Bruce Ollis spent much of last week compiling inventory of everything in Polk County’s field house.
It’s part of his normal end-of-season routine. He did it this year a bit earlier than expected.
Polk County’s playoff loss at Maiden marked the first time since 2016 that the Wolverines exited the postseason without a win. It also was the earliest exit for an Ollis-coached Polk team since 2008, a 14-0 first-round loss at West Montgomery (in which the Wolverines later received a win due to an ineligible player).
The setback capped a 5-6 season for Polk, but it was a season that very nearly was much, much better:
- The Wolverines were tied with West Henderson in the fourth quarter and were driving for a potential go-ahead touchdown before a turnover ruined that chance. West scored the eventual winning touchdown with 2:55 remaining.
- Polk led Chase at halftime and was within a touchdown in the fourth period before the Trojans added two late scores.
- The Wolverines led Brevard in the fourth period before the Blue Devils regained the lead, then stopped a late Polk threat to preserve that win.
And that doesn’t include an 11-point loss at Hendersonville in which Polk failed to score on a possession inside the 10 and had a late chance for another score before turning the ball over on downs.
“I could sprinkle about 10 plays into our losses and we’re probably still playing (in the playoffs’ second round),” Ollis said. “It seemed like when we were playing teams that were on par with us or maybe a hair better, we just couldn’t make those one or two plays to win the game.
“I even go back to Maiden. We actually could have been leading the game at halftime or been tied or just been down by one score rather than two scores. Then we plant a little seed of doubt. But you’ve got to make those plays in order to beat teams a little bit better than you or just as good as you.”
Four teams that defeated Polk – West Henderson, Hendersonville, Chase and Maiden – were a combined 37-3 in the regular season. Christ School finished 5-5 in the regular season but with a roster teeming with college prospects.
The season-ending loss to Brevard is the one that still haunts Ollis. If Polk wins that game, the Wolverines likely would have traveled to Pine Lake Prep in the first round riding a pair of season-ending wins. The outcome might not have changed – Pine Lake entered the playoffs with a 9-1 record – but heading into the postseason off a season-ending home victory might have boosted Polk’s confidence a bit.
“For me, the loss to Brevard at home the last game of the season, that was hard for the old coach to stomach,” Ollis said. “I thought we were a two or three-score team better than them, and it probably bears out if we don’t turn the ball over four times. I give them credit. Luke (Coleman) has done a great job over there, and his players protected the ball and made plays with the game on the line.
“Our defense gave up two drives, basically, the first drive of the game and the last drive of the game, not counting when they were kneeling it. But those things, you can what-if until the cows come home. The weird thing about this profession is that you remember the difficult losses more than the good win. Those resonate with you a lot longer.”
The close losses, though, don’t fully spoil a season that had plenty of highlights.
Perhaps tops among Polk County’s five wins was a 49-7 thumping of Landrum in the resumption of the rivalty between the two schools. Polk racked up almost 550 yards of total offense in the win, with Antonio Simpson setting a school record with 224 yards in receptions and Angus Weaver compiling more than 300 yards of total offense.
“Getting the Landrum game back, I think it’s great for both schools,” Ollis said. “We’re playing them again in all sports and it’s just such a tremendous rivalry. Certainly that was a big win for us. I would imagine probably the biggest crowd of the year was here because it’s a border battle and I’m glad to see that back.”
Quarterback Casey Beiler threw for 325 yards in that win and was part of a rare accomplishment for the Wolverine offense – Polk had a 1,000-yard rusher in Weaver, a 1,000-yard receiver in Simpson and a 1,000-yard passer in Beiler. Each set various school records during the season.
“I can’t remember as a head coach having those three in a season,” Ollis said. “I’ve done so many years I can’t remember them all, but that’s quite an accomplishment. Those three guys are all now part of the Polk County record book, and I’m certainly proud of them for their accomplishments.
“I’ve told the story about Angus after the tough loss to Hendersonville. We’re walking off together and I told him you rushed for over 200 yards. He said, Coach, I’d trade it all in. He’s more attuned to wanting to win than setting records. The records come secondary to most of our players.”
Weaver and Beiler are two of nine seniors that will graduate, but Simpson will return. So, too, will Karlen McEntyre, who took steps forward this season to establish himself as a future Polk standout.
“Karlen, from the standpoint of what he did a year ago, is probably the most improved player on our team, particularly in the secondary” Ollis said. “He filled in well when Angus wasn’t toting the mail, and I think he can be the guy that totes the ball about 20 times a game. He’s gotten bigger, faster, stronger, and I think his confidence level has risen as a result of that.
“A lot of being successful is having confidence in your own abilities . I think that was something he was able to reach as the season went along. He saw that we, as coaches, had confidence in him, and I think that made him a better player. Most people forget he’s just a sophomore. He’s got two more years to be a quality running back, and I think he can be that guy that ripped and snorted at the middle school a couple of years ago.”
Polk County could use a few more players like McEntyre; indeed, just a few more players, period. The Wolverines had games this season where they dressed fewer than 25 players, and nearly everyone on the roster played on both sides of the ball. That lack of depth is especially problematic at the 2A level.
“I think you need to have 40 guys on the sideline,” Ollis said. “(Jane Ollis, Ollis’ wife) told me that Maiden had 25 seniors. That’s 75 years of football playing experience. We dressed 25.
“I had some great friends, guys that used to play for me when I coached at Lenoir-Rhyne, come to the (Maiden) game. One of the things that (one of the players) said to me was ‘Coach, your lack of depth hurt you tonight. Ya’ll have a good football team, but you get worn down against teams that have more players.’ That’s certainly something that has to be rectified. We’ve got to get more guys out.
“There’s a tremendous investment involved in being successful. I don’t question the investment these guys made that played for us. We just need to get more guys investing in the same manner.”