Homecoming may have arrived at the perfect time for Polk County alumni returning to The Little Big House on Friday night for the Wolverines’ Western Highlands Conference matchup with Mitchell.
The Polk County faithful who will gather on school grounds for the 7:30 p.m. kickoff will see a team on a four-game winning streak, coming off a dominating 80-point performance at Mountain Heritage, taking on a young Mitchell program in the midst of a rebuilding season.
It seems the perfect recipe for a rollicking Homecoming fest – and Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis thinks that will help keep the Wolverines focused on the job at hand and avoid a letdown after last week’s sterling effort.
“Our players will get focused to win for the returning alumni and I believe give great effort,” Ollis said. “It doesn’t hurt that our Homecoming record for he past 11 years is 10-1. I will remind them that the one blemish on that record belongs to Mitchell and that previous to last year’s win we lost to them in 2010 and 2011 by a 28-27 score.”
Polk County enters Friday’s game as heavy favorites to avoid a repeat of those two recent losses to the Mountaineers. The 2013 season has been a struggle to date for Mitchell, which enters with a 1-5 record, its lone win a 39-6 victory over Cherokee.
Offensive consistency has been a sore point for the Mountaineers, who have scored just 13 points in their past three games. Mitchell has used three different quarterbacks this season – Turner Pitman, Drey Phillips and Cole Burleson, with Burleson, a freshman, going 4-for-8 for 73 yards and a touchdown in last week’s 62-6 loss to Owen. Sophomores Dalton Beaver (300 yards) and Cy Thomas (271 yards) are the team’s top rushers. Sophomore Tre Carson (14-185) is the team’s top receiver.
“Mitchell is a very young team,” Ollis said. “I believe they are still searching for an identity on offense. They will gel and improve. I have seen them use three quarterbacks so they may be lacking some continuity at that position.
“This a football program that is just two seasons removed from playing in the regional final so they will eventually get things turned around.”
Finding that improvement on Friday night could be challenging against a Polk County defense that continues to progress each week. The Wolverines forced seven turnovers at Mountain Heritage, scoring on two of those, and bounced back from allowing two early scores to keep the Cougars’ offense in check until the game’s outcome was decided. That defensive lineman Debois Miller scored one of those two touchdowns seemed appropriate, as that forward unit was key to Friday’s performance.
“We are certainly playing better upfront on defense as of late,” Ollis said. “We pressured the quarterback several times that led to poor throws and thus a five-interception night. Our secondary broke on the ball very well to put themselves in position for the picks.”
Polk County’s offense will face a Mitchell defense gouged by Owen running back Jager Gardner for 301 yards on 15 carries last week. The Warhorses had 576 total yards in the win, and that could spell good news for a Wolverine offense that has been hitting on all cylinders of late. Quarterback Reese Schlabach continues to perform well in the option game and surpassed 1,000 yards passing for the season last week. Schlabach also leads a rushing attack getting contributions from a number of players, and senior wide receiver Anthony Carson keeps turning in key catches for Polk every week.
“We do have a lot of weapons on offense,” Ollis said. “You can add Tyrone Miller to that list as he made some huge plays for us on both sides of the ball. I have been waiting for him to have that type of game. I think the confidence he gained at Mountain Heritage will carry over for the remainder of the season.
“It is difficult for any team to just focus on stopping one player. We have several players capable of hitting home runs at anytime during the game.”
There could be a few big plays on Friday night if recent performances are any indicator. Without doubt, Polk’s confidence is at a season high after putting together the second highest point total in Ollis’ tenure, and doing so against a very good Mountain Heritage squad.
“Mountain Heritage came in having won four consecutive games. We get behind 14-0 early and no one panics,” Ollis said. “That is a huge credit to our players and coaches for staying the course and doing their job. So many players contributed to our success on Friday which provides ownership in the victory.
“One of the things you must guard against after a huge win is a letdown in the next game. Mitchell as of late has always played us tough regardless of their record. I expect them to get after us on defense just as in previous years.”