SHELBY – For such a balmy evening, that was one large snowball that rolled through Shelby’s Pearley Allen Field on Friday night.
The defending state champion Golden Lions served notice they’ll be a force to reckon with again this postseason, rolling to 47 unanswered points in a quarter and a half to hand Polk County a season-opening 50-20 loss.
Trailing 6-3, Shelby scored on the final play of the first quarter, then tallied 40 points in a span of 15:34 covering the second and third quarters. The final score came on an interception return by Aaron Jolly that also led to a scene no one wanted to see – an ambulance being called for Polk County senior Will Justice, who lay prone on the field after being hit during Jolly’s return.
Rescue workers eventually lifted Justice onto a stretcher and into the waiting ambulance. No immediate word on Justice’s condition was available.
“Hopefully, that was more precautionary,” said Polk County head coach Jamie Thompson.
Wolverine senior Jordan Smith was also helped off the field in the second half, and his status for next week’s game with Asheville could be in question.
Shelby quarterback R.J. George threw for two touchdown passes and ran for another as Shelby scored on five of six possessions at one point, the exception ending in a Jason Chupp interception. It marked the first time a Polk County opponent scored 50 or more points since Nov. 1, 2002, when Maiden handed Polk County a 54-20 defeat.
“I told the team last night that we couldn’t allow (Shelby’s run) to happen,” Thompson said. “I don’t think they wanted it to happen, but they got caught up in the fray. We were ahead and all was good, then something bad happened and doubt set in. We’ve got to get past that point. The last two years that has been an Achilles’ heel for us.”
Never giving up, Polk County scored the final two touchdowns of the evening. A 40-yard Tyler Jackson run highlighted a 10-play, 81-yard drive that ended in Jackson’s 9-yard run around left end for a score. Storm Wheeler then made one of two defensive gems the Wolverines delivered in the game, stripping a Shelby ballcarrier and racing 55 yards for a touchdown with 7:24 left in the game.
The initial defensive sparkle led to the first touchdown of the night. With Shelby up 3-0 late in the first quarter after a 39-yard field goal by Richard Wright, Polk freshmen safety Dillion Overholt broke up a third-down pass deep in Shelby territory. The carom landed in the arms of Bryce Martin, who raced 22 yards for the Wolverines’ first touchdown of the season. A missed extra point left the Wolverines’ lead at 6-3.
A 30-yard Buck Ussery kickoff return, though, gave Shelby the ball at the Polk 48. From there the Lions reached the end zone in five plays, Ussery powering up the middle for an 18-yard touchdown jaunt as the first period ended. Wright’s point after gave the Lions a 10-6 lead.
The teams then traded turnovers before Polk faced a fourth-and-15 at its 14. The Lions blocked the Wolverines’ punt attempt, recovering the ball at the 12. George scored on the next play to give Shelby a 17-6 lead.
A three-and-out gave Shelby possession at its 24, and the Lions immediately went to work, with George hitting Caleb Jolly for 19 yards, Chad Reid running for 11 and 29 yarda and then Ussery carrying for 10 yards a play later. Reid capped the seven-play drive with a 5-yard scoring run for a 24-6 advantage.
Polk’s offense began to move on its next drive before Smith was dropped in the backfield on a swing pass and Jamal Wheeler was sacked on third-and-12. The Lions took over at their 23 and moved to the Wolverine 49, where they faced third-and-1. Time ticking away in the first half, George lofted a perfect pass down the left sideline to Demerrio Houston, splitting two Polk defenders, and Houston slipped into the end zone to complete the 49-yard play with 12.3 seconds left in the half, giving Shelby a 31-6 edge.
“We had some good drives in the first half, but we kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” Thompson said.
George tossed a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jayden Borders early in the third period before the Lions blocked their second punt of the night, with Aaron Jolly picking up the loose ball and scoring from 15 yards out with 7:49 left in the period. Jolly then picked off Tanner Garrett and raced 33 yards for the Lions’ final score.
Polk County finished the night with 142 total yards. Jackson ran for 57 yards on seven carries to lead the Wolverines, who finished with four turnovers.
“We got great experience against a great team,” Thompson said. “Hopefully, this great experience will pay off down the road.”