BURNSVILLE – In time, they will be just two lines in the ridiculously long scoring summary of Polk County’s remarkable, unbelievable, not-enough-words-to-describe 80-36 Western Highlands Conference victory Friday night at Mountain Heritage.
True, in a game in which the Wolverines scored 12 touchdowns five different ways, a game in which Polk scored 54 second-half points, it seems a bit trivial to point out any two scores as being game changing. Yet, without doubt, the touchdowns scored in the first half by Anthony Carson and Debois Miller absolutely changed the tenor of the game, each instrumental for different reasons in laying the groundwork for the torrent of points that soon followed.
And follow, boy, they did. Polk scored eight rushing touchdowns, a receiving touchdown, returned a kickoff for a score, an interception for another and a fumble for yet one more. The Wolverines didn’t reach the school record of 90 points scored in 2010 against Thomas Jefferson, but you could easily argue that putting up 80 against a Mountain Heritage team that entered with a four-game winning streak, fresh off a win at Hendersonville, is a far more impressive feat than what Polk did to a fledgling program three years ago.
“This is a huge statement game for us,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “Eighty points is going to send some shock waves through the area.”
Making the final score even more remarkable – Mountain Heritage (4-3, 1-1) held a 14-0 lead barely five minutes into the game. The Cougars took the opening kickoff and drove 69 yards in five plays to score, stopped Polk on a fourth-and-2 at the Wolverine 46 and scored again on a 49-yard touchdown run by Dalton Cannon. Still not even halfway through the first quarter, Mountain Heritage had 121 total yards, a 14-0 lead and seemingly all the momentum.
And that’s when Carson delivered the game’s first turning point. Polk County (4-3, 2-0) needed a big play from someone, and as he already has so often this season, the senior wide receiver made it. On third-and-19 from the Wolverine 35, Polk quarterback Reece Schlabach took the snap, slowly drifted to his right and lofted a pass deep downfield toward Carson and two Heritage defenders. All three jumped for the ball, with Carson somehow both getting his hands on it and hanging on as the trio came down. Not satisfied, he then pulled away from both, evaded another would-be tackler and drug one more into the end zone. The 65-yard play cut the Heritage lead to 14-6 and, perhaps more importantly, gave Polk County some much-needed inspiration.
Four plays later, they found more, as Tyrone Miller intercepted a Heritage pass, making a sliding catch along the Cougars’ sideline and giving Polk the ball at its 49. There, on the Wolverines’ next play, Jordan Smith exploded through the Heritage line and raced the 51 yards to the end zone. A 2-point attempt failed, but with 2:33 still left in the first period, the Wolverines were back in it at 14-12.
“Anthony made an incredible catch in a crowd,” Ollis said. “That was really big. If we don’t make that play, maybe it’s a different story. That was an incredible touchdown that gave us (a) spark.”
Said spark began to glow brighter when the Wolverines, after stopping Heritage on a fourth-and-6 near midfield, scored on Matt Darden’s 5-yard run to take a 19-14 lead with 2:32 left in the second quarter.
And then came the strike that ignited the inferno.
Following Darden’s score, Heritage took possession on its 35. Running back Joey Brown took a handoff into the center of the field, slamming into the mass of blockers and defenders piled at the line of scrimmage. Suddenly from that pile emerged Debois Miller, the 5-10, 210-pound senior defensive lineman chugging toward the end zone. It took a few seconds for both sides of the field to fully realize what was happening, that Miller had stripped Brown of the ball and now had it firmly in his grasp. Soon Miller was in the end zone and Anthony Marino’s extra point made it 26-14 with 2:18 left in the half.
The Polk side of the field celebrated deliriously. The Heritage side notably grew quiet and somewhat deflated.
“The most dynamic play of the game, the one that set the tempo for doing what we did, was Debois Miller stripping the ball and returning it for a touchdown,” Ollis said. “That is probably the best play he has ever made for us. That was the spark that lit the fuse and got us on a roll there.”
Polk couldn’t have gotten on more of a roll had it slid down the steep, towering banks in which the home stands at E.L. Briggs Stadium are built. Smith returned the opening kickoff of the second half to the Cougars 20, and the onslaught began. Smith scored from two yards out for a 32-14 Polk lead. J.C. Suddeth recovered a Heritage fumble at the 44 and, two plays later, Darden swept left, cut back across the field and raced to the end zone, fumbling after being hit at the 1 but recovering in the end zone for a 44-yard scoring play. Marino’s extra point sailed true for a 39-14 advantage.
Two plays later, Tyrone Miller recorded another interception to give Polk the ball at the Cougar 33. Smith ripped up the middle for 22 yards, then Schlabach powered through the middle for the remaining 11 and another score. Marino again converted the extra point, and Polk’s lead grew to 46-14.
Another interception on the Cougars’ next drive, this one by Bryce Martin, gave Polk the ball at the 27. Jamal Tanner capped that drive with a 15-yard touchdown run, and the lead increased to 53-14 with 1:38 left in the third quarter, a quarter that was literally played all in Heritage’s half of the field until the final minute of the period.
Following an eight-play, 58 yard Cougar scoring drive that cut that margin to 53-22 early in the fourth quarter, ending the Wolverines’ run of 53 unanswered points, Polk recovered an onsides kick attempt at its 47. One play later, Schlabach scampered 45 yards for another Polk touchdown and a 59-22 lead. The Cougars responded with a 62-yard scoring drive, but Polk immediately replied as Tyrone Miller fielded another onsides kick attempt and raced through the Heritage defense for a 64-yard kick return score and a 66-30 lead.
Tanner then intercepted a Heritage pass and returned it 43 yards for another Polk touchdown and a 73-30 margin. Heritage answered with a touchdown drive of its own before Polk finally closed out the scoring on a memorable note – freshman Storm Wheeler turning the first carry of his varsity career into a 75-yard touchdown run.
80-36. And, whew.
“So many people contributed,” Ollis said. “This was a complete victory for us.
“I never felt like we couldn’t come back. I take a little blame there for going for it there when it was fourth down and we didn’t make it and gave them a short field. But I always felt like we could get back in it.”
The Wolverines rushed for 324 yards on 25 carries, with Smith leading the team with 112 yards on seven carries and Schlabach adding 73 yards on 10 carries. The senior also threw for 116 yards on 4-of-9 attempts, with Carson catching three passes for 75 yards.
Mountain Heritage did roll up 351 yards rushing, with quarterback Trevor Robinson rushing for 103. But the Cougars committed seven turnovers, including five Polk interceptions, and many of those yards came after the outcome was long settled.
“Our team speed really showed tonight,” Ollis said. “That was one of the keys to victory on both sides of the ball.
“This was a great win. We’ll savor this one for a while, then start getting ready for Mitchell.”