It’s been a few years since Maiden and Polk County last met on the football field, but Wolverine head coach Bruce Ollis has forgotten little about the series.
“The guys on our team don’t realize we’ve got some history with Maiden,” Ollis said. “(Assistant coach Jamie Thompson) and I sat here the other day and figured out that the last four times we played them, we’re two and two with them.
“So I guess this is the rubber match to a certain degree.”
A decider of sorts with the highest of stakes – the chance to move forward in the state 2A playoffs. That’s what awaits the winner of Friday’s first-round matchup between the Blue Devils and Wolverines in Maiden, kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 and will be sold at the gate, and there will be no streaming video available of the game.
It’s been 11 years since Polk County and Maiden last met, as once upon a time the two schools were in the same conference. Maiden is nicknamed “the biggest little football town in the world,” and Blue Devils fans have certainly flocked to watch this year’s squad.
Maiden won the Catawba Valley Conference championship and finished with a 9-1 record. Leading the way for the Blue Devils has been senior wide receiver / defensive back Chris Culliver, a Shrine Bowl selection hailed as one of the state’s top seniors and a committed recruit to North Carolina.
Culliver has caught 60 passes for 1,325 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. Senior Jacob Sigmon hauled in 34 passes for 431 yards and two scores while sophomore Raheim Misher grabbed 12 catches for 421 yards and six scores.
Senior quarterback Wesley Thompson, who transferred this spring from Ashe County, has thrown for 2,525 yards, yet Maiden still has more rushing attempts (251) than passing attempts (214). Senior Ben Gibbs, an Army commit, has rushed for 1,118 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
Offensive weapons, the Blue Devils have.
“They’ve got a quality team, and we’ll have to play as well as we can play,” Ollis said. “(Culliver) is the real deal. He’s a dynamic, electric, fast kid, and he plays with a lot of swagger. They throw it to him all over the place. Certainly, we’ve got to account for him. Plus they’ve got a running back who has rushed for over 1,000 yards.
“They’re a lot like us. We’ve got a running back who has rushed for 1,500 yards and a receiver just below 1,000 yards. I don’t know if those cancel each other out, but certainly we both rely on one of our really good receivers and a really good running back.”
Polk’s standout runner is senior Angus Weaver, also a Shrine Bowl selection, while junior Antonio Simpson enters with 959 receiving yards on 44 catches. Simpson is just 106 yards short of matching the school record for single-season yardage while quarterback Casey Beiler needs just 116 passing yards to reach 4,000 for his career.
Aiding Beiler’s quest for that figure will be an unexpected source – Keaundrae Green has recovered from a shoulder injury suffered at Chase and is expected to play in Friday’s game.
“That gives us another run-fast guy, a guy that can help in coverage, a guy that can catch passes and provides a lot of speed on the field,” Ollis said. “Maybe that takes some pressure off Tony as a receiver. He came out to practice Monday and was going great guns and 90 miles an hour, which we know he can do. We’re excited to get him back.”
The playoff challenge will have some extra special spectators for Ollis, who coached at nearby Lenoir-Rhyne early in his career.
“When I was coaching at Lenoir-Rhyne, we had some players on our team from over at Maiden, and I’m sure some of those might be at the game,” he said. “I think (basketball coach and L-R alum) Lemont Jones was at Lenoir-Rhyne the other day and ran into a few guys and they said they were going to come check the game out.
“So that will be fun. I’ll see some old Bears and hopefully disappoint them with the outcome.”