Polk County defensive lineman Kendall McEntyre forces West Henderson's Lucas Kachilo to scramble during last week's matchup

Polk, Landrum set to renew Thermal Belt football rivalry

There probably won’t be a need for any fiery pregame speeches in either locker room Friday night at G.M. Tennant Stadium.

For the first time in five seasons, Thermal Belt neighbors Landrum and Polk County are again meeting on the football field. The latest installment in the series is the 30th between the two schools, and it’s set for Friday at 7:30 p.m. in G.M. Tennant Stadium.

Both teams will enter off a loss last week, Landrum (1-1) falling to St. Joseph’s, Polk County (1-2)  falling to West Henderson. Both teams will likely not be thinking about those setbacks once the opening kickoff is in the air.

“I think it’s the best small high school rivalry anywhere,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis of the series, which Polk County leads 22-7. “I haven’t seen them all, but this one rates right up there.

“It’s a border battle between two high schools that are rivals. It’s bragging rights between Landrum and Tryon and Columbus. So it’s a big deal. It’ll be a lot of fun. There will be a lot of folks here and we’re looking forward to it. I think the fans are, too.”

The fans may get a quick evening as both teams will look to establish their standout running backs to lead their ground games. The Cardinals’ Colton Link has scored five of Landrum’s seven touchdowns and rushed for 175 yards in the season-opening win over Berea. Polk’s Angus Weaver has topped 100 yards rushing in each of the Wolverines’ first three games and has scored seven touchdowns.

“They’ve been a run-focused team so far this year,” Ollis said of Landrum. “They’re a double-wing team, and I’ve seen people win state championships running the double wing. 

“They have shown more formations than any team we’ve seen to this point. There’s probably 13 or 14 formations that we have to be prepared for. They’re content with three and a third yards per play to keep the ball and keep it away from you and, as Hank Stram used to say,  matriculate the ball down the field.”

Ollis felt that the Wolverines, after opening a 14-0 lead against West Henderson, relaxed a bit with that advantage, allowing the Falcons to regain some momentum and eventually rally in the fourth quarter. Guarding against such a letdown this week would be important this week as well, but so is avoiding the opposite

“Certainly there’s a little more riding on it just because of the closest of the two schools and the rivalry that exists,” Ollis said. “I think one of the things we have to guard against is being too emotional, because sometimes if you’re too high and there’s something that doesn’t go right, there’s a huge letdown.

“You can’t let your emotions run away with you.  You’ve got to keep your focus and understand and know that you have to do your job and not get caught up in the rivalry. There’s still another football game that we want to win, but in order to perform well, we have to keep our focus and and not get too fired up.”