After so much had gone so right Thursday night for Polk County, things fell apart all too quickly for the Wolverines.
A seven-minute spurt of 32 Mountain Heritage points proved Polk County’s undoing, the Cougars going on to post a 51-15 victory on Senior Night in G.M. Tennant Stadium.
As a regional television audience watched, Mountain Heritage (8-1, 4-0) clinched a share of its fourth straight Western Highlands Conference title and can claim the crown outright next week with a victory over Avery.
Polk County dropped to 2-8, 1-3 and left a rainy W.J. Miller Field for the last time this season with some what-ifs and might-have-beens.
Perhaps fueled by the emotion of Senior Night, the Wolverines dominated the first quarter, driving 73 yards in 14 plays following the opening kickoff to take a 7-0 lead on Avery Edwards’ 3-yard run. Bryce Jergenson had a pair of 13-yard runs during the drive, which took more than six minutes.
The Wolverines then stopped Mountain Heritage on its first possession and were driving again early in the second quarter when Mountain Heritage defender Brandon Aumiller picked off a Polk County halfback pass.
Momentum shifted to the Cougars’ side of the field – and a green-tinged snowball of points soon followed.
Cole Shehan’s leaping 32-yard touchdown reception – on a fourth-and-31 – helped give the Cougars an 8-7 lead with 7:03 left in the half. A miscommunication on a punt attempt led Polk County, deep in its territory, to try a fake it didn’t want – and gave Mountain Heritage the ball at the Wolverine 20. Quaterback Callin Randolph scored from the 1 a few plays later to make it 16-7.
Jake Autrey capped another short drive with a 22-yard touchdown run to put the Cougars up 24-7 with 57 seconds left.
As the Cougars celebrated that score, head coach Joey Robinson calmly walked down the sidelines and asked game officials how many timeouts Polk County had remaining. Answer in hand, he walked back upfield just as calmly to where his special teams huddled and called an onside kick.
The plan worked – the Cougars recovered, and a 47-yard touchdown pass from Randolph to Autrey on the ensuing play gave Mountain Heritage a 32-7 lead at the half.
“I think anybody that wants to win a championship, and you’re trying to do the things when you get them a little on their heels right there, it’s a good time to try to get it and get another one in,” Robinson said of the onside kick. “I knew I had the timeouts left and it was a good opportunity for us to take a shot and try to put a nail in it before halftime. We were fortunate we got it.”
“About midway through the second quarter it was 8-7,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “Then the ball got rolling against us and we didn’t make plays. But, boy, that first drive, I think it was 15 plays and a touchdown. Went just like clockwork, we overcame some adversity with a penalty and still came back and scored. We made them punt the first time, too.
“We did a lot of things well, but we’re just not doing enough things. We’re still turning the ball over. I think we turned it over three times tonight, and that’s a thorn in your side when you’ve got to possess the ball against an explosive Mountain Heritage team.”
Mountain Heritage quickly scored after the second-half kickoff as Autrey raced 76 yards for a touchdown, and the Cougars were well on their way to their 14th straight WHC victory, complete with more championship hardware.
Autrey rushed for 166 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries and added the 47-yard touchdown reception to lead the Mountain Heritage offense, which played without senior Jacob Mashburn after he was injured on Polk County’s opening drive. Randolph threw for 106 yards on 4-of-8 attempts and also ran for 47 yards.
Mitchell Yoder rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown and caught five passes for 47 yards to lead the Wolverines, who close out the regular season next week at Madison.