Polk triumphs over Tuscola
It is a certainty, a basic truth – an indisputable fact that every coach, and every player, accepts without question. There are simply no two ways about it – success on the football field is in direct proportion to the price a team is willing to pay up front in terms of preseason conditioning.
And so, for the young men of Polk County High School, the grueling regimen known as the summer strength and conditioning program began the day after graduation, 10 long weeks ago. After several scrimmages, a half-dozen passing leagues, hundreds of sprints up and down the stadium bleachers, and thousands of reps in the weight room – game day had finally, blessedly, arrived.
Welcome to the start of the high school football season in North Carolina.
Friday evening, at the Little Big House in Columbus, the Wolverines crushed 3A powerhouse Tuscola 38-22.
“Anytime you line up and win your first ballgame of the year against a pretty good Tuscola football team, you’ve got to feel pretty good about what you’ve done,” said Ollis. “We’re proud to be 3-0 against Tuscola – that’s a big accomplishment.”
Polk’s victory over the Mountaineers, the team’s third in as many years, was far more lopsided than the final score would indicate. The Wolverines jumped in front early, as quarterback Alec Philpott connected with Joel Booker for a 32-yard scoring pass at the 9:17 mark in the first quarter, and Cary Littlejohn added a 2-yard touchdown run early in the second to put Polk ahead 12-0. Meanwhile, the Tuscola offense, led by All-Conference QB Rob Howard, was stymied time and again by the rock-solid Wolverines defense, and the teams headed into the intermission with Polk ahead by two scores.
Coming back onto the field for the second half, the Wolverines picked up right where they left off, with Philpott scoring from 4 yards out, stretching the lead to 20 as Philpott hooked up with Booker for the two-point conversion. Less than three minutes later, Philpott once again connected with Booker for a 40-yard touchdown strike as the Wolverines jumped ahead 26-0.
Late in the third, the Tuscola offense briefly showed signs of life, as Howard connected with Weaver Kirkpatrick for an 8-yard scoring pass and the two-point conversion. However, less than a minute later, Philpott galloped 50 yards into the Tuscola end zone for his second rushing touchdown to make it 32-8. Philpott added his third rushing TD early in the fourth, scoring from two yards out as Polk stretched their lead to 38-8.
With a 30-point lead and victory all but certain, Polk head coach Bruce Ollis emptied his bench, giving every Wolverine player an opportunity to play.
“It was good for the young guys to get some experience under the lights in a varsity football game,” said Ollis.
Though Tuscola would score twice in the fourth against Polk’s second unit, it was too little too late, and the contest ended with Polk in front by 16 points.
Following the game, Ollis had high praise for the performance of his rookie field general.
“Alec did an incredible job, his first game ever playing quarterback,” said Ollis, adding, “300 yards of offense – I’d say that’s a pretty good debut.”
Philpott finished the evening with 14 carries for 146 yards and three touchdowns, while going 8-15 through the air for another 148 yards and two touchdowns. For his part, the junior was quick to praise his teammates.
“Our offensive line did really well,” said Philpott, pointing out the improvement since the Border Showcase. “I had a lot of time back there, and when we ran our powers, the holes would just open up – our offensive line had a really good game.”
Other offensive standouts for the Wolverines included Booker (four receptions for 91 yards and two TDs), Littlejohn (four catches for 44 yards, as well as 11 rushes for 115 yards and a touchdown) and Jay Sutton (four carries for 37 yards).
Though the Wolverine defense was, as expected, excellent overall, a bright spot was the play of freshman Damion Cantrell, who started the first game of his high school career at linebacker.
“We felt that Damion had come a long way in camp, his reads were good and he gets to the football, so we started him, which is very rare for a freshman.”
Ollis had high praise for the work of defensive coordinator Jamie Thompson in prepping Cantrell for his debut.
“Jamie did an incredible job of getting him ready,” Ollis said. “Damion is a very instinctive player – linebacker is a position where you’ve got to possess instincts to be a good player – and he possesses that.”
Breaking down the team’s overall performance, Ollis was pleased but realistic.
“It was a typical first game – we did a lot of things well, and we did some things poorly. We absolutely have to find a way to kick extra points. That is a glaring weakness right now, one that’s going to cost us a ballgame down the road unless we improve.”
Next week, the Wolverines travel to Brevard High School to take on the Blue Devils, who dropped their opener at Owen 27-7, a game in which longtime Warhorse coach Kenny Ford notched his 200th career victory.