There have been a number of mantras this season for Polk County’s football team, phrases that players and coaches have adopted and are oft-repeated on game nights.
“Get off the field” has become a common refrain, a cry first formed when the Wolverines were focusing on limiting opponents’ third-down conversions. Spend time on the Polk sideline and you’ll hear that phrase shouted time and time again.
The Wolverines’ second-round playoff game on Friday provides an opportunity for a new mantra to emerge – “shock the state.”
Internet message board pundits – and we all know what an insightful, accurate group those can be – aren’t giving the Wolverines much of a chance in Friday’s 7:30 p.m. 2A playoff clash at Reidsville (listen live here). The Rams enter at 10-2, a seven-game winning streak of their own, and the latest in a long line of stellar Reidsville teams that have won five state championships since 2002, all facts that prompt many in that area to expect the Rams to romp into the third round to face either Carver or Lincolnton.
But keyboard wits, road trip and opponent tradition aside, Friday’s matchup will still be determined by what transpires on the field, and it will be a quietly confident group of Wolverines (9-3) stepping into Community Stadium.
“No doubt we are playing with tremendous confidence,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “We are playing awfully well on both sides of the ball and special teams.
“This is a great time to be on the rise as a team. Going on the road does not bother this team. If anything, we have played some of our best football on the road in hostile environments.”
As its winning streak will attest, Reidsville is also playing as well as it has at any time this season. The team’s lone losses came in non-conference play to 4A Northwest Guilford and 3A Northern Guilford, three-time defending 3AA state champions, whom the Rams took to double overtime before falling 34-33. Reidsville rolled past Hendersonville 50-20 in its playoff opener last week.
Quarterback Devante Williams presents another dual threat for a Polk defense that has seen its share of them this season. Williams, who will operate out of the shotgun, has thrown for 1,490 yards and 12 touchdowns this season while running for 1,245 yards and 21 touchdowns. Those numbers echo the season performance of Polk County quarterback Reece Schlabach (1,560 yards passing, 1,062 yards rushing), and Williams has earned the ultimate compliment from Ollis, being labeled a “chicken salad” performer.
“He is a hybrid style of quarterback very similar to (Schlabach),” Ollis said. “Film certainly indicates he is quite fast and has very quick feet. We have not seen them under center any, so they are always in the shotgun. He can make ‘chicken salad’ when a play breaks down and is always a threat when he has the ball. I believe you will be watching two of the better quarterbacks around on Friday.
“They are certainly a run-first, pass-second style of offense, running the ball 70 percent of the time. As a result of their very good running attack, their play-action passing game has been good for them.”
Joining Williams in that attack are junior backs Jayron Rankin (917 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Jawan Hammock (475 yards, 10 touchdowns). Williams’ top receiving targets are Delante Enoch (41 catches, 674 yards) and senior Eric Poteat (20 catches, 377 yards).
All also contribute defensively as Reidsville, much like Polk County, has many of its players starting on both sides of the ball. And their defensive performance has been solid – the Rams have held seven opponents to single digits and kept Hendersonville largely silent until the late stages of last week’s win. Rankin (75 tackles), senior defensive end Jack Nimmons (27 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks) and Poteat, with 10 interceptions, are the statistical leaders of that unit.
“Very fast on defense. What they lack in size they make up for with speed,” Ollis said. “They rely more on quickness and are super aggressive. We will need to keep them off-balance by mixing our attack and not allowing them to sit on any one thing. Being balanced has been something we have been good at when needed.
“A lot of the ability by the secondary to play so well has been their ability to rush the passer. I have been impressed with their pass rush, and most defensive backs will tell you that good pass defense begins with a good pass rush.”
Polk County will look to counter that defense with an offense that has continued to grow more efficient each week. The elevation of sophomore Jamal Tanner to a starting role in the backfield has added another dimension to an attack that has many. It has also spurred a running game that has, in each of the past two games, topped 400 yards rushing and produced three 100-yard individual efforts by Schlabach, Tanner and fullback Jordan Smith.
“I believe this is the first time in the last 12 years that our team has rushed for over 400 yards in consecutive games,” Ollis said. “In each of those games we have had three backs over 100 yards so we are spreading the ball around, which does not enable a defense to key on any one player.”
Polk County hasn’t lost in more than two months, earned the Western Highlands Conference regular-season title and didn’t lost a conference game in doing so. It has already been a rewarding season for the Wolverines, but it’s one they’re not ready to see end.
“We don’t want to be satisfied with a first-round playoff win,” Ollis said.
Photo: Jane Ollis