A fourth straight road trip awaits Polk County on a trek the Wolverines have gotten to know well.
“108 to 64 to 40 to 77,” Polk County head football coach Bruce Ollis said. “Being on the road hasn’t bothered the kids.”
Nor will it Friday as the Wolverines look to make school history, journeying to Starmount to face the Rams in the third round of the state 1AA playoffs. The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m.
A win in Boonville would give Polk County (5-8) its first appearance in a West Regional final. And while everyone in the Wolverines’ locker room recognizes the challenge presented by a Starmount team (6-6) that thumped Community School of Davidson 55-19 in its second-round game last week, Polk County will ride a wave of optimism up I-77 as well as its activity buses.
“Right now we’re a confident football team,” Ollis said. “I’ve always said that if you could give any attribute to a football team that is most important to have, it’s confidence. We’ve had to develop that, and we’ve done that.”
Polk County’s 13-7 win last week over North Rowan certainly provided a boost to the Wolverines. Across the field Friday will be an equally confident Starmount squad that will be very similar to Polk County in several ways.
The Rams started the season 0-4 against a tough non-conference schedule before winning six of its next eight games. Starmount topped the 40-point mark in three of those six victories, topped by the season-high effort last week against CSD.
Senior running back Ethan Barnes is the heart of the Ram offense, rushing for 1,726 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. Barnes has also caught 22 passes for 240 yards and two more scores. Quarterback Trey Dezern has thrown for 1,241 yards and 10 touchdowns, with J-Max Swain his leading target (44 catches, 453 yards, one score). Swaim is also the team’s second-leading rusher (61-486-7).
“We’re seeing another 1,700-yard rusher this week,” Ollis said. “He’s more of a bruiser. He’s not quite as speedy as the last two backs we’ve seen, but he’s steady. He reminds me of a slimmer Larry Csonka, with a forward body lean and just six to eight-yarding you to death.
“They throw the ball a little more than we do. Swaim reminds me a bit of Dillon Knighton (Polk County standout who graduated last year). They’ve got good size up front and they play a physical brand of football. I think the two teams are very similar offensively and defensively.”
As the Wolverines stare at the near-mirror image across the field, they’ll also keep in mind the stakes in play.
“We told the kids that very seldom in life do you have an opportunity to make history,” Ollis said. “This is a history-making game for us. I think that added some focus. It made the players realize how important this football game is.
“Our coaches have done an incredible job maintaining their resilience and, in turn, imparting that to the players. We like to say that the best team doesn’t always win, but the team that plays the best. Right now, we’re playing pretty well.”