Polk returns to action, travels to Patton for MF7 debut

A bit of old, a bit of new await Polk County’s football team on Friday evening.

Perhaps most importantly of all for the Wolverines, though, is the fact that there are actually bits to be discussed.

After missing last week’s game with Christ School due to COVID-19 protocols, Polk County returns to the field on Friday, traveling to Patton for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

The newness involved in the matchup – it will mark the Wolverines’ debut as a member of the Mountain Foothills 7 Conference, the sixth league affiliation in the program’s history. It will also be the first time Polk has faced Patton, which opened in 2007.

A familiar face, though, will await the Wolverines (2-1) in Morganton as they battle the Panthers (0-2) – Patton head coach Mark Duncan is a former Polk County assistant, serving as the Wolverines’ defensive coordinator during Jamie Thompson’s tenure as head coach.

Polk County will enter the conference opener off a shortened week of practice as the Wolverines didn’t clear quarantines until Wednesday.

“We’ll have to compress three football days into two practices, which we can do,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis earlier this week. “I think the kids are motivated to play after missing a game. For the seniors, that’s missing a football game that they’re never going to get back, and we seem very motivated by that.

“I hope our kids will play with a lot of enthusiasm, which will be good for us.”

Patton has also dealt with COVID issues, with a three-week break between its season opener on Aug. 20 and last week’s 42-6 loss to Freedom.

The Panthers have been led offensively to date by junior quarterback Randan Clarke (8-of-21, 74 yards, one interception; 22 rushes, 76 yards). Running backs Tay’Adrian Brawley (30-81-1) and Deshawn Cantrell-Vazquez (13-40-0) are other key figures in the Panther attack.

Clarke left last week’s loss early with an injury.

“We’re going to see option football for the first time this season. They’ll run the veer some,” said Ollis of Patton, which will typically operate from a spread formation. “Option football makes you play assignment football, so we’ll have to be disciplined on defense.

“The quarterback is a big, strong kid who runs the ball well. He’s a do-everything guy. He punts, he plays quarantines, he plays free safety. Brawley is a quick kid and (Cantrell-Vazquez) is more of an inside runner. Both kids are tough to handle.”

The unexpected bye week gave Polk County some extra time to heal following the 26-14 win at West Henderson, and the Wolverines enter Friday’s game with a healthy, full roster. The timing couldn’t be better.

“Now our third season begins, our conference season, after our preseason and non-conference schedule,” Ollis said. “Coaches will tell you they’d rather go undefeated, but their second objective is winning a conference title. In North Carolina winning your confernece is a big deal from a playoff perspective as far as getting a top seed and a home game.

“It’s a brand new league, and we’re looking forward to the challenge. It’s going to be a very good, very balanced conference. We want to get off to a good start there.”

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