BURNSVILLE – Take three of Friday’s four quarters at Mountain Heritage and Polk County may well have regained the groove that head coach Bruce Ollis said had been missing in recent weeks.
That remaining quarter, though, kept the Wolverines from engineering their biggest win of the season.
The third period provided Mountain Heritage with the impetus it needed to take control of its Senior Night fracas, the Cougars earning a 28-21 victory over Polk County in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Polk County (8-3, 2-3) will learn its playoff fate on Saturday. The Wolverines are expected to earn a high enough seed in the 1AA playoffs to get a first-round home game.
In securing a third straight undisputed Western Highlands Conference title and its fifth straight overall, Mountain Heritage (9-1, 5-0) took an unexpected route. Senior quarterback Callin Randolph threw for a career-high 206 yards and three touchdowns, the yardage the most for a Cougar quarterback since 2014.
Yet Polk County still had its shot at an upset. The Wolverines cut a 28-14 fourth-quarter deficit in half as Bryce Jergenson teamed with Steven Chupp on a 42-yard touchdown pass with 5:15 remaining, then forced a three-and-out and regained possession. But Mountain Heritage senior London Neill intercepted a fourth-down pass, and the Cougars ran out the clock to secure the win.
“We just didn’t defend the thrown ball tonight,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “Who would have thought you’d lose to Mountain Heritage and they throw three touchdown passes? That probably wasn’t (Mountain Heritage head coach Joey Robinson)’s M.O. coming in to the ballgame.
“We played really well against a great team. They’re a great football team. We were close tonight. We were close.”
Polk County could look to the third quarter as a key reason it got no closer.
The Wolverines, who led 14-12 at the half, had three possessions in the period, each resulting in a fourth down and two yards or less. Polk tried a pass on fourth-and-2 on the first drive that resulted in an interception, then punted the next two times on fourth-and-ones in its territory.
Mountain Heritage turned the first kick into a score as tight end Logan Higgins slipped out of the backfield and cleared Polk County’s secondary by five yards before catching a 53-yard touchdown pass from Randolph. Bailey Johnson added the 2-point conversion, and the Cougars took their first lead of the game at 20-14 with 4:30 left in the third period.
The Wolverines went three-and-out and kicked, and the Cougars took over at their 47. Mountain Heritage covered the 53 yards to the end zone in 12 plays, keeping the ball for more than five minutes until Kason Hall ended the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. Hall then added the 2-point conversion to extend the lead to 28-14 with 9:07 left in the game.
“The third quarter was our bugaboo tonight,” Ollis said. “We had three three-and-outs, all by (two yards or less). If we make those yards, who knows?”
The teams traded touchdowns in the first period – Polk scoring on a Jergenson 1-yard run and Mountain Heritage on a 74-yard pass from Randolph to Daniel Westall – before the Wolverines extended their lead to 14-6 in the second period on Angus Weaver’s 26-yard run. The Cougars answered with 1:32 left in the half as Randolph found Nathaniel Ledford open on a sideline route for a 21-yard score. The 2-point conversion attempt failed, leaving Polk County ahead 14-12 at the half.
Gage McSwain led Polk County with 68 yards rushing, with Weaver adding 9 and Chupp catching two passes for 71 yards.
“We were the most locked-in, intense football team that we’ve been all year at practice this week,” Ollis said. “We changed up our approach to practice. We shortened up practice a little bit, did some different things and I thought our team was more energized tonight.
“The great thing about next week is that everybody is 0-0, and all you gotta be is 1-0 after each Friday night. We got on that little run last year, and we’ve just got to go two more weeks.”