Conference stakes high as Bearcats, Wolverines renew rivalry

A cool Friday evening in the forecast. A key conference showdown involving Hendersonville and Polk County.

Feels like a tale we’ve all heard told a few times before, yes?

The Bearcats and Wolverines are once again conference rivals, and though it is just the second week of Mountain Foothills 7 Conference play, Friday’s 7:30 p.m. matchup in G.M. Tennant Stadium already looms as one of the key games that will decide the league’s inaugural champion.

It will be Polk County Youth Football/Middle School Night, with players and cheerleaders from those teams honored during the evening. The game, the 33rd meeting between the schools, will also be shown live on NFHS Network.

It is definitely going to be a must-see affair.

The Bearcats enter with a 4-1 record and coming off a wild 49-42 win over R-S Central in their conference opener. Much as with Polk County (3-1, 1-0), Hendersonville’s lone loss came to a defending state champion, that being a 42-13 loss to Daniel, S.C.

The two teams, along with Chase, were the consensus preseason picks to contend for the MF7 regular-season crown. With the Trojans certainly looking the role of championship contender thus far this season, picking up a win Friday is certainly vital for both Hendersonville and Polk.

“It’s a big rivalry game, and now it’s a conference game again, which increases its importance,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “It’s not just for bragging rights, but for first place in the conference.

“I think it will be a very competitive football game. It’s two teams playing with a lot of confidence. Both had losses that were very similar, and both have won the games they felt like they should have won.”

The unquestioned leader of the Bearcat attack is senior quarterback Gavin Gosnell (84-of-127, 1412 yards, 14 TDs; 49-231-7 rushing), who accounts for almost 330 yards of total offense per game. In the Bearcats’ 35-27 win over Polk in February, Gosnell threw for 266 yards and a score and ran for 85 more yards and another touchdown.

“Last (game), he beat us with his feet,” Ollis said. “His running ability on third and fourth down plays hurt us.

“They’re a little bit like us in that they’ve got three or four guys they can throw the football to. They have a lot of speed on the edge. They’re not tall kids, they’re more slot-type receivers, but they are very explosive. They can hit home runs throwing the football.”

Juniors Eric Rasheed (25-485-9 receiving), sophomore Malik Angram (24-288-2) and junior Lennard Benniefield (16-318-2) are Gosnell’s top targets, with freshman Hezzie Rudisill (71-480-6 rushing) leading the ground attack.

Polk County had its best passing showing of the season in last week’s 41-8 win at Patton as quarterback Casey Beiler threw for 220 yards and four touchdowns, looking sharp and focused throughout the game. Antonio Simpson caught two of those touchdowns, with Keaundrae Green grabbing one long touchdown catch and having another called back by penalty.

The Wolverines will have the services of junior Angus Weaver, who suffered a broken bone in his left hand in Friday’s win. The extent of Weaver’s availability remains to be determined, but “Angus is playing Friday night,” Ollis said.

Friday’s game will also push Polk past the halfway point of its season (the Wolverines will play just nine games). While perhaps not as unusual as the 2020 schedule played in the spring earlier this year , this year’s campaign has also had its unexpected turns with quarantines and a conference foe (East Rutherford) dropping varsity football.

Ollis said the Wolverines have largely been able to adjust to the twists and turns.

“We’re sitting here 3-1, and I’m smart enough to know that playing Salisbury was going to be a difficult test,” he said. Polk lost 44-0 in its second game to the defending 2AA state champions. “I still think we are a better team for having played them.

“We won our first Mountain Foothlls game on Friday, and that’s a good start for us as to where we want to be. This conference is really balanced, and we’re going to see nothing but good football teams the rest of the season. Hendersonville is really good. Brevard is good, Chase is good, R-S Central is good.

“But I think we’re in a pretty good spot. One of the best things you can say about our football team is that they’re a confident football team right now.”

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