MARSHALL – And now, the waiting begins.
Polk County did all it could do Friday to help its odds for a state 1A playoff berth, thumping Madison 48-23 in the final regular-season game for both teams.
On a cold, windy, misty evening, the Wolverines (3-8, 2-3) handled the Patriots (1-9, 0-4) in a workmanlike manner, building a 28-7 halftime lead and a 42-7 advantage in the third period before beginning to substitute liberally.
The state 1A playoff pairings will not be announced until Nov. 10 as many of the state’s eastern schools won’t complete their seasons until next week due to delays caused by Hurricane Florence. Polk County’s postseason fate will rest in the code that is the MaxPreps Adjusted Ranking, the means that the North Carolina High School Athletic Association uses to determine at-large playoff berths.
The Wolverines began the week ranked 40th among state 1A schools, a rating that should be high enough to earn Polk a first-round playoff trip somewhere.
“A great way to end our regular season on a high note,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “We’ll probably be on the road somewhere, but we were a pretty good road team tonight.”
The word of the week around the Wolverines’ locker room was resilience, and Polk County showed the trait after Madison scored late in the first period to even the score at 7-7.
Undeterred, Polk County took command of the game at that point. The Wolverines put together a 12-play drive, with Bryce Jergenson scoring from five yards out on the first play of the second quarter. Matias Akers added the extra point to make it 14-7.
Its defense bolstered by the return of junior linebacker Bryson Seay, sidelined since late August with a foot injury, Polk then forced a Madison three-and-out and a punt, taking over on the Patriot 41. On the drive’s second play, Avery Edwards rolled to his left, cut back through the Madison defense, then back outside and raced 34 yards to the end zone. Akers, a perfect 6-of-6 on extra points, made it 21-7 with 10:09 left in the half.
The Patriots failed on fourth-and-3 at their 30 on their next drive, leaving Polk a short field to the end zone. Two Edwards passes to Ryan Heider moved the ball to the 10, and Edwards scored from there to make it 28-7 with 6:27 left in the half.
The Patriots kept the ball the rest of the quarter before Polk stopped them on downs inside the Wolverine 20 as time ran out.
“They moved the ball on us and scored, and it was time for us to bow up a little bit and we did,” Ollis said. “It’s amazing what will happen offensively when you don’t turn the ball over. We’ve been averaging almost three turnovers a game and didn’t have a single turnover tonight, and that to me was the cornerstone of the victory.”
The Wolverines roared out of the dressing room in the second half with two more quick touchdowns, a 20-yard Mitchell Yoder run and a 30-yard Jordan Bishop scamper, then added a score at the start of the fourth quarter as Heider caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Edwards.
Polk County, which didn’t punt in the game, scored on its opening drive of the night, an eight-play, 71-yard possession. The Wolverines drove to the Madison 19, where they faced fourth-and-12. Edwards lofted a pass into the right corner of the end zone, where Jergenson fought off a defender to snare the pass just inbounds, giving Polk a 7-0 lead with 6:40 left in the first period.
By the end of the night, with temperatures in the low 40s and wind whipping a mist across the field all evening, the Wolverines would empty the bench, giving several members of its junior varsity a chance to see game action.
It proved a satisfying end to a season that hasn’t had as many highlights as the Wolverines expected.
“We did so many things well,” Ollis said. “We read the option well, we threw and caught the ball well. Ryan Heider got a big touchdown catch. Bryce Jergenson made a great play on a little body move there on a fourth-down play for a touchdown.
“We did some things tonight we haven’t done consistently all year long, and that was the talk all week long. Let’s play like the Polk County team we thought we could be, and I think we did that tonight.”
And now, the waiting begins.