The grass has smelled a little sweeter, the sun has shone a little brighter – everything has just felt better this week around the Polk County fieldhouse.
Snapping a three-game losing streak with a win over your closest rival will do that for you.
“No doubt,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “Winning is a great cure-all, particularly when it comes over your biggest non-conference rival on the road.”
That 21-15 win over Landrum in hand, Polk (1-3) now returns home with hopes of adding another, facing a winless East Henderson squad in a 7:30 p.m. kickoff (WJFJ-AM, 1160).
The matchup marks the first time the two schools have met since 1996, and a new face on the schedule is just part of a year of sweeping change for East Henderson. Former head coach Brett Chappell left Flat Rock in January for Pisgah after posting a 67-35 record in eight seasons, including an 11-2 mark and Western North Carolina Athletic Conference championship last season. Veteran assistant coach Jeff Frady accepted the head coaching position at Enka. The program graduated 24 seniors, three signing with Division I schools, and also lost a trio of returning players charged in a second-degree rape case in December.
Former West Stokes defensive coordinator Steve Whitt took over the program in March, and while the Eagles have opened the year with losses to three 1A schools – Swain County, Robbinsville and Hendersonville – there are still a number of areas of concern for Ollis and staff as the Eagles look to end their own three-game slide.
“Offensively, they are a lot like us, multiple formations and running and number of offensive sets,” Ollis said. “They are very good in the power running game and the quarterback is very elusive. They rush the ball two-to-one versus the pass and we must continue to improve on stopping our opponents’ running attack, which we did a much better job of versus Landrum.
“On defense, their size upfront is a concern. They run a split 50, which is something we don’t normally see so we will have to change up some blocking schemes. They are huge upfront on both sides of the ball and that can pose some problems for us.”
Nick Lyons has rushed for 124 yards on 37 carries with a score to lead the East ground game, while the Eagles have used both senior Aaron Moody (13-25, 173 yards, one TD) and junior Austin Fisher (18-34, 122 yards) at quarterback. All will be facing a Polk defense coming off its best performance of the season.
“I was most proud of how our defense rose to the occasion at the end of game,” Ollis said. “With the outcome holding in the balance we got a stop with them inside our 15 four times to seal the victory.”
Buoyed by the return of Donte Poston, who ran for 112 yards, and Jamal Tanner, the Wolverine offense exploded for 21 second-quarter points against Landrum and moved the ball well at other points in the game. Polk quarterback Reece Schalbach has almost 1,000 total yards through the first four games and has Western North Carolina’s leading receiver, senior Anthony Carson (26 receptions, 401 yards, two TDs), at his disposal.
Now Ollis is looking for more consistency from the offense, especially in the red zone.
“Offensively, we were very sharp in the first half (at Landrum) but did not sustain our momentum into the second half,” he said. “We need to work on finishing in the scoring zone as we had the opportunity to go up 28-8 on our first drive of the second half.
“We protected the ball on Friday and that was a key to our success. We had five (turnovers) in the previous two games.”
East Henderson enters the game off a bye week, its 29-6 loss to Hendersonville two weeks ago the last time the Eagles were on the field. Polk, meanwhile, will enter the game as healthy as it has been all season (the Wolverines also got senior J.C. Suddeth back into the lineup last week) and ready to put together a winning streak.
“We must continue to stay the course as we feel like we have the formula for victory if we execute up to our potential,” Ollis said.
[ Photo by Jane Ollis]