Avery challenge awaits as Wolverines look to bounce back from first loss
The moniker Mountain Air is already attached to a golf course in Burnsville, which is a shame, because Avery’s offense this season screams to be nicknamed such.
The Vikings have thrown often and well, a key factor in the team’s 5-3 record and a key concern for Polk County as the Wolverines trek to Newland on Friday for a Western Highlands Conference battle. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Avery junior Troy Hoilman leads a West Coast-style passing game that is almost the inverse of Polk County’s flexbone – the Vikings have a 2:1 pass-run ratio and five receivers with at least 30 catches. Hoilman has completed 60 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,085 yards and 27 touchdowns.
It’s an approach unlike anything Polk County has seen this season.
“I think, and people may argue with me, that they’re the most improved team in the mountains,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “They’ve got a guy who has thrown for over 2,000 yards, but people don’t realize that they’re playing really well on defense.
“Mac Bryan (Avery’s head coach) is a good friend of mine, and Mac is a really talented football coach. They’re playing with a little bit of swagger.”
Bryan, the veteran head coach who has been successful at the high school and collegiate levels, is in Avery thanks in part to a local connection – former Polk County superintendent Bill Miller helped hire Bryan during his stint as Avery County’s interim superintendent.
Bryan has overseen a transformation at Avery (5-3, 1-1) that has the passing game as its focal point.
“It’s not all vertical,” Ollis said. “It’s a little like a West Coast offense in that they have stops and bubble screens and so forth. They’ve got five receivers with at least 30 catches, so there’s no one guy to focus on, a lot like our running game.
“For us to be successful, we’ve got to get pressure on the passer. The Hoilman kid is a talented player. He’s really good at avoiding sacks and getting the ball out. You don’t see people sack him a lot.”
Ty Smith and Chad Giarrusso each have 39 catches to lead Avery. Running back Lucas Andrews is the team’s top rusher, with 81 carries for 481 yards, and one of the top tacklers for a defense that Ollis said is designed to free up linebackers to make plays.
The Wolverines (7-1, 1-1) will travel to Avery off their first loss of the season, a 20-14 setback at Owen. Three plays essentially decided the game – two long Owen touchdowns and Polk’s failure to score from the 2 in the fourth quarter – and Polk’s coaches have been reminding the Wolverines of that this week.
They’ve also made certain that Polk players remember that wins in their final three games would still make the Wolverines conference champions.
“We’re not in panic mode,” Ollis said. “I hope that the loss has got us refocused about finishing the task at hand. I know this has gotten the coaches and players’ attention.
“There are five quality football teams in this conference. I think it’s the best 1A/2A conference in the state. That makes it exciting. It’s almost like a playoff atmosphere every time we take the field.”
With Avery one of Polk’s 1A rivals in the conference, Friday’s game could have added meaning for the postseason – not that it needs more hype.
“Everything we want to accomplish is still in front of us,” Ollis said. “We just don’t have any room for error going forward.”