Jamie Thompson will make certain the 2017 Polk County Wolverines remember the painful lesson learned by the 2016 version.
“I haven’t come up with our theme for next year, but it’s going to revolve around finishing,” Thompson said. “In several of the games we lost this year, we had opportunities to finish the game and we let those slip out of our hands.
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“We could have had a better record than we did. There were three games we lost – Landrum, North Henderson and Surry Central – where we started fast and could have won with a break here or there, but we lost.”
Those missed opportunities were part of the story of Polk County’s 5-7 season, an injury-riddled year in which the Wolverines still managed to be competitive in nearly every game. The season-ending loss to Surry Central in the opening round of the state 2A playoffs typified the Wolverines’ season, with Polk County leading much of the game and dominating statistically only to see the Eagles score twice in the final four minutes to earn a 28-21 win.
Already shy on depth, Polk lost senior Storm Wheeler and junior Austin Wilson to season-ending injuries during the campaign as well as had several other players miss multiple games. The ailments kept Polk County coaches scrambling throughout the year to plug lineup holes.
“We battled through injuries and saw some positives, with several guys stepping up and doing a good job for us,” Thompson said. “There are seasons with injuries where you couldn’t afford them, and we probably had the most we’ve had since 2003, when I started coaching here.
“We salvaged a decent year, but decent’s not what we look for. We’re not looking to be average.”
Despite the record, there were bright spots to be found. Junior quarterback Dillon Overholt made his first year as a starter a successful one, topping 1,000 yards rushing and passing, scoring 12 touchdowns and finishing with eight interceptions on defense, one shy of the school record.
Senior Jaymes Wingo rushed for more than 700 yards, led the team in receiving. Sophomore Elijah Sutton finished as the team’s third-leading rusher while junior Dillon Knighton was the team’s third-leading receiver. Wilson showed signs of being a key contributor on both sides of the ball before his injury.
While Wingo is part of the Wolverines’ graduating class, the return of those skill players and the bulk of the offensive and defensive lines already has Thompson looking forward to 2017.
“Next year we’re returning more starters here than we have in a long time,” he said. “We looked back and compared against the teams we’re going to play next year, and we’ve got the most guys back of anyone. That’s not necessarily foreshadowing things to come, but it is a big positive.”
Another positive is a JV program that snapped a long losing streak and finished 4-6, with three of its losses by four points or less. The Wolverines routed Hendersonville 36-16 in their season finale.
“It’s a big deal for those guys to experience some success,” Thompson said. “The JV season was very similar to our season in that they had a couple of games they could have won and they had some injuries to deal with.
“That’s the most games we’ve won on JV since Tyler Philpott’s freshman year (2007), we think. That’s definitely a positive for us.”
The 2017 season will mark a return for Polk County to the 1A ranks after eight seasons as a 2A school as well as changes to the schedule and the makeup of the Western Highlands Conference.
Hendersonville’s realignment out of the WHC leaves the conference with six teams, forcing Polk to add another non-conference game to its schedule. A home-and-home series with Pisgah will fill that extra week. The Wolverines are also still looking for a non-conference opponent early in the season to replace North Henderson. Scheduling demands in Henderson County mean Hendersonville likely won’t be able to fill that void, so Thompson is still searching for another foe.
The WHC schedule will flip, with Polk County facing Owen in its WHC opener and ending the season with Madison. The Wolverines will join Avery and Mitchell as the league’s 1A schools.
“We’ve been one of the smaller 2A schools, and we’ve gotten into the playoffs and played schools with 200 or more students than we have,” Thompson said. “In 1A we’ll play schools more our size and in places more like Polk County, in areas that are more spread out and more rural.
“It’s still going to be very competitive, but our chances for advancing and succeeding should be better based on just the numbers.”
The first depth chart for the new season already hangs in Polk County’s fieldhouse, and the Wolverines’ offseason weight program will soon be in full swing. After back-to-back sub-.500 seasons, Thompson is already eager for 2017 to arrive.
“I’m excited about next year,” he said. “I think we’ve got a chance to make a lot of noise.”
Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Polk County lost to Chase this season and that the Wolverine JVs finished with a 3-7 record.