Southwestern Randolph to offer playoff challenge for Polk County

Bruce Ollis has talked all season about the workmanlike approach of this year’s Polk County squad, a group that each week has focused on the upcoming task at hand without too many highs or lows.

As the Wolverines began practice Monday, Ollis offered a suggestion that this week’s matchup may be just a bit different from the nine games played thus far.

“I reminded them that being in the playoffs is a big deal,” Ollis said. “There are a lot of teams sitting home that would like to be here.

“This is being rewarded for having a good regular season.”

Polk County will take its first step in that postseason on Friday, traveling to Southwestern Randolph for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff in a 2A state first-round game. The game will also be shown live on NFHS Network.

It’s a matchup of two programs that weren’t even in the 2A class a season ago, with this year’s NCHSAA realignment moving Polk County up from the 1A ranks and dropping the Cougars down from the 3A level. The change in class coincided with a talented roster for Southwestern Randolph (8-2), which recorded its first winning season since 2004 and earned the right to host a playoff game for the first time in school history. The Cougars will also be looking for their first postseason triumph.

It’s all made for a dream season for head coach Seth Baxter, who served as a young ball boy for the Cougar program, then graduated from Southwestern Randolph. Baxter returned to the school as its head football coach in 2017.

“Seth Baxter has done a great job with the culture change there,” Ollis said. “They’ve beaten some really good teams and only lost to Providence Grove and to Eastern Randolph, who are the top overall seed in 1A East. They’re playing really well and they’re playing with a lot of confidence.

“We’re 4-0 on the road this year. They’re 5-0 at home. Something has got to give. Somebody is going to have a blemish on their clean record.”

The Cougars operate from a no-huddle spread attack, and quarterback Keaton Reed leads an offense that has averaged 40 points per game this season, failing to top 20 points just twice.

Adam Cole set a school record with more than 20 touchdowns and counting and will be a factor both as a runner and receiver. Easton Clapp, Eli Gravely and Bryson Reid are others to watch when the Cougars have the ball.

“(Reed) is the triggerman that makes it go,” Ollis said. “He’s a bit of a chicken-salad player that can make something out of nothing. He throws the ball well and he’s the heart and soul of their offense.

“They want to run the ball, but they’re not afraid to throw it. And they’ve got some big guys upfront.”

That offense will test a Polk County defense that has upped its level of play of late. Though Brevard did post three touchdowns in last week’s 21-19 loss to the Wolverines, two of those three scores came after Polk turnovers led to short touchdown drives. That effort followed a shutout at Draughn and three solid quarters against Chase’s high-powered attack.

“Defensively, I’m pleased with where we are,” Ollis said. “We’re certainly going to have to play well on both sides of the ball this week. We’re going to have to control the ball and play keepaway. That’s a recipe for success.”

Polk County’s last postseason win as a 2A school came in 2014, a 22-21 home victory over Lexington. Ollis said the Wolverines’ only focus this week has been trying to find a way to replicate that victory.

“We’ve talked about how our goal now is to be 1-0 every week,” he said. “It’s a brand new season every time we line up, and all we want to do is be 1-0 at the end of it.”

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