Wolverines Top R-S Central; Face Landrum Friday

Published 11:26 am Monday, September 8, 2014

The Wolverines' Jason Chupp (1) goes after R-S Central ball carrier Matt Atchley.  Photo by Mark Schmerling

Against R-S Central on Friday evening, Polk took an early lead when Jamal Wheeler (shown here with the ball) returned a punt for a touchdown.Photo by Mark Schmerling

A fired-up defense and an improving offense gave Polk County High School a 33-12 win over R-S Central, at Rutherfordton on Friday evening.

This Friday, the 1-2 Wolverines host rival Landrum. Opening kickoff is at 7:30.

Last year, R-S Central, using some very large players, handed the Wolverines their third loss in three games.

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Last Friday, it was a different story.

“The kids battled hard all night long,” head coach Jamie Thompson remarked. “We made some big plays. We played great on defense. R-S Central has a good football team.

How did it feel to stop the Hilltoppers after two consecutive losses?

“I’m glad to end that two year curse we’ve had in this rivalry,” Thompson remarked. “We didn’t play perfect, but we played good enough. Our defensive line played great.”

And a rivalry it is. Fairly late in the game, when Wolverine quarterback Jamal Wheeler was hit hard, with a sickening sound, Polk players were offended that someone would hurt one of their own. One remarked, “No one hurts our quarterback.”

Wheeler eventually stood up, and announced that he felt fine, but it was clear all evening that no love is lost between the two teams.

Early in the game, Polk took the lead with an exclamation point, when, with about seven minutes to go in the first quarter, the Hilltoppers punted. Wheeler took the ball, and turned, turned, and turned more, to get a better read on the field ahead. He then set his course, burst past one defender after another, and took the ball all the way to the R-S end zone.

R-S C thwarted Polk’s attempted two-point conversion, but the Wolverines still led, 6-0.

On the next R-S possession, the Wolverines’ Damian Jackson made the first of his many big plays on the night, when he stopped an R-S ball carrier cold near scrimmage. The Hilltoppers eventually moved the ball to the Polk six, but an intentional grounding penalty moved it back to Polk’s 26. From there, the Wolverines stopped their hosts, and took over on downs at their 26.

Two plays later, Wheeler hit receiver Joshua Kornmayer, and Kornmayer took the ball to the R-SC 15. Wheeler ran the ball to the five and one half, then to the three, and then into the end zone as the first quarter ended.

Davis Derkach’s PAT kick was good, and Polk led, 13-0.

Polk’s shutout held for less than two minutes, as the Hilltoppers got a touchdown pass. The hosts two-point attempt failed. Later, Wolverine coach Jamie Thompson noted, “We let them (the Hilltoppers) get excited for a little while.” As it turned out, it was a very little while, as Polk scored on its next possession, with Wheeler going in on another keeper. Earlier in the drive, Wheeler connected with Tyler Garrett on a first-down pass play to the hosts’ 17.

Derkach booted through another PAT, to give the Wolverines a 20-6 lead.

After Polk’s next kickoff, R-S Central did little before punting. Jordan Smith took the ball for Polk, but got nowhere. Smith made up for it soon after, running the ball 62 yards for another Polk touchdown, or so it seemed, before officials marched the ball way back, the first of four consecutive penalties called against Polk.

The teams exchanged possession, with Polk holding the ball as the half ended.

Polk also held a 20-6 lead.

The third quarter started as Polk kicked off to the hosts. Only a fine tackle by Dalvin Littlejohn at the Polk 35 kept the Hilltoppers’ from scoring on the return.

With only 21 seconds gone in the third quarter, the hosts’ Matt Atchley ran the ball 35 yards for a score, the last points that R-S Central put on the board.

Polk now led, 20-12, but the Wolverines were far from making their last score.

The Wolverines’ next drive began with Jordan Smith’s long kickoff return to the Hilltoppers’ 47. After Wheeler’s screen to Tyler Jackson gave Polk a fourth and inches at the Hilltoppers’ 37, Wheeler carried to the 35 for a first. In spite of that gain, both teams traded punts, followed by R-S central intercepting a Wheeler pass. After two penalties against his team, the Hilltopper quarterback attempted a screen pass, but merely flipped the ball forward.

Polk’s Damian Jackson, who read the play, was perfectly positioned. Jackson caught the ball, and ran half the length of the field for another Polk score. The Wolverines got another good kick, and led, 27-12.

Polk kicked off deep, with R-S central taking over on the home 15. After the hosts drove inside Polk’s 30, the Wolverines’s defense, and penalties forced the Hilltoppers to punt. Shortly after that, Polk was forced to punt as well. By this time, the game was in the final quarter, with Polk holding a 27-12 advantage.

The Wolverines would also be holding the ball, courtesy of a Storm Wheeler interception at mid-field. Tyler Jackson ground out some tough Polk yards, before a Jamal Wheeler keeper put the ball on the R-S nine for a first and goal. Jordan Smith took the ball to the five-plus, and three plays later, Jamal Wheeler took it in on another keeper, with just over a minute and a half remaining in the game.

Though the Hilltoppers blocked the attempted PAT, it mattered little, as Polk held a 33-12 lead with very little time remaining.

Polk’s defense wrote the game’s closing statement. A solid tackle by Jason Chupp on the kickoff kept the ball at the hosts’ 17, and after a Hilltopper first down, Bryce Martin broke up an R-S pass.

Facing a fourth and 16, R-S attempted another pass. This time, just as the ball entered the receiver’s hands, Jamal Wheeler’s jarring tackle separated receiver and ball.

Polk had the ball, and the 33-12 win, as time ran out.

“It wasn’t perfect; it wasn’t pretty,” summarized Thompson. “We have to work on execution,” he continued. But, I’ll take a victory.”