Jackson’s game-winning grab helps lift Polk Middle to another last-minute victory

Overtime win a week ago at Brevard Middle. Last-second win Thursday over Apple Valley Middle.

Polk County Middle’s football season is certainly not lacking for drama.

Aaron Jackson hauled in a fourth-down touchdown pass with three seconds left Thursday as the Wolverines engineered their second straight last-minute win, a 16-12 victory over the Knights at Utz Field.

Photos: Polk County Middle vs. Apple Valley Middle

Apple Valley (1-2) grabbed a 12-8 lead early in the fourth quarter, converting a Polk County fumble into a short scoring drive. The Knights’ ensuing squib kickoff left the Wolverines (2-1) 60 yards from the end zone with 6:18 showing on the clock.

Polk County steadily began to cover that distance, relying heavily on running back Lorenzo Sanchez. The eighth grader carried on nine of the drive’s first 10 plays, including a field-reversing, tackle-breaking jaunt that moved the Wolverines to the Apple Valley 4.

Polk lost four yards on its next play, but a five-yard pass from Jackson to Sawyer Huff took the Wolverines to the 3. An incompletion there left Polk facing fourth-and-goal.

The Wolverines dipped into the playbook and called for their trademark spread formation with linemen and one receiver on one side of the field, a single receiver on the other side and a center and two backs in the middle of the field. Jackson moved from quarterback to center for the play, with tight end Avery Hensley taking the snap.

Hensley took one step and lofted a high pass that the lanky Jackson leapt and tipped, then speared with one hand and pulled to his body while falling in the end zone.

Polk ran the same formation with Hensley sweeping around right end for the 2-point conversion.

Aaron Jackson (21) celebrates the game-winning touchdown with Lorenzo Sanchez (4) and Zalen McCraw

“We’ve dealt with a lot of quarantines and a lot of people playing out of position the last two weeks,” said Polk Middle head coach Ethan Edwards. “I feel like we’re finally adjusting to that.

“We’re moving in the right direction. People are stepping up and into roles they’re unaccustomed to and adjusting on the fly.”

Apple Valley scored on its first drive, but Polk County’s defense settled in and stopped the next Knight drive on downs and another with an interception, leaving the deficit at 6-0 at halftime.

That changed on Polk’s first possession of the third period. Facing fourth-and-3 at the 47, the Wolverines lined up in that same spread formation, with Hensley firing a quick pass to Sanchez, running a slant from the right side of the formation. Sanchez made a cut to avoid a tackler and raced to the end zone for a 53-yard score.

Foreshadowing the end-of-game play, Hensley tosed a 2-point conversion to Jackson, and Polk led 8-6 with 5:23 left in the period.

Apple Valley responded with a drive deep into Polk territory, But back-to-back tackles by Aiden Billings and Hensley helped stop the drive, which ended with Polk taking possession at its 18.

The Wolverines fumbled on the next play, leading to Apple Valley’s go-ahead score.

“That’s something we’ve got to work on,” Edwards said. “We’ve turned the ball over three weeks in a row.”

Polk Middle will continue a three-game homestand next Thursday, with Flat Rock visiting Utz Field for a 5 p.m. kickoff.

“It’s been challenging,” Edwards said of the early-season roster juggling. “But I think we’re in a good position to compete.”

Polk Middle’s Zalen McCraw hauls down an Apple Valley runner during Thursday’s matchup