Polk County’s common refrain that the biggest game of the season is always “the next one” has just a bit more weight this week.
The most important game of the year truly does await the Wolverines on Friday as Polk makes the short trip to Chase for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff and a key Mountain Foothills 7 Conference matchup.
It’s a must-win for Polk County (4-3, 2-1) to keep alive its MF7 championship hopes. The Wolverines, who were off last week, could throw the conference race wide open by handing the Trojans (7-0, 3-0) their first loss of the season.
“We’re still in the hunt, and that’s the thing I’ve tried to explain to our players,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “We win these last three, we’re conference champs, and they’ll probably have to flip a coin to figure out who’s the number one seed, who’s number two and who’s a wild card.
“So we control our own destiny from that standpoint, which is not a bad position to be in.”
In an even better position is Chase, which sits atop the league standings and has yet to lose this season. The Trojans thumped Brevard 42-14 last week, playing for the second straight week without standout running back Marqies McCombs, who was injured Sept. 23 against East Rutherford.
McCombs’ status for Friday’s game is unknown, but the Trojans’ ground game has continued to click on all cylinders even without its star. Seniors Brenon Austin and Jalen Rudisill have each topped the 100-yard mark rushing both of Chase’s last two games.
“I’m sure they’d rather have McCombs, but they haven’t missed many beats,” Ollis said. “I think Coach (Chris) Cogdill has done a great job of not letting them panic, and they’re playing with a lot of swagger and confidence. I think that bodes well for them because you’ve got a kid who is a 3,000-yard rusher and now he’s down on the sideline and that could plant a seed of doubt with them, but it hasn’t.”
The running game has continued to perform thanks in large part to Chase’s offensive line, anchored by Shrine Bowler and Duke commit Reagan McCranie. the Trojans have averaged almost 260 yards rushing per game with 30 touchdowns on the ground. When Rudisill moves from quarterback to running back, sophomore Turner McSwain takes over and has thrown for 546 yards on 30-of-42 attempts. Senior two-way standout Taivon Derisma averages 24 yards per pass reception and has six receiving touchdowns. He also has returned four punts for touchdowns.
“They’re the best team we’ve seen up front, no doubt, on both sides,” Ollis said. “Their size and strength will be something we’re going to have to match up with, and and we’ve come up with a few different schemes and some things with the bye week.”
Aiding that cause will be the expected return of Polk’s Shrine Bowl selection, Angus Weaver. The senior sat out Polk’s 42-21 win over R-S Central on Sept. 30 with a sore shoulder, but is expected to be back in action. He’ll be needed.
“We know what we’re up against,” Ollis said. “We’re up against a formidable opponent that is playing really well. Somewhere down the line, you’ve got to beat a good team on the road, and this is that time. We know we have to line up and play really well.
“We’ve got to be able to control the ball some, too. Now, certainly, I’d like hit some home runs, but I’d like to put together seven or eight singles and keep the ball away from their very explosive offense. They possess size and speed, and the way to nullify that for us offensively is to play keepaway a bit. But I told our players that it won’t bother me if we hit a long ball for a touchdown.”