Short-handed Wolverines still find path to victory at West Henderson

MILLS RIVER – Eight yards from what would be a victory-clinching touchdown Friday night, Bruce Ollis knew the play he wanted to call to get Polk County across that distance.

He just hoped Angus Weaver, his choice of ball carrier, could still run all eight yards.

“Angus said Coach, I’m pretty tired,” Ollis said. “I said, can you take it one more time? He said, I can do it, Coach.”

Do it, Weaver did, rumbling those eight yards for Polk’s final score and sealing the Wolverines’ 26-14 victory over West Henderson at the Falcons’ Johnson Field.

Polk County (2-1) won with no starting quarterback Casey Beiler, with no drop end/receiver Antonio Simpson, with no usual starting or reserve center and no three other players who comprised the seven Wolverines in quarantine due to COVID-19 protocols.

That meant Weaver’s debut as Polk’s quarterback, and the junior delivered everything the Wolverines needed. He carried 26 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns and completed 5-of-13 passes for 45 yards and another score. He also mustered enough energy to stop West Henderson’s final drive with an interception.

“Angus did a pretty good job at quarterback,” Ollis said. “We felt good about him being out there and he kept us calm. He was calm and collected in the huddle.”

But Weaver was not alone in shining in a debut role. With both centers sidelined, Polk held what effectively amounted to an open audition earlier in the week to find a new starter. Senior Briar Underwood won the part and delivered an effort perhaps equally valuable to that of Weaver.

“If Briar were standing here, he would tell you himself that he didn’t have a great week of practice snapping the ball,” Ollis said. “He came in tonight and he made everything a good snap. He contributed to this victory.”

Polk County’s Wyatt Deaton stops West Henderson’s Caleb Collany after a short gain in the second half.

For a Labor Day weekend affair, the game often had the feel of a Flag Day fest. Very unofficially, West Henderson (0-3) drew 12 penalties for 118 yards while Polk was flagged 10 times for 85 yards. Penalties stopped drives, prolonged drives, negated touchdowns. West once got flagged three straight plays. Polk got flagged twice trying to attempt a 2-point conversion.

There were a lot of flags.

One of those played an important role in a key Wolverine score. West finally got on the scoreboard late in the second quarter, with Truitt Manuel completing an 11-yard touchdown pass to Lukas Corn that cut Polk County’s lead at that point to 13-7. The Falcons were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on the score, a penalty Polk opted to enforce on the ensuing kickoff. That helped the Wolverines take possession at the Falcon 46.

Weaver picked up 18 yards on the drive’s second play, then hit Steven Chupp for 11 yards to move Polk into the red zone. Weaver then scored on an 11-yard run, but an illegal procedure penalty negated that play, and soon the Wolverines faced 4th-and-14 at the 20.

Calmly dropping back into the pocket, Weaver waited for Chupp to run a route that had him streaking across the end zone toward the right corner. Weaver’s pass led Chupp perfectly, with Chupp catching the pass over a defender and falling to the turf just inbounds. Isaac Hernandez added the point after to give Polk a 20-7 lead just 20 seconds before halftime.

West finally answered late in the third period with an 86-yard drive, nearly all of it via the air. Manuel, who finished 19-of-29 passing for 203 yards, capped the march with an 11-yard toss to Andrew Schultz with 2:43 left in the third, with Woody Green’s extra point making it a 20-14 game.

The Wolverines, though, put the game away in the fourth with a 54-yard drive that lasted nine plays and more than six valuable minutes. Polk used its trademark fourth-down spread formation to convert a fourth-and-3 and got a 25-yard jaunt from Weaver to move into scoring position before Weaver answered Ollis’ call for that one last carry, scoring from the eight.

West attempted to respond with a quick no-huddle approach, but Weaver stepped in front of a Manuel pass, returned it a few yards and dropped to the turf to assure there would be no Falcon rally.

“We couldn’t get out of our own way a lot of time, but it’s a W,” Ollis said. “We had a lot to overcome this week, and I’m awfully proud of our players and how they responded. It was a tough week at Polk County High School.”

Polk never trailed in this one, scoring on its first drive of the night, a 66-yard, eight-running-plays effort that ended with Weaver’s 5-yard touchdown run. Vincent Twitty then nearly doubled the lead late in the quarter, picking off a short Manuel pass and returning it 44 yards to the end zone. The point after failed, but the Wolverines still led 13-0 with 9.7 seconds left in the first period.

The 27 Polk players who made the trip to Mills River would make certain that lead never slipped away.

“Vincent Twitty made an incredible play on that return,” Ollis said. “I’m so proud of our effort and so proud of this team. Our coaching staff did a great job getting us ready and getting players in and out tonight to get our guys some rest.

“We’ll look at the film and see that we made a lot of mistakes, mental and physical. But we’ll rectify those. It will be good to get all of our players back.”

Polk County is slated to return home next Friday to host Christ School in the Wolverines’ last non-conference tuneup before beginning Mountain Foothills 7 Conference play.

Senior center Briar Underwood, right, and Polk County’s offensive line helped the Wolverines rush for 226 yards