PILOT MOUNTAIN – Halftime arrived Friday at East Surry and Polk County raced to the locker room with dreams of what might could be.
The Wolverines ended the first 24 minutes of their state 1AA West Regional final clash with a touchdown, deep stop on a kickoff and a sack, and the loudest sounds echoing throughout Diamont Stadium as intermission arrived came from Polk County’s side of the field as the Wolverines trailed just 14-7 and would receive the ball to open the second half.
Momentun, though, is oft a fickle friend, and as quickly as it embraced the Wolverines it departed.
East Surry scored twice in less than three minutes at the start of the third quarter, re-energizing its team, band and crowd. The Cardinals added another touchdown before the end of the period and never let Polk County score again in claiming a 41-7 victory.
East Surry (9-1) moves on to a third straight state final and a third straight meeting there with Tarboro. The two teams have split their past two encounters, and the rubber match should offer a worthy finale to the series as the Cardinals shift to the 2A ranks next season.
Polk County (6-2) will join East Surry in climbing to 2A and can take the first half of Friday’s clash as a building block in doing so. The Wolverines more than kept pace with the Cardinals for two quarters, putting together three possessions of 11 or more plays, the final one an 11-play drive that ended with Casey Beiler’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Eljiah Barnes.
That score, coming as Beiler deftly avoided an East Surry defender to flip a short pass to Barnes, and Gage McSwain’s sack of East Surry’s Folger Boaz on the final play of the half allowed Polk to make that sprint to the dressing room down seven.
“We played with a lot of intensity and a lot of enthusiasm,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “We go in with a score and a kickoff and pin them deep, and I think we had as much momentum going into a halftime as any game we played all year.”
Then came a start to third quarter that changed everything.
On Polk’s second snap of the period, a miscommunication meant a Beiler pass found the waiting arms of East Surry’s Layton Allen, who raced 30 yards to the end zone to boost the Cardinals’ advantage to 21-7. Polk followed with a three-and-out, and a nice punt return from Tye Needham gave East the ball at the Wolverine 38. The Cardinals scored in four plays, the last Luke Bullington’s 10-yard touchdown run, and grabbed a 27-7 lead with 8:44 still left in the third.
Bullington added a 41-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the quarter to boost East Surry’s advantage to 34-7.
Allen grabbed a 21-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth period, but by then the outcome was settled as Polk County’s offense could never regain its first-half effectiveness. The Wolverines had just 68 total yards in the final two quarters, and 42 of those came on two McSwain runs late in the fourth.
“We knew this was a great football team,” Ollis said of East Surry. “We knew that coming in, and we just didn’t get it done in the second half. The Cardinals had a lot to do with that.”
Polk County standout Angus Weaver did cross the 1,000-yard mark rushing for the season, but the sophomore was the focal point of East Surry’s defense and finished with just 43 yards on 22 carries. Beiler was 13-of-23 for 140 yards, including 12-of-15 for 127 yards in the first half. Steven Chupp had a couple of nice sideline catches and had four receptions for 59 yards, with Barnes catching five passes for 31 yards.
Boaz had an efficient 13-of-16, 127-yard effort for East Surry as the Cardinals hurt Polk County most on the ground; Bullington rushed for 159 yards on 16 carries as East totaled 267 yards rushing.
And so East Surry will make the trip next Saturday to Chapel Hill for a high noon showdown with Tarboro in Kenan Stadium. Polk County, meanwhile, will forget about football for a few weeks, then start workouts in mid-June for a 2021 season that will be here all too soon.
“We accomplished a lot this season. We did a lot of good things,” Ollis said. “Our seniors were a great group and provided a lot of leadership. A lot of the guys you saw on the field tonight will be back in the fall of 2021, and that’s something we’re excited about.
“I’m proud of what we accomplished and what we overcame in this most unusual year. Being one of the final four teams in the state is a big deal. We’re not satisfied with that, and hopefully next year we’ll do better.
“Better days are ahead.”