Defense, early scoring flurry push Polk County past Mountain Heritage
Second snap Friday night in Wolverine Stadium, Mountain Heritage running back Zeke Seaton moved to his right, took an inside handoff and promptly got whacked by Polk County defensive lineman Damian Jackson.
And so went the night for the Wolverine defense.
Polk County forced four turnovers and held Mountain Heritage’s high-scoring offense to a single touchdown in taking a key Western Highlands Conference win, 34-6, in the 300th game in the program’s history.
The win, Polk County’s fifth straight, improved the Wolverines to 5-2 overall, 2-0 in WHC play. Polk County now shares the WHC lead with Owen, who defeated Mitchell 28-18 on Friday. Mountain Heritage saw its three-game winning streak end and is now 4-3, 1-1
“Our slogan this week was OCT. Oct is short for October, but the bulk of our conference season is in October, so we’re going to take that acronym and say Our Conference Title,” said Polk County head coach Jamie Thompson. “If we win every game in October, then we’ve at least shared the conference championship.
“Every week in October is huge, starting with Mountain Heritage tonight.”
The Wolverine offense also made its presence known early, scoring on its second play and first three possessions as Polk County built a 21-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. Including last year’s 80-36 win at Mountain Heritage, the early surge meant the Wolverines tallied 101 points over five quarters against the Cougars.
That first-quarter total would be all the Wolverine defense would need. Though Mountain Heritage was able to sustain a few drives and finished with 242 yards rushing, the Cougars never had a snap inside the Polk County red zone, their only touchdown coming on a 32-yard run by Bryson Cooper early in the second quarter.
“We played well on defense,” Thompson said. “They run a lot of different formations and run similar plays, and we were able to make some good calls and put our kids in right positions. (Defensive coordinator Mark Duncan) did a great job tonight calling it tonight and the kids did a great job executing it. I was really proud of their effort.”
Despite the hard rain that pounded the area on Friday morning and early afternoon, the Wolverine Stadium field remained in fairly good shape throughout the evening. But the wet ball may have played a role in a wild second quarter in which the six possessions for the two teams following Cooper’s touchdown went like this: fumble, interception, interception, interception, interception, end of half.
The teams traded punts to open the second half before Polk County put together a classic Wolverine drive, a 12-play, 51-yard possession that lasted nearly five minutes. The Wolverines converted a fourth-and-3 at the 34, Jordan Smith plowing up the middle for five yards, and Storm Wheeler capped the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run. Davis Derkach’s extra point made it 27-6 with 1:08 left in the third, and when Mountain Heritage failed to convert a fourth down in its territory on the next possession, the game was effectively over. Polk drove 39 yards following that failed attempt for its final score, Bryce Martin’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Mountain Heritage entered the game averaging more than 36 points per game, but the Wolverines set the tone early by forcing a three-and-out. Taking possession at the Heritage 49, Wheeler burst over the right side for a 44-yard gallop on Polk’s first play, a play that Thompson planned after spotting something on film during the week. Smith then rumbled up the middle for a seven-yard score, and the Wolverines were up 7-0 just two minutes into the game.
The Cougars again failed to pick up a first down and punted, and again Polk took possession near midfield, this time on its 44. Jamal Wheeler converted a fourth-and-4 at midfield with a 10-yard pass to Chupp, then fired a pass from the 29-yard line that Chupp caught inside the 5, but fumbled as he was hit near the goal line. The ball bounced into the end zone, where Dequan Gary recovered for a Wolverine touchdown. Davis Derkach’s extra point made it 14-0 with 3:27 left in the quarter.
The Cougar offense began clicking on its next possession, moving from the 13 to the Polk 29 in seven plays. But on the eighth play, the Wolverines forced a fumble, with Chupp recovering at the 26-yard line to stop the Heritage threat. One play later, Jamal Wheeler rolled to his left and tossed a pass to Smith, who made three defenders miss en route to a 74-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Derkach’s point after made it 21-0 as the first quarter ended.
“We got off to a hot start, then kind of went cold in the second quarter,” Thompson said. “We saw what they were giving us on film this week, so we came up with a little scheme to run on the very first play, the play I had planned on running since Sunday. We were up 21-0, and I just wonder if our kids were kind of like, this is easy, and we kind of stepped off the pedal and got a little sluggish there.
“They kind of kicked us back, and we had to stand up and rise to the occasion there, and we did that.”
Storm Wheeler ran for 77 yards on 11 carries, Jamal Wheeler had 57 yards on 11 carries and Smith had 43 yards on nine carries to lead Polk County. Jamal Wheeler also finished the game 5-for-9 passing for 134 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Trey Robinson rushed for 91 yards on 19 carries to lead Mountain Heritage, but was just 2-of-10 passing for 33 yards with two interceptions.