Wolverines experience disappointing 27-19 loss to end season

Published 11:37 pm Sunday, November 24, 2013

With the clock running down, and the Wolverines needing a touchdown, Jamal Tanner hit receiver Anthony Carson (shown here catching the ball) for solid gains. Polk's last drive fell about one yard short, and the Wolverines turned the ball over on downs with less than one minute to go in the contest. (photo by Mark Schmerling)

With the clock running down, and the Wolverines needing a touchdown, Jamal Tanner hit receiver Anthony Carson (shown here catching the ball) for solid gains. Polk’s last drive fell about one yard short, and the Wolverines turned the ball over on downs with less than one minute to go in the contest. (photo by Mark Schmerling)

Polk County’s season-ending 27-19 loss to Reidsville in the second round of North Carolina High School football competition was tough for any of the players and coaches to absorb, but it might have been even more difficult for the Wolverines’ starting quarterback, Reece Schlabach.

Schlabach, a senior, was injured late in the first half, and had to watch from the sidelines, as his teammates came up just short, after Polk had jumped to a 13-0 first-quarter lead.

With less than one minute left in the game, the Wolverines had a chance to make up for costly first-half turnovers, but came up hungry on their last drive. Reidsville took over on downs, ran out the clock, and Polk’s season, which featured a nine-game win streak, a perfect (6-0) conference record, and a conference title, plus a reciprocal belief by the players and coaches in themselves and in each other, ended.

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“You should be proud of your efforts,” Wolverine coach Bruce Ollis told his players after the game, “because I’m proud of you.”

No one can question the Wolverines’ desire, or their level of community support. One had to wonder where so many Reidsville fans spent their Friday night, as the home bleachers were possibly two-thirds full, while nearly as many Wolverine supporters made the three-hour-plus trip to encourage their team.

Winning the coin flip, the Rams showed confidence in themselves by electing to kick off to start the game. The Wolverines quickly showed them why that might be a costly plan. On their third play from scrimmage after taking the kick, Polk faced a third and eight from its 42. Schlabach hit Jamal Tanner on a short pattern. Tanner turned on the jets, burst downfield, and into the end zone, with just 1:05 gone in the game. A kick through the uprights made it 7-0.

Games between two very good teams are often decided by turnovers. When Polk recovered a Reidsville fumble at mid-field, with just under three minutes off the clock in the first quarter, things looked even better for the visitors. The Wolverines arrival at Reidsville’s five included a run by Tanner, a pass from Schlabach to Anthony Carson, and an offside penalty against the Rams. Jordan Smith was stopped at the one, but punched it in on the next play. Even though Reidsville blocked the PAT try, Polk, ahead, 13-0, with 1:36 left in the first quarter, had the momentum.

Just into the second quarter, the Rams got one of those back, as Divante William, a quarterback with stunning speed, shot 23 yards into Polk’s end zone.

Shortly after the Wolverines took Reidsville’s kick at their 19, Schlabach made an uncharacteristic fumble, which was covered by the Rams. William then took it in, for his second of three touchdowns. The Rams tried for two, but a bad snap and a Polk interception, snuffed that attempt, and the game was tied at 13.

On their next possession, Polk used ground gains by Schlabach, Smith and Tanner to reach the Rams’ 37, before a loose ball was recovered by Reidsville at its 38. Polk’s defense held, though, and Reidsville was forced to punt, doing so deep into Wolverine territory. On a third and 17 from the Polk 19, Schlabach made it to the 34 on a keeper, but was still shy of a first down. On fourth and three, Polk elected to punt, but couldn’t get the ball downfield. The Rams not only blocked the punt attempt, but the ball bounced clear to Polk’s ten, where the Rams took over.

“That’s three turnovers in the half!” a frustrated Ollis shouted at his players.

With 2:18 left in the half, William ran the ball three yards for his, and Reidsville’s, third touchdown of the evening. The PAT kick made it 20-13, Rams, where it stayed until the third quarter.

For the second half of the game, Schlabach had to watch from the sideline, while leaning on crutches, after being hurt on Polk’s last possession of the second quarter.

Reidsville took Polk’s kickoff to begin the second half, but the Wolverines put the Rams in a fourth and ten situation. After the Rams punted, Polk took over at its 14. Tanner switched to quarterback, not an unfamiliar situation for the multi-talented sophomore. He led the Wolverines inside Reidsville’s 35, but eventually faced a fourth and 17. His punt landed in the Reidsville end zone, with the Rams taking over on their 20.

Through the third quarter, Polk was able to hold off the Rams, but with 11:54 left in the game, the Rams’ tailback Jayron Rankin took the ball at Polk’s 20, and beat all pursuers into the end zone. A successful PAT kick made it 27-13, Rams, but the Wolverines, as has been their season pattern, refused to quit.

After Polk took Reidsville’s kick, Tanner made it to the Rams’ 47, and then to the hosts’ 31. Facing a fourth and nine at Reidsville’s 30, the Wolverines unleashed a sleight of hand play with Matt Darden taking the ball to the Rams’ five. From there, Tanner scored on a keeper. A slightly wide kick kept the score at 27-19, with Polk needing another touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie.

Polk’s defense kept the Rams silent on their next possession, forcing the hosts to punt. Tanner took his team down to Reidsville’s one-yard line on plays that included clutch catches by Carson. Polk once again fumbled, but recovered, about a yard and a half away from another score. Down to a fourth and two with less than a minute left to play, Polk’s last good chance was frustrated by an incomplete pass, and the Rams took over, running out the clock.

“We had a chance, near the end,” Ollis recounted. However, he added, “I can’t say enough about this group,” which lost its first three games, but won its next nine. “That’s a huge accomplishment to what we preach,” Ollis remarked, noting that this group of players has been “persistent. They’ve been coachable. My heart’s hurting, too.”