Bruce Ollis may soon have to consider some revisions to his playcalling approach.
“Jacob Knighton, seems like all he does is catch touchdowns,” Ollis said. “Maybe we need to throw him the ball more.”
Knighton provided two scores Friday, Polk County’s first and last, helping the Wolverines open the 2021 season with a 28-7 victory over Newton-Conover at G.M. Tennant Stadium.
The first meeting between the two programs, featuring the return of PCHS alumnus Steven Pack as Newton-Conover’s head coach, settled into an early defensive struggle until Polk County’s defense provided two key turnovers – and the Wolverines took advantage of each, scoring twice in less than three minutes.
Casey Beiler threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as the Wolverines geared up for next week’s clash with defending state champion Salisbury with their third straight win in a home opener.
Ollis marked the victory with a long embrace of Pack, who also coached at Polk County, as the two coaches met after the game.
“It was gratifying to get a win, then to get to hug Steven Pack around the neck at the end,” Ollis said. “It’s always a thrill for me to see guys that coached with me go on to be head coaches.
“Newton-Conover is going to win a lot of football games this season.”
That the Red Devils didn’t leave Miller Field with one of those wins could be credited, in large part, to that short span late in the second quarter when Polk forced a pair of takeaways.
The first came at the 5:08 mark, with Antonio Simpson picking off an Aiden Luangkhot pass and racing down the Red Devil sideline to their 29. The play not only gave the Wolverines great field position, but ended Luangkhot’s night as he was injured during the sequence.
Polk only moved forward a yard in three plays, leaving a fourth-and-9. Dropping back to pass, Beiler faced immediate pressure and looked certain to be sacked, but somehow wriggled free from a defender and fired a pass toward Knighton, alone near the 10. Knighton leaped to make the catch over his head, avoided two Newton-Conover defenders and strolled into the end zone.
Knighton now has five career varsity catches, with three of those resulting in touchdowns.
Logan Nodine’s extra point gave Polk a 7-0 lead with 3:45 left in the half.
“I thought Casey Beiler’s ability to move and make people miss in the pocket was huge,” Ollis said. “He escaped and hit a wide-open Jacob Knighton for a touchdown that gave us momentum. If he can use his feet like that it certainly makes us a more productive team.”
Polk’s Kendall McEntyre recovered a fumble on the Red Devils’ next offensive snap, this time giving the Wolverines possession at the Red Devil 37. Beiler finished 4-for-4 on the ensuing five-play drive, the final completion a short toss to Angus Weaver who weaved around and over four defenders to complete the 20-yard scoring play. Nodine’s kick made it 14-0 with a minute left in the half.
The Wolverines padded the lead on the opening drive of the third period, marching 66 yards in eight plays. Weaver carried on six of those snaps before Beiler pounded into the end zone from the 1. Nodine’s kick upped the lead to 21-0 with 8:01 left in the third.
The Wolverines engineered a third turnover late in the third period, freshman Karlen McEntyre with the forced fumble and Kaaundrae Green with the recovery, but couldn’t capitalize. The Red Devils soon lost backup quarterback Jacon Brawley to an injury, but finally got on the board late in the fourth quarter as running back Demarcus Beatty, moving to quarterback, scored on a four-yard run, slicing the Wolverines’ lead to 21-7.
A failed onside kick gave Polk the ball near midfield. Mackus Simpson broke free for a 35-yard run to set up Beiler’s final touchdown toss, a 10-yarder to Knighton, that sealed the win.
“It was great to see Mackus come in and get some carries, including the one big run,” Ollis said. “Deaken Nodine did a great job for us at fullback. That was his first varsity start, and he earned it and I’m awfully proud of him.
“I’m also proud of the job that (assistant coach) Dave Minnich did. He pulled that group together after we had to move some guys around.”
Beiler finished 12-of-21 for 101 yards, with Knighton catching three passes for 56 yards. Weaver had 16 carries for 77 yards to lead Polk’s rushing attack.
Beatty had 78 yards on eight carries for Newton-Conover, who also played without offensive standout Zane Redmond, the 6-3 wide receiver injuring his shoulder during a practice session earlier in the week.