Salisbury. Hendersonville. Chase. Shelby.
Four of the top 11 teams in the final 2A West football RPI. Four of the remaining 16 teams in the 2A West playoff bracket. And as of Friday night, four of Polk County’s 11 opponents this season.
Thus when the Wolverines step into historic Blanton Stadium on Friday to face top-seeded Shelby in the second round of the state 2A playoffs, lining up against a quality opponent won’t exactly be something new.
“Even though we didn’t come out on top, those games prepared us for a very talented team,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “And Shelby is a very talented team.”
The 7:30 p.m. kickoff will give Polk County a chance to match up with a team that many think have everything in place to make another run at a state 2A championship.
Offensively, junior quarterback Daylin Lee has thrown for more than 2,300 yards, most of those to a quartet of athletic, quick receivers that have tormented every opposing secondary.
Defensively, the Golden Lions’ defensive front features two Division I-bound linemen, Malaki Hamrick (North Carolina) and Santana Hopper (Appalachian State). One recruiting service has the duo ranked as two of the top 10 seniors in the state.
No doubt quite a challenge awaits Polk County.
“Our players know they have to play well in order for us to have a chance to win,” Ollis said. “It would be good to have the same blueprint as we had agsinst Southwestern Randolph (last week’s 29-14 first-round win) where we kept the ball a lot.
“It’s always good to finish up those long drives with touchdowns, but that’s a recipe that we would take again, for sure.”
Keeping possession of the ball keeps Lee and company off the field, which seems a must for any team hoping to defeat Shelby.
The Golden Lions won’t often look for deep throws downfield, but instead will look to get the ball in space to one of four receivers – Izay Bridges (42-645-9), Jakeith Hamilton (30-570-9), Demetrius Thompson (40-477-7) and Luke Williams (27-462-7) – and let them use their speed to rack up yardage down field.
That approach helped Lee go 208 passes without an interception before tossing three against Burns.
“We’ve got to pressure him some,” Ollis said. “They don’t ask him to run a lot, but when he is out of the pocket, he’s got great vision and is able to find the receiver that is open. We’ve got to pressure him some and play great coverage.”
Polk County’s passing game, meanwhile, has also clicked in recent weeks. Junior Casey Beiler threw for a career-high 237 yards in last week’s win and has topped 135 yards in each of the last five games.
“When we give him time, Casey is doing a good job finding the open receiver,” Ollis said. “We’re still dropping too many balls, so his percentage probably isn’t as high as it ought to be. We’ve been able to hit a few home runs.
“We’re going to see a lot of man coverage from Shelby. They not a big stunting team. They bring the front four and rely on them for pressure, and so far that has worked.”
Unlike the long trip to Asheboro to face Southwestern Randolph, this week’s matchup is a short drive from Columbus, and Ollis hopes to see a number of Wolverine supporters make the trip.
He also hopes Polk County can give those fans something to cheer about.
“It certainly will help the team if we have a big crowd,” Ollis said. “I urge all Polk County fans to show their colors and make the trip to Shelby.
“I know most people don’t give us a snowball’s chance. But here’s what I told the players – let’s embrace the snowball. A snowball starts out as some flakes of snow that start rolling down hill, picking up more snow as it rolls, and pretty soon that creates an avalanche.
“We’re going to embrace that.”