Polk County senior wide receiver Evan Jones rambles through the Landrum secondary earlier this season

Back in Polk County’s fondly-remembered time in the Western Highlands Conference, the Wolverines’ yearly clash with Hendersonville always seemed to have key implications on the league’s title race.

Every meeting of Bearcats and Wolverines always spurs a bit of extra sentiment, and adding conference championship hopes to the fray merely added to the intensity of those matchups.

Both teams are now members of the Mountain Foothills 7 Conference, but when the two teams meet Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Dietz Field, an autumn chill won’t be the only thing in the air – just like days of yore, hopes of wearing a conference crown will again be part of what should be a great atmosphere for high school football.

The two teams, along with Brevard, are the only 1-0 teams in MF7 play (Chase was off last week). Friday’s winner moves to 2-0 and will be well positioned to make a title run. Friday’s loser won’t be out of the conference chase, but will face longer odds.

“Certainly it’s huge,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “I try to tell our players that every conference game is the conference title. (But) Hendersonville is the defending champions, so until someone can knock them off that mountain, they’re the champs.

“We certainly respect that. They’ve got a great football program and they haven’t missed a beat since (former head coach) Jim Sosebee left. Kirron Ward has come in and really has them playing well.”

Hendersonville has raced to a 4-1 start, its only loss to West Henderson. The Bearcats lost starting quarterback Elyja Gibbs in the Sept. 9 win at Mountain Heritage, but senior Lennard Benniefield moved over last week from wide receiver and finished 10-of-13 for 147 yards and three touchdowns in the 35-8 win over R-S Central. Benniefield also ran for 47 yards and a score.

“They didn’t miss many beats Friday night after Eljya Gibbs went down with a broken leg in the Mountain Heritage game,” Ollis said. “(Beddingfield) had a pretty good game. They didn’t miss a stroke for the most part, and that goes, to me, to a lot of good coaching going on over there.”

Senior standout Eric Rasheed (22-409-4) leads the Bearcat receiving corps, with Tayshawn Collins (11-211-3) and Alijah Ferguson (10-145-1) also players to watch. Sophomore Hezzie Rudisill is again a force out of the backfield, rushing for 572 yards and two scores on 59 carries.

“Certainly all those guys out there with single numbers are all good players,” Ollis said. “They’re fast and a lot of them play both ways. They’re very dynamic guys, and we will have to get some pass rush on and play some lockdown coverage in the secondary.”

Helping that pass rush will be the expected return of Jadyn Virgil, who has missed the past two games with an injury.

The short road trip will be the Wolverines’ first away game since the season opener at Newton-Conover. It will also be Polk’s lone regular-season game on artificial turf this season as Hendersonville installed turf earlier this year.

“We’re looking forward to a nice cool evening,” Ollis said. “Our kids enjoy playing on fake grass, and we’ve got a pretty good record playing on turf.

“It will be a great atmosphere for high school football. I think the fans will be excited. We need to take a big entourage over to support the Wolverines.”