Wolverines will look to continue making most of opportunities against Avery

Injuries mean opportunity. It’s a mantra that Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis says often.

Such has been the case this season for the Wolverines. Elijah Sutton’s injury meant increased time for Mitchell Yoder. Bryson Seay being out added to Cameron Blackwell’s role. Freshmen Steven Chupp and Bryce Jergenson have joined the varsity and been on the field due to openings.

Many of those players will be counted on Friday to help Polk County end its Homecoming with a victory as Avery visits G.M. Tennant Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Homecoming festivities are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. with a parade through downtown Columbus, with this year’s queen crowned at halftime.

The emergence of Blackwell in Polk County’s backfield has been one of the bright spots of the season. Already earning attention during preseason workouts, the junior has helped fill the void left by Seay’s injury on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

“Cameron Blackwell jumps out as someone who has taken advantage of an opportunity,” Ollis said. “He spent a lot of time this offseason getting better. He worked on his speed and knocked three or four-tenths of a second off his 40 time. He worked outside of here as well, which is something you have to do.

“He made an extra commitment. As we say often, he paid the upfront price for victory.”

Yoder has been one of a handful of Wolverines already expected to see extensive time who have taken on even greater roles; Daniel Ruff, for example, shifted to center and played well there when Blake Rackley was injured. That Chupp and Jergenson have gotten varsity time wasn’t anticipated, with both beginning the season on the Polk junior varsity.

“Bryce Jergenson and Steven Chupp have also taken advantage of getting a chance,” Ollis said. “Those are two freshmen who have shown no fear in making plays for us. Those guys have been two bright spots for us.”

The Wolverines will look to add another bright spot as they end a four-game homestand by stopping an Avery team showing signs of improvement under veteran head coach Mac Bryan, in his first season in Newland. The Vikings (2-5, 1-0) have established themselves as a pass-first squad, averaging more than 30 attempts and 175 yards per game. Some of that has been due to a defense that has given up almost 50 points per outing.

“Avery is awfully good on offense,” Ollis said. “Mac Bryan is a good offensive coach, and he was slinging it and throwing it long before a lot of people did.

“We have to get off the field some on defense. We didn’t get off the field at all in the second half last week (a 40-33 loss to Owen). But if we don’t fumble, we keep them off the field. It’s a symbiotic relationship. . . In order for us to win, we have to tackle better and protect the football better.”

Sophomore Troy Hoilman has stepped into the quarterback role at Avery, throwing for 862 yards and 11 touchdowns on 73-of-131 attempts. Three Vikings have at least 20 receptions, led by senior Eli Hayes (31 catches, 311 yards, 8 TDs). Senior Sam McCollum has rushed for 712 yards and nine touchdowns to pace Avery’s ground game.

Despite a 1-6 record, Polk County still has a path to the 1A playoffs and could even work its way into a first-round home game. That journey begins Friday, Ollis said.

“In the three games we’ve lost that have been close, it has come down to one or two plays, and we’re not making those one or two plays,” he said. “Amazingly enough, we can still salvage our season, even though we’re sitting here at 1-6.

“It’s Homecoming, and we told the players, let’s make some memories for everybody and let’s make some memories for ourselves.”