Steven Chupp hasn’t caught anything but touchdown passes this season. The one he caught Friday night, though, may mean just a bit more than the others.
Polk County finally found a crack in Hendersonville’s defense and Chupp ran right through it, snaring a pass, splitting two Bearcat defenders and racing 41 yards with 1:30 remaining to lift Polk County to a 20-17 non-conference victory in G.M. Tennant Stadium.
With a live regional television audience watching, Polk County improved to 5-0 for the first time since 2010. It also marked the first time since 2014 that Polk defeated Hendersonville.
Throw in one more first – the Wolverines hadn’t trailed all season until midway through the fourth quarter when Hendersonville’s Hazhan Collington swept around left end, broke a tackle and raced 63 yards to the end zone with 5:21 remaining. Angel Rameriz added the extra point to give Hendersonville (3-3) a 17-14 advantage.
Polk took possession at its 28 and went to work. Bryce Jergenson completed a 16-yard pass to Jordan Bishop on the drive’s second play and Gage McSwain followed with a 13-yard scamper to move the Wolverines into Bearcat territory. A holding penalty negated a Jergenson run for a first down, and the Wolverines soon faced third-and-7 at the 41.
Assistant coach Zach Searcy suggested a pass play with a wheel/post route combination. Chupp ran the post, leaping near the 25 to snare a perfect pass from Jergenson, then finding nothing but a clear path to the end zone as both Hendersonville defensive backs ran past.
It was Chupp’s third catch of the season. All three have been touchdowns.
“That’s a play we practice a lot,” Chupp said. “I saw before the play that they left the hash open. I just tried to attack the ball, then just wanted to get to the end zone. I saw the safety coming and knew he had overcommitted.
“It was a great play call and the quarterback threw a nice ball. It feels amazing. I’ve never felt anything better.”
The game evolved, perhaps surprisingly, as a defensive struggle. Polk intercepted three passes and held Hendersonville quarterback Woodson Hunter to just 36 yards on 4-of-17 attempts. The Wolverines, meanwhile, needed 49 rushing attempts to gain 139 yards, well below their average, though Jergenson did finish 4-for-5 passing for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
“We didn’t play our best, but they had a lot do with that,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “They really played well defensively.
“At halftime we told the players, men, get your chins off your chests. We told you it would be a great game. We needed a game like this after not having a close one so far. We found out what we’re made of, that we can come back and make plays when the game is on the line to get a win.”
The Wolverines scored on the opening drive of the game, Jergenson tossing a 35-yard touchdown to Chase McSwain on a play similar to Chupp’s score, though McSwain tossed in a couple of broken tackles. Polk then gave back two of those points midway through the second period on a bad snap on a punt attempt, the ball rolling into the end zone, where Matias Akers fell on it for a Hendersonville safety.
A Bishop interception stopped Hendersonville’s next drive, and Polk took advantage, driving to the 18 before Akers hit a 36-yard field goal with 2:27 left in the half for a 10-2 lead.
Kade Joyce’s long kickoff return, though, gave the Bearcats the ball in Polk territory, and Jayleon Gaines capped the short drive with a 2-yard scamper with just seven seconds left in the half. Rameriz booted the point after to make it 10-10 at the break.
Shane Parris’ interception late in the third period (Tyler Staley had the other interception in the first half) gave Polk the ball at the Hendersonville 35. The Wolverines drove to the 18, where Akers missed a 34-yard field goal attempt. The Bearcats, though, were flagged for running into the holder, and Akers hit from 19 yards a few plays later to make it 13-10 with 6:50 left in the game.
That would set the stage for Collington to score his third touchdown of the season and Chupp to follow soon after with his.
“The kids didn’t get down when we got behind at the end,” Ollis said. “I didn’t see any chins on anyone’s chest. We talked about getting a good kickoff return and driving down and winning the football game, and that’s what we did.”
Hendersonville 0 10 0 7 — 17
Polk County 7 3 0 10 — 20
PC – Chase McSwain 35 pass from Bryce Jergenson (Matias Akers kick), 9:56
H – Safety, 7:08
PC – Akers 36 FG, 2:27
H – Jayleon Gaines 2 run (Woodson Hunter to Eric Rasheed pass), :07
PC – Akers 19 FG, 6:50
H – Hazhan Collington 63 run (Angel Rameriz kick), 5:21
PC – Steven Chupp 41 pass from Jergenson (Akers kick), 1:30
H – Hazhan Collington 9-86, Woodson Hunter 8-39, Jayleon Gaines 10-37. PC – Lukas Tipton 15-50, Gage McSwain 4-30, Bryce Jergenson 15-26, Angus Weaver 4-24, Nate Henderson 3-25, Jordan Bishop 6-2, Team 2-(-18).
H – Hunter 4-17-36-3. PC – Jergenson 4-5-100-0.
H – Dorian Allen 1-16, Alex Lemmens 1-12, Clay Sawtelle 1-7, Keyshawn Smith 1-1. PC – Steven Chupp 1-41, Chase McSwain 1-35, Jordan Bishop 1-16, Angus Weaver 1-8.