As the Western Highlands Conference portion of its schedule has arrived, so too have Polk County’s chances of faring rather well in it, if Friday’s 47-17 demolition of East Henderson is any indication.
The Wolverines romped and rollicked through their final non-conference tuneup, delighting the home crowd with a 35-point first-half explosion that quickly snuffed any hopes the winless Eagles had of leaving Columbus with a victory. Winning its second straight game after an 0-3 start, Polk County now enters conference play as healthy and happy as it’s been all season.
“I felt like in the first half we looked like the team I knew existed. I knew that was in them,” said Polk head coach Bruce Ollis. “I told them before the game, ‘Men, there’s a storm brewing that’s supposed to be coming in tomorrow. Let’s bring it one day early.’ ”
And so they did. Senior quarterback Reece Schlabach ran for 135 yards and four touchdowns, including a 69-yard scoring scamper on the game’s second play. Donte Poston and Jordan Smith added short touchdown runs. Jamal Tanner blocked a punt to set up one of those scores, then later tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Carson. The Wolverine defense surrendered just six first downs and 163 yards of total offense.
If not hitting on all cylinders – East (0-4) did outscore Polk 14-12 in the second half – the Wolverines were as dominant as they’ve been all season.
“We played lockdown defense and we made some big plays,” Ollis said. “You block a punt, and it’s like an adrenalin shot for your team.
“Reece ran the option well tonight. We had a lot of weapons offensively. A lot of people played well.”
The Wolverine storm began to gather in the game’s first minute. After an 11-yard pass to Anthony Carson out of a spread formation on the game’s opening play, Schlabach ran the option to perfection on the game’s next play, finding a huge gap in the East defense, then outracing the secondary for the 69-yard scamper. Polk faked the extra point attempt, with Schlabach hitting Jerry Cox for the 2-point conversion. Forty-three seconds into the game, Polk led 8-0.
Polk’s biggest concern thus far this season has been its inability, at times, to quickly stop opponent drives and get the defense off the field. East responded to the Wolverines’ quick score with one of those long possessions, keeping the ball for 13 plays and almost six minutes. The Eagles converted a third-and-two and a fourth-and-nine on the drive, but eventually had to settle for a 33-yard Diego Juarez field goal.
It would be East’s lone bright spot for some time, as Polk would score four touchdowns in the next 15:11 of game action.
Taking over on its 37, Polk needed just five plays to cover 63 yards, the key plays of the drive a 20-yard pass from Schlabach to Carson and a nifty 35-yard Schlabach run that set up his 1-yard touchdown sneak two plays later. Wolverines up 15-3. After stopping East on its next possession on a third-and-1 at the Eagle 46, the Wolverines again took over at their 37 and again marched 63 yards, this time in 11 plays, converting a 4th-and-8 at the East 25, then turning 4th-and-1 at the 6 into another score on a Schlabach quarterback sneak. Wolverines up 22-3 with 6:09 left in the second period.
A Chandler Patrick sack on the Eagles’ next possession forced an East three-and-out and brought in the Eagles’ punt team. But Tanner raced in to smother the kick just as it left Jesse Rogers’ foot. Polk wound up with possession at the 4, and Poston covered that distance in two plays, powering over the left side for a 1-yard score on the second. The extra point was blocked, one of two blocked PATs on the night for East. But it left the Wolverines up 28-3 with 2:58 left in the half.
Again, East failed to earn a first down on its next possession, leading to another punt. This time, Carson fielded the kick, raced toward the East sideline, then reversed field and found open room along the Polk sideline before being knocked out of bounds at the Eagle 22. Schlabach took just one play to find the end zone, running the option to his right, then cutting back through the center of the East defense and eventually dragging a would-be tackler into the end zone. Anthony Marino’s extra point made it a 35-3 lead with 1:09 left in the half.
The damage – scoring drives of 2, 5, 11, 2 and 6 plays. A second quarter in which East Henderson failed to gain a first down and ran just three plays for positive yardage. Only 65 yards of total offense for the Eagles in the first two quarters. And a very happy Wolverine team and fan base at the break.
“Our goal tonight was to have some long plays,” Ollis said. “We hit some home runs tonight. We have been hitting a lot of singles, a lot of 16-play and 18-play drives. Tonight we had some one-play and two-play drives.
“Our defense played better. I was a little disappointed at how we played those first two drives of the second half. We’ve got to do a better job of finishing games defensively. And we got the ball inside the five there late and didn’t score, so there is room for improvement.”
The Eagles indeed certainly didn’t give up despite the halftime gap. East turned scattered big plays into its two best possessions of the night in the second half, the first an eight-play, 58-yard drive to open the half that ended in Aaron Moody’s 2-yard touchdown run. Moody also capped the second drive, an eight-play, 64-yard possession, with a 29-yard touchdown toss to Rogers.
Polk, though, answered each score with one of its own. The Wolverines recovered an onside kick attempt after Moody’s scoring run and wound up with possession at the East 37 after a penalty. Polk covered those 37 yards in four plays, with Smith catching a 28-yard pass to move Polk to the 4 and a three-yard pass to get the ball to the 1. There, the junior fullback bulled into the end zone to give the Wolverines a 41-10 lead with 7:50 left in the third period.
After East’s second score of the half, Polk drove to the East half-yard line before turning the ball over on downs. But the Eagles managed just four yards in three plays, and a short punt gave the Wolverines the ball at the East 23. Two Matt Darden runs moved the ball to the 10 before Tanner, in at quarterback, found Carson in the left corner of the end zone on a play-action pass, giving Polk its 47-17 lead with 8:24 left in the game.
The Wolverines had 287 yards rushing on just 29 carries, with Smith adding 68 yards on four carries to Schlabach’s total. Carson had three catches for 42 yards on a night where Polk rarely needed its passing attack.