled the fullback,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “We’re pretty dangerous when we can do that.
“Dillon’s being what I call a very unselfish player. He’s getting the ball out on the edge to Elijah and most of the time that goes for a lot of yards.”
A healthy chunk of those yards came on two plays in the third quarter.
The Wolverines scored late in the second period to take a 17-7 edge at halftime, and during the 20-minute intermission for Avery’s Homecoming that followed, Wolverine assistant coach Zach Searcy suggested the first play for Polk in the second half.
Known as Right X Shift 43 Power in Wolverine parlance, the call couldn’t have been more perfect. Sutton took the handoff, burst through the line of scrimmage, made a slight cut and raced largely untouched 66 yards to the end zone. Luis Hernandez drilled the extra point to make it 24-7 before many fans had returned to their seats from the half.
“We went Right X Shift 43 Power to displace that linebacker, and it moved him outside a little bit,” Ollis said. “I don’t know if Elijah got touched. We blocked it awfully well, too. We hit a home run with it.”
A highlight-worthy punt return from Dillon Knighton, covering almost 70 yards and including Knighton stiff-arming a would-be tackler near midfield, seemed to put Polk in the red zone for its next drive, but a penalty at the end of the run moved them out, and the Wolverines turned the ball over on an interception a play later.
Avery could go nowhere on its possession, though, and had to punt out of its end zone. Overholt fielded the kick at the Avery 45 and weaved his way through the Vikings to the end zone. Hernandez again hit the extra point, and Polk led 31-7 with 5:06 left in the third.
Chase Bishop’s interception on Avery’s next drive gave the Wolverines the ball at their 48. Taking the snap in the shotgun on the first play, Overholt read the defense perfectly, faking a handoff to Sutton as Avery’s defense crashed inside. Overholt dropped the ball during the fake, but quickly scooped it up and raced into the Avery secondary. A would-be tackler tried to hold onto to his jersey, but Overholt pulled away, cut back past another defender and scurried to the end zone to complete the 52-yard score.
Hernandez was again true and the Wolverines had two scores in 72 seconds, taking a 38-7 lead with 3:54 left in the third period. That would be more than enough for the Polk defense, and Ollis substituted freely throughout the fourth quarter.
A measure of Polk’s defensive prowess – the Wolverines had six tackles for loss on defense, with Markell Lipscomb and Bryson Seay each recording two.
“I was really pleased with the way we played defense,” Ollis said. “We gave up a long ball right there before the half and gave up a score. If we execute a little bit better, we could have scored two or three more times. That being said, I was very pleased with the fact that everyone got in the ball game.”
Polk grabbed a 3-0 lead late in the first period as Hernandez capped an 11-play, 44-yard drive with a 25-yard field goal. The Wolverines reached the Avery 1 on the drive, but a motion penalty helped stall the effort before the field goal.
Following an Avery punt, Polk struck again, covering 59 yards in five plays. Sutton ripped off a gain of 10 yards to open the drive, with Seay following with a 17-yard rumble and Overholt picking up 24 to move the Wolverines to the 8. A play later, Overholt tossed a 7-yard scoring pass to Lipscomb, with Hernandez adding the extra point for a 10-0 lead with 10:30 left in the half.
Avery’s offense, largely quiet to that point, finally came to life as quarterback Van McCollum hit that long pass to Steven Sanchez down the Avery sideline, the play covering 57 yards and moving the Vikings to the 9.
On the next play, McCollum avoided a potential sack and fired a bullet into the end zone, where it bounced off the hands of a Wolverine defender to Avery’s Lucas Andrews, standing in the back of the end zone. Sanchez added the extra point to make it a 10-7 game with 4:27 left in the quarter.
Back came the Wolverines, covering 55 yards in six plays. Overholt capped the drive with a 24-yard scramble for a score, with Hernandez booting the extra point to make it 17-7 with 2:08 left and setting the stage for Polk County’s third-quarter fireworks.
Polk County will finally return home for the first time since mid-September on Thursday, hosting Mitchell for a game with huge conference implications to be played before a live television audience on WMYA-TV.
“We’re 2-0 in the conference, and that’s what we talked about doing,” Ollis said. “We’re on the second rung of the ladder.”