Polk County is putting the hay in the barn a day earlier this week.
That’s the term the Wolverines use for their final pre-game practice – plan for the opponent is in place, preparations are complete, kickoff is all that awaits.
All of that is happening on a compressed schedule this week as the remnants of Hurricane Ian are expected to soak Western North Carolina beginning Friday. Thus Polk will make the short trek to R-S Central on Thursday evening for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff in a Mountain Foothills 7 Conference matchup. The game is slated to be shown live on NFHS Network.
The shortened schedule means altering the usual weekday routine for the Wolverines (3-3, 1-1), but head coach Bruce Ollis noted that deep into the regular season, that likely won’t have a significant impact.
“We’re not changing up any. We’ve been doing pretty much the same things offensively and defensively during the year,” Ollis said. “We just need to find a way to execute them a bit better on Thursday night.”
Execution has been a core theme this week around the Polk fieldhouse. Following each game, Ollis always reviews film and assigns a plus or minus grade to every play depending upon whether the team produced a positive result. With few exceptions, winning the plus/minus battle usually means a game victory.
The Wolverines actually fared better in the plus/minus grading of Friday’s 32-21 loss at Hendersonville, but it was the negative plays that proved the difference, with the Bearcats scoring four touchdowns on plays of 20-plus yards. Yet Ollis has chosen this week to focus on the positives that did emerge from the setback.
“One of the things I’ve tried to make sure our players understand is that we’re still a pretty good football team,” he said. “We change a couple of plays, and the game hangs in the balance. If we score on the (first-half drive) where we got the ball to the 8-yard line and we get a holding penalty, at the end of the game when we get an onside kick and we’re on the plus-34 going in, that would have been for the winning touchdown.
“It was a tit-for-tat game We gave up some big plays defensively and we had some very untimely penalties on offense, which hurt us. My goal as a head coach this week is to uplift our players and let them know, hey, we’re still in the mix (for a conference title).”
Remaining in the mix begins with stopping R-S Central. The Hilltoppers (2-4, 0-2) enter off lopsided losses to Hendersonville and Brevard and will no doubt be eager to please a Homecoming crowd with a winning performance.
R-S Central will challenge Polk’s defense with its flexbone attack, an offense the Wolverine coaching staff knows well, having run that formation for many years. Malachi Coston (60-481-4) leads a rushing attack that averages almost 40 attempts per game and 6.3 yards per play.
“It’s a highly unusual form of offense that you don’t see much any more,” Ollis said. “You’ve got to play assignment football on defense. They’re running a lot of option football, midline, inside veer, outside veer. You’ve got to assign someone to get the fullback, the quarterback and the pitch man, and one breakdown on any of those can create an issue for you.
“(The reliance on the run) is very similar to Patton, and we had some issues stopping Patton.”
R-S Central isn’t expected to have quarterback Trey Shearer available, the senior sidelined with an injury. Junior Levi Vogel is expected to start and will have a running corps that includes Colston as well as Marcus McKinney (27-210-3) and Kihea Owens (29-190-2). The Hilltoppers don’t pass often, but when they do, junior Marcus Logan (7-192-2) is usually the target.
R-S Central has allowed 36 points per game to date, and Polk’s offense will hope to match or better that total while looking to pick up a victory heading into the team’s bye week, a break now a day longer thanks to the schedule change.
“We’re get them ready in one less day. It won’t change our format that much,” Ollis said. “Hopefully we can get up and come back to school on Friday with our chests stuck out a little bit.”