FOREST CITY – Two fourth-down stops. Two long drives for touchdowns. One thrilling victory.
What Friday’s season opener at Chase occasionally lacked in execution more than delivered in terms of excitement, Polk County rallying from a 12-point deficit to score the winning touchdown with 56.7 seconds left in a 31-28 victory over the Trojans at Allen Stadium.
The Wolverines fashioned fourth-quarter scoring drives of 78 and 90 yards – each coming after crucial fourth-down stops to halt Chase scoring threats – to secure Polk County’s fourth straight win in the series, all in season-opening games.
The latter of those stops, on the Polk 10-yard line, gave the Wolverines the ball with 5:47 remaining and a 28-23 deficit to overcome. That Polk County did, marching 12 plays and reaching the end zone in the final minute as Avery Edwards connected with Elijah Sutton on a 15-yard touchdown pass. Edwards tossed a 2-point conversion to Ryan Heider for good measure.
“I told them at halftime that if you get us the ball back with a chance to win it, we’ll win it,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “Our kids persevered. Awfully proud of the way we stopped them there at the end and were able to drive the ball 90 yards and put the ball in the end zone.”
Though neither started the game in the backfield, Cameron Blackwell and Mitchell Yoder picked up key yardage all evening, including on the final drive. Blackwell had a 21-yard burst to move Polk away from its end zone, then picked up six yards on a third-and-4 at the Polk 38. Yoder’s 16-yard dash moved the Wolverines into Chase territory, and Polk finally reached the Trojan 15 with just over a minute to play.
The Wolverines took a timeout at that point, then returned with Sutton splitting out of the backfield and finding a seam in the Chase defense and haul in Edwards’ winning pass.
“We’ve still got a lot of improving to do, but when you can play less than your best and still win, that’s a pretty good sign,” Ollis said.
Polk’s late-game offensive execution atoned for its early struggles. The Wolverines fumbled on the game’s second play, though Chase returned the favor on its second play, and turned the ball over again on a fumble later in the quarter. That second miscue set up Chase’s first touchdown, a 68-yard pass from freshman Damian Boykins to Kiylan Miller. A 2-point conversion – Chase never tried a traditional extra point – gave the Trojans an 8-2 advantage, Polk having scored on an early safety thanks to a bad snap on a Chase punt.
The Wolverines regained the lead in the second quarter as Blackwell bulled in from nine yards out to end an eight-play, 65-yard drive, and Yoder followed with a 31-yard scoring run, pushing through two Chase defenders at the 11 and racing into the end zone. That drive, keyed by a 32-yard pass from Edwards to Grant Wooten, gave Polk a 16-8 advantage with 4:10 left in the half and seemingly all the momentum, at least until the final minute of the half.
Chase cut the lead to 16-14 with just over a minute left, but a 20-yard run by Edwards quickly moved Polk into Trojan territory, and an Edwards’ 11-yard run and flagrant face mask penalty on Chase moved Polk into the red zone. The Wolverines reached the Chase 12 and lined up for a field goal with seconds left in the half, only to see the Trojans block Matias Akers’ 29-yard attempt and put together a long return for a touchdown, scoring with no time left on the clock, and 20-16 halftime lead.
“We’ve got to eliminate mistakes and turnovers,” Ollis said. “We gave up a few big plays. The field goal block, I think a lot of lesser teams may have cashed it in right there. I put my chin on my chest, I’m not going to lie.
“But we talked at halftime that, hey, we gotta buck up, we gotta put eyes in front of your face instead of behind.”
Chase extended its 20-16 halftime lead to 28-16 in the third period, then appeared to be driving for another score when Polk County stopped the Trojans on a fourth-and-6 at the Wolverine 22 late in the quarter.
Polk then put together an efficient 11-play, 78-yard drive, facing just one third down in the series. Sutton capped the march with a 5-yard touchdown run, powering over the right side, and Akers added the extra point to make it 28-23 with 10:09 left in the game.
The Wolverines had one other scoring opportunity go awry – perhaps. Akers tried a 32-yard field goal midway through the first quarter that was signaled good by one official, but no good by another. After conferring, the officials stayed with the call of no good, denying Polk its first points of the night.
But the Wolverines still scored first a few moments later as a Bryson Seay sack left Chase facing a fourth-and-26 at its 17. The Trojans lined up to punt, but the snap sailed well over the punter’s head and bounced out of the end zone, giving Polk County an early 2-0 lead.