ASHEBORO – As Angus Weaver rumbled upfield Friday evening on a long third-quarter run, a Southwestern Randolph fan turned to a group of fellow supporters and sighed.
“Boys, we’re in deep trouble,” he said.
Polk County held a 29-14 lead at that point and kept that margin until game’s end, defeating the Cougars in the opening round of the state 2A playoffs.
The Wolverines (7-3) remained perfect on the road this season and will put that unblemished mark to the ultimate test next Friday, traveling to top-seeded Shelby (10-1) for a second-round matchup. The Golden Lions defeated Owen 55-3 in their opener.
Southwestern Randolph (8-3) led 14-6 at the end of the first period, but Polk County’s defense blanked an offense averaging 40 points per game the rest of the chilly evening, forcing two key third-quarter turnovers that effectively spoiled the Cougars’ hopes of earning the first postseason win in school history. The point total matched the lowest single-game total this season for Southwestern.
The Wolverine offense, meanwhile, accumulated more than 400 total yards and, most importantly, kept the high-powered Cougar attack off the field much of the second half. Polk County dominated time of possession in the final two quarters – 17:25-6:35 – and held the ball for nearly all of the final eight minutes of the game, ensuring that Southwestern Randolph would have no chance to attempt a comeback.
“We did so many things well,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “I wish we would have finished the drive there at the end, but it wound up being a blessing in disguise because we ran the whole clock out in the fourth quarter, almost.
“I don’t think we had any stars tonight, but we had a lot of guys that made plays when the game was on the line, and that was big.”
Polk County took a 22-14 lead just before halftime as Logan Nodine hit a 23-yard field goal in the final seconds, then firmly took command of the game in the third quarter.
The Wolverines took the opening kickoff of the second half and quickly marched 78 yards for a score. Casey Beiler – who finished the night 12-of-26 passing for 237 yards – hit Antonio Simpson for 33 yards to move Polk into Cougar territory, then went back to Simpson for a 30-yard scoring toss. Nodine’s extra point made it 29-14 with 9:10 left in the third.
Southwestern seemed poised to immediately respond, as Keaton Reed teamed with Bryson Reid on a 59-yard pass play to the Wolverine 2. But there disaster struck for the Cougars, a fumbled handoff recovered by Weaver to thwart that scoring chance.
Weaver’s 23-yard romp around left end got the Wolverines away from their end zone and prompted the forlorn declaration by the Cougar fan. But Southwestern was far from done, forcing a punt and quickly getting back into Wolverine territory as Reed and Reid teamed this time for a 41-yard completion.
A play later, though, the Polk defense again turned the tide, with Keaundrae Green leaping to pick off a Reed pass down the middle of the field. The Cougars would then drive to the Polk 26 on their next possession before the Wolverines stopped a fourth-down play. Randolph only got the ball once more in the fourth, that with seconds remaining.
“That drive (to open the third quarter), we sat down and came up with a plan for that first drive, and everything we talked about kind of clicked and we got into the end zone,” Ollis said. “I think that was difficult for them to overcome.
“(After the first quarter) I said, boys, are we going to be in a scoring battle? That very second, (defensive coordinator Jamie Thompson) said Coach, they’re done scoring. Well, he’s a prophet. I need to listen to Jamie Thompson more often.”
The first quarter did unfurl in a back-and-forth touchdown tussle. The Cougars scored on their second possession, a 7-yard Reed run, but Polk immediately answered. Beiler’s 44-yard pass to Jacob Knighton moved the Wolverines to the 1, and Beiler snuck into the end zone on the next play. A low snap helped spoil the point after attempt and keep Southwestern ahead, 7-6.
The Cougars responded with a 55-yard scoring drive, capped by Reed’s 14-yard run, to take a 14-6 lead with 12 seconds left in the opening quarter. Back came Polk, with Beiler finding Knighton for 27 yards, Weaver ripping off back-to-back 12-yard runs and then Weaver plowing up the middle for an 8-yard scoring run. A failed 2-point conversion attempt left the score at 14-12 with 9:20 left in the half.
The Wolverines scored again on their next possession on Steven Chupp’s 21-yard sweep around left end, then ended the half with Nodine’s 23-yard field goal.
“That was huge, the field goal right before the half to give us momentum,” Ollis said.
Also playing a key role, Ollis noted – Polk County’s band, which made the long drive and played almost continiously through the game.
“It was awfully motivating for our players, coaches and fans to have our band in attendance,” Ollis said. “A huge shoutout to Cindy Gilbert for making it happen. They were difference makers.”
Weaver had 16 carries for 90 yards and Mackus Simpson had 11 for 84, including a highlight-film 34-yarder on the final drive when he broke numerous tackles and carried a pair of defenders the final few yards. Knighton had three catches for 98 yards and Antonio Simpson had three catches for 64 yards.
Reed rushed for 117 yards on 16 attempts, with 107 of that total in the first half, and completed 9-of-21 passes for 168 yards.
Its playoff opener won for the fourth straight season, Polk County will now turn its focus to Shelby.