Late first half, scoreless game with a tough opponent, trapped inside the 5-yard line. Not exactly the time you’d expect a team to turn to a trick play, much less a hook-and-ladder.
Yet that’s exactly what Polk County Middle School did Thursday. And it worked perfectly.
Dillion Overholt raced the length of the field for a touchdown, and Polk Middle kept its unbeaten season alive with a 20-0 win over Rugby Middle School at PCMS.
The Wolverines, 6-0, can now prepare for next week’s season-ending clash at Hendersonville Middle, which entered Thursday’s game with Brevard Middle also undefeated. That game will decide the Eastern Division title and could give Polk the first unbeaten season in school history.
But it took a quality effort on both sides of the ball Thursday to allow the Wolverines to get to that showdown with an unblemished record. Rugby (2-4) put its size to good use, slowing Polk’s explosive offense while creating some scoring opportunities. It took a determined Polk squad to keep the Raiders in check, perhaps epitomized nowhere more than by quarterback Peyton Kemmerlin, who took a hard shot to his thigh late in the first half yet remained on the field throughout the second half, playing both offense and defense while visibly limping.
“That was a hard-fought win,” said Polk head coach Billy Alm. “Rugby’s a good team and they had a good scheme for us. We had to change a lot of things during the game, but the kids responded well and were able to adjust.
“Coach (Ben) Johnson changed our defense after their first drive, and it worked out good for us.”
With the clock winding down in the first half, Rugby appeared on the verge of breaking the scoreless tie. But the Wolverines forced a Rugby fumble deep in the red zone, with Devin Panchyshyn recovering at the 5.
On the next play, Polk offensive coordinator John Ruth gambled, calling for the hook-and-ladder. Overholt caught the lateral near the goal line, bobbled it for just a second, then sprinted from one end zone to another, scoring with 1:27 left on the clock. Kemmerlin converted the 2-point conversion, taking a helmet in the thigh as he did, to give Polk the 8-0 lead.
“That was a first,” Alm said of running the trick play so close to the Polk end zone. “That was a first.”
But the Wolverines weren’t done scoring in the half. A bad snap on a punt attempt with 53 seconds left gave Polk possession at the Rugby 19. Kemmerlin tossed a swing pass to Overholt, who shed a tackler and raced to the Raider 1 before being knocked out of bounds. D.J. Twitty then powered into the end zone with 21 seconds left. The 2-point conversion failed, but the Wolverines held a 14-0 lead.
Both defenses dominated play for much of the second half before Polk finally created an opportunity, a kick return giving the Wolverines the ball deep in Rugby territory and setting the stage for another Twitty touchdown plunge. The 2-point try again failed, but Polk had a safe 20-0 lead with 4:26 remaining.
“Offensively, they kept us in check. We had to fight for three hard touchdowns,” Alm said. “Dillion Overholt and D.J. Twitty carried the rock for us tonight. They worked their butts off.”