Best in the Blue Ridge: Polk County Middle captures football title
Early in Thursday’s Blue Ridge Conference football championship game, a Waynesville Middle player yelled at his teammates.
“C’mon. That one guy is all they’ve got,” the player shouted.
The cluster of Polk County Middle players in the postgame huddle with the league championship trophy would beg to differ.
For the first time in school history, Polk Middle is the BRC’s best. The Wolverines claimed that title with a 16-14 victory before a large crowd at Utz Field.
That “one guy,” Angus Weaver, scored two touchdowns and two two-point conversions and certainly made his presence felt. But there were Wolverines all over the field making key plays from the opening kickoff, the only way that Polk Middle would upend a previously unbeaten Waynesville Middle squad that hadn’t lost in more than two years.
As big a play as any came with 90 seconds remaining. With Waynesville driving for a potential game-winning score, Polk’s Makus Simpson intercepted a Mountaineer pass near the Wolverine 40, ending the Waynesville threat. One Weaver run later, Polk lined up in victory formation, took a knee and began to celebrate.
“I thought it was great team execution,” said Polk Middle head coach Ethan Edwards. “The defense showed up big and slowed them down. This team’s been scoring 30 and 40 points a game. We held them down and we held the ball on offense like we planned.
“Antonio (Simpson) made two beautiful catches. Makus Simpson ran the ball extremely hard and came up with the interception at the end of the game. Makus is awesome, but he couldn’t do it without the people around him.”
Polk Middle scored on two of its three first-half drives – one its longest of the day, the other its shortest.
The Wolverines took the opening kickoff and held the ball for the entire first quarter, steadily marching upfield. Simpson had key runs of 14 and 12 yards and Weaver converted three third downs, the final a 3rd-and-3 at the 4. He scored from the 1 on the first play of the second quarter, capping the 13-play, 62-yard drive, then added the 2-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.
“The first drive was exactly our game plan,” Edwards said. “We take the whole quarter, then score right at the beginning of the second quarter and get our two points, and those two points are valuable.”
Waynesville answered on its first possession, driving 50 yards in nine plays to score with 3:43 left in the half. The Mountaineers failed to convert their 2-point attempt, though, which would prove crucial.
The teams swapped fourth-down stops, with Polk taking over at the Waynesville 39 with 32 seconds remaining before halftime. Weaver ran for a yard before tossing a 20-yard pass to Antonio Simpson to take Polk to the 18. With time ticking away, Casey Beiler found Weaver open on the left side, and the eighth grader pulled a couple of defenders into the end zone with 10 seconds left. He then ran for the 2-point conversion to make it 16-6 at the half.
Waynesville scored on the opening drive of the third period to cut Polk County’s lead to 16-14 with 2:28 left in the quarter. The Wolverines then appeared to be driving for a score in response, reaching the Mountaineer 16, before three penalties pushed Polk back into a 3rd-and-30 at the 36. The Wolverines eventually turned the ball over at the 18 with 4:58 remaining in the game.
The Mountaineers drove into Polk territory before an Ethan Jackson sack pushed Waynesville back to midfield, facing 3rd-and-20. Simpson’s interception on the next play sealed Polk’s win.
And soon the celebration would begin, the one guy and a bunch of championship-winning others shouting in joy all over Utz Field.
“It’s special,” Edwards said. “This group has been really good as they’ve grown up. It’s one of those that you see coming and you kind of look forward to.
“To win this conference, the whole deal, is a challenge, especially for someone on the Eastern side of the conference. It doesn’t happen often.”