Wolverines down the bearcats 20-17

Published 10:00 pm Monday, November 10, 2014


By Mark Schmerling

Polk County High School’s Wolverines turned back a very good Hendersonville football team, 20-17, on the Bearcats’ turf on Friday, and won Polk a home game against Lexington this Friday in the first round of the state playoffs.

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The Wolverines are now 8-3 overall, and finished second in the Western Highlands Conference, with a 5-1 mark.“ I told the kids I had a feeling we were overhyped (going into the Owen game) last week,” Polk coach Jamie Thompson announced after his Wolverines outplayed Hendersonville.

Thompson felt so strongly about putting that loss to Owen in the past, that the team did not study films of that game, and instead, focused on what they could do something about. Preparing his players for their trip to Hendersonville, Thompson’s advice was based on his sixteen years’ experience with Wolverines squads, and especially this one, which one player described as being “special.”

“I told them, ‘Play hard, relax and have fun, and we’ll win.” Going into Friday’s game against the Bearcats we’re 7-3 overall, and 3-2 in WHC competition.

After Polk won the coin toss, and elected to kickoff to begin the game, Hendersonville opened the scoring, in the first quarter The Bearcats moved the ball downfield, on keeper runs by Schmidt, and the running and receiving skills of Cole Cleary, the latter snagging a pass for a big gain, and shortly afterward, running the ball into the end zone from just a yard or so out. The kick was good, and the Bearcats led, 7-0.

However, nothing in the expressions of the Wolverine coaching staff indicated anything but quiet confidence. Among other of Polk’s notables Friday was the excellence of its defense. Early on, the Wolverines’ pass defense was nearly perfect. In fact, most of Schmidt’s completions on the night were short. On their first possession, the Wolverines got first-down runs by Jordan Smith and quarterback Jamal Wheeler, but punted from fourth and 14.

Working up to his fourth-quarter theft, Gary broke up a long pass. Polk defenders, among them D.J. Twitty, hammered Schmidt more than once. Hendersonville punted to the Polk five, as the first quarter ended.

Runs by Wheeler and Tyler Jackson set up Jordan Smith’s 32-yard ramble over the left side, that carried the Wolverines to their 48. Again, though, Polk was unable to continue forward, and Smith punted once more. Polk’s torrid defense again forced the Bearcats to punt. This time, Polk took over at midfield. Smith carried on the next two plays, the second of those carries good for a first down. Wheeler ran the ball to the hosts’ 25, before being forced out of bounds. Smith ran the ball to the 17, before Tyler Jackson broke through to the 11 for another first down. Wheeler completed a short pass to Jason Chupp, setting up Smith’s five-yard burst into the end zone, with just 1:10 remaining in the first half.

It was the first of Smith’s three TD runs. Six points were all the Wolverines could tally, as the Bearcats blocked Davis Derkach’s PAT attempt. But, the Wolverines had scored their first points since they buried Avery on October 17. After the Bearcats returned a short kickoff to their 44, they ran into the defensive buzz saw named Damian Jackson, who has enlivened the highlight films all season, while making life miserable for ball carriers.

Jackson sacked Schmidt for a big loss, but Schmidt recovered to hit Cleary, who reached the Polk 25. After Schmidt reached the 16 on a keeper, the Bearcats elected to go for a 35-yard field goal on third and three. The boot was just high enough to clear the cross bar, and Hendersonville had a 10-6 lead, their last lead of the evening, and the half ended.

Hendersonville opened the second half with a bouncing on-sides kick that Polk’s Jerry Cox smothered at the Wolverine 43. Unable to crack the Bearcat defense on that possession, Polk was forced to punt. Starting at his 25, Schmidt threw an incomplete screen pass, advanced five yards on a keeper, and once more hit Cleary on a short completion. Cleary’s speed took him to the Bearcat 48, but Polk’s defense turned it up at least a notch. Damian Jackson once again sacked Schmidt; Chupp nearly intercepted a Schmidt pass, and Polk’s punt return team went to work.

Jamal Wheeler took the punt, but never had to chance to break a big run, as he quickly slipped, his knee hitting the turf on Polk’s 31. After an incomplete Wheeler pass, Smith ran to the visitors’ 42 for a first down. Wheeler hit Cox for another first, at the Hendersonville 46. Runs by Smith took the ball to the hosts’ 17.

After Storm Wheeler was hit for a two-yard loss, Smith crashed his way forward, shedding would-be tacklers, before finally gliding the final few yards for a score, with just over a minute left in the third quarter. Polk’s PAT attempt was off, but the Wolverines had a 12-10 lead, and would never look back.

Derkach’s short kickoff was taken by a Bearcat, who was greeted by multiple Polk tacklers, and hammered to the ground at the Hendersonville 35. Polk’s defense forced the hosts into a fourth and 20. Jamal Wheeler, keeping his footing, made a good return to the Wolverine 35. Smith ran the ball to the Polk 47 for a first down, then carried it to the Bearcats’ 41 for another. Wheeler, on a keeper, took it to the Hendersonville 35.

From there, Smith gave a lesson in intensity, and determination. Over the course of those 35 yards, he broke multiple near-tackles, including one where a Bearcat had him horse-collared. Smith scored another TD, and Jamal Wheeler’s keeper was good for two points, putting Polk ahead 20-10, with 9:41 left in the game. Smith finished the regular season with a team-leading121 tackles, 18 for loss of yardage.

On the Bearcats’ next possession, Polk defenders twice sacked Schmidt, and forced an incomplete pass. Facing fourth and 13, the Bearcats went for it, with Schmidt hitting Cleary for a first down at the home 49. Hendersonville managed another first down, before Schmidt inadvertently delivered a pass to Polk’s leaping Dequan Gary, who ran it back to the Bearcat 49. Polk fans had barely stopped cheering, when a bad snap fell into Hendersonville hands.

While Polk’s pass coverage and overall defense had been near perfect, Schmidt cooly hit Cleary at the Polk one. Moments later, Cleary crossed the goal line, for the game’s final touchdown, with 4:33 left in the contest. The PAT attempt was good, but still left Hendersonville three points behind, where the score remained.