Two things immediately stand out when looking at the 2A West bracket for the North Carolina high school football playoffs.
One, there are a lot of Western Highlands Conference teams there.
Two, the team that emerges from that bracket to play in the state championship game will most certainly have earned it.
Of the 16 teams in the 2A West bracket, five are from the Western Highlands, including No. 5 Polk County and its first-round opponent on Friday, No. 12 Madison. Also in the bracket are No. 7 Owen, No. 11 Mountain Heritage and No. 13 Hendersonville.
With so many conference teams in the group, it was inevitable that two of them would meet. That’s the case for the Wolverines (8-3), who will face a Madison (6-5) team that they defeated 21-7 earlier this season. The two teams will meet Friday at The Little Big House in a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
“I think most head football coaches would tell you that they would rather play someone they have not played during the regular season in the first round,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “No need to focus on that, though. We must focus on beating Madison for a second time.”
To make a fairly complicated process simple, once the 2A playoff automatic qualifiers and wild cards are determined, the 64 teams are split into two groups of 32, based solely on enrollment, with the largest 32 competing in the 2AA playoffs and the smaller 32 in the 2A bracket. The 32 teams in the 2A bracket are then split in half, again, purely by geography, with the 16 westernmost teams going into the 2A West bracket.
That’s the reason that four of the top eight teams in last week’s Associated Press poll are in the 2A West bracket, and that doesn’t include the 8-3 Wolverines and 9-2 North Wilkes. Carver (10-1) is the top seed in the bracket, followed by North Rowan (11-0), North Wilkes, Reidsville (9-2), Polk County and Shelby (8-3). Polk could face a second-round trip to Reidsville with a win on Friday.
“In order to be a state champion you are going to have to beat good teams along the way,” Ollis said. “No doubt there are many talented teams in the West and I feel like we are one of them.”
With eight straight wins and a conference championship, Polk County certainly has proven itself worthy of a high seed. Now the Wolverines move on to the next mission on their list, with the first step at home on Friday.
“The playoffs are about advancing,” Ollis said. “We must find a way to pick up a victory and move on to the second round.”