SPENCER – Logic said punt – up six points, 2:51 to play, fourth and a lone one, ball on your 41. Punt, flip the field, play defense.
Not that much about Polk County’s unlikely playoff run has been logical, though. So quarterback Avery Edwards made a convincing argument, the Wolverines lined up and Bryson Seay and a line that pushed around North Rowan’s defense much of Friday evening plowed ahead for five yards.
First down. Another soon followed. Ball game.
And the Wolverines lived to fight another day, upsetting North Rowan 13-7 on a chilly evening in the second round of the state 1AA football playoffs.
It marks the first time since 2010 that Polk County has reached the third round and just the second time in school history. Awaiting the Wolverines (5-8), seeded 11th in the 1AA West bracket, is Starmount (6-6), which dismantled Community School of Davidson 55-19 in its second-round tilt. A win in Boonville could put Polk County, who woke up on a Saturday morning four weeks ago with a 2-8 record, in a regional final for the first time ever.
So why not go for it on fourth-and-1 in your own territory?
“We debated it. I’ll be honest with you, Avery Edwards kind of talked me into it,” Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis said. “He said, Coach, we can get this. We felt like giving the ball to Bryson up inside, just a hard dive, we’d been dominating the line of scrimmage. That was a game-changing play, no doubt.”
Given the dominant performance of Polk County’s offensive line, the fourth down call also made sense. The Wolverines largely controlled the line of scrimmage from start to finish, unofficially racking up 275 yards on 56 carries, many of those run directly at the heart of North Rowan’s defense. Polk County had three possessions that lasted more than 10 plays, scoring on two of those and nearly doing so on the third.
“We’re coming off the football like a big ol’ wave, like a tidal wave tonight, a royal blue tidal wave,” Ollis said. “Those guys up front are doing an incredible job.”
Equally as impressive was the play of Polk County’s defense, which put the old football adage bend-but-don’t-break to its maximum test. North Rowan (9-3) scored on its first possession, an 11-yard drive set up when the Wolverines fumbled the opening kickoff, but tallied no more despite boasting an offense that averaged more than 33 points per game entering the evening.
But the Cavaliers had their chances – six North Rowan possessions ended in Polk County territory without points, including two first-half drives inside the Wolverine 20 where Polk County made fourth-down stops and three in the second half that ended with turnovers. The remaining possession marked North Rowan’s last chance at tying the game.
The Cavaliers took over at their 40 with 7:11 left in the game. Runs by quarterback Willis Mitchell and standout back Malcolm Wilson moved the Cavs to the Polk 28 before a holding penalty pushed them back to the 40.
There, on second-and-22, Mitchell tossed a screen to his left to Wilson, who weaved his way through most of Polk’s defense, going from sideline to sideline, before reaching the end zone.
The Polk County bench quickly and calmly pointed to the yellow flag on the turf at the 22, another holding call that negated Wilson’s touchdown.
Three straight incompletions returned the ball to Polk County with 4:54 remaining. The Wolverines would never give it back.
“I reckon it’s a testament to being resilient, persevering and all those 50-cent words that sound really good,” Ollis said. “In some cases, we don’t dwell enough on them, and we’ve talked about that probably since the middle of the season.
“It was a total team effort. We spotted them a score, and then pitched a shutout, basically for 46 minutes, which is incredible with a team this explosive. Their last two games they won 49-0 and 59-0. So we beat a quality football team tonight, and we’re excited about making it to the third round.”
Polk’s opening miscue on the kickoff allowed North Rowan to score on a Mitchell 22-yard strike to Logan Stoner. J.D. Weaver added the point after to make it a 7-0 game less than two minutes from its start.
The Cavaliers looked set to add to their lead on their second possesion, reaching the Polk 4, but Seay, Trey Thompson and Lukas Tipton dropped Mitchell on fourth-and-goal for an 11-yard loss, giving the Wolverines the ball at the 15. Polk covered that 85 yards to the end zone in 13 plays, almost six minutes and 110 yards worth of offense thanks to three penalties. Edwards tossed a key 31-yard pass to Steven Chupp on a second-and-28, and the drive finally ended with Mitchell Yoder scampering around right end, making one cut and easing into the end zone.
Abidas Ramirez drilled the extra point to make it a 7-7 game with 10:58 left in the second quarter.
Polk County had a lengthy drive just before the half stopped by an interception in the end zone, but the Wolverine offense quickly got another shot early in the third period as Tipton forced a fumble that Cameron Blackwell recovered. That launched a 12-play, 68-yard drive, Polk twice converting fourth downs on the way, before Bryce Jergenson rolled around left end and scored with 4:34 left in the third, giving Polk a 13-7 lead.
Thompson intercepted a tipped pass and the Wolverines recovered a fumble on North Rowan’s next two drives. The Cavaliers would have that last gasp in Polk’s half of the field before the Wolverines ran out the final five minutes.
And now it’s on to Boonville.
“Awfully excited for our team,” Ollis said. “I can’t tell you how much I’m happy for our players. It’s been a long year, and we’ve turned this sucker around.”