Late flurry lifts Landrum past Polk County

Published 11:29 pm Sunday, September 11, 2016

Polk County's Elijah Sutton gains yardage early in Friday's game against Landrum.

Polk County’s Elijah Sutton gains yardage early in Friday’s game against Landrum.

This one hurt.

Hurt not only because opportunities to score went unrealized. Hurt not just because a lead vanished in the final seconds. And hurt not solely because a backyard rival got to celebrate, the echoes of joy sounding long into the night.

No, Friday’s 17-14 overtime loss to Landrum in G.M. Tennant Stadium hurt most for Polk County because ALL of those things happened, a gutwrenching ending to a game that the Wolverines controlled for large portions, dominating statistically, but still slipped away to give the Cardinals a second straight win in this border rivalry.

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“It’s a tough loss,” said Polk County head coach Jamie Thompson.

The ending, perhaps mercifully, came quickly in overtime for the Wolverines (1-3). Polk County had possession first in the extra session and failed to score, a fourth-down pass falling incomplete. Landrum (1-2) wasted no time in sending out kicker Jesus Alviar, who calmly split the uprights from 27 yards before being buried in a sea of teammates.

Far more painful for the Wolverines was the final minute of regulation.

The score tied at 7, Polk County took possession at its 18-yard line with 2:05 remaining in the game. Three plays, plus a Landrum penalty, moved the ball to the Cardinal 43, where Dillon Overholt lofted a perfect pass over a trio of Landrum defenders to Josh Chupp, who caught the pass in stride and raced into the end zone. Wyatt Derkach added the extra point, and Polk held a 14-7 lead with 1:03 remaining.

Landrum took the ensuing kickoff at its 44, and freshman quarterback Turner Ussery went to work. Making the first start of his varsity career, Ussery hit four straight passes down the Cardinal sideline to Kericho McAuley, quickly taking the Cardinals to the Polk 15. Two incompletions followed, but Ussery plowed into the line and converted a fourth-and-1 at the 15 to keep the drive going.

With time left for perhaps two plays, Ussery needed just one, finding older brother Sklyer Ussery in a seam between two defenders in the end zone with six seconds left. Alviar hammered through the extra point to even the score at 14 and bring about the overtime period.

McAuley caught nine passes for 131 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown grab on the first play of the third quarter that broke a scoreless game at halftime. Polk County immediately answered, Jaymes Wingo throwing a 36-yard halfback option touchdown pass to Dillon Knighton with 9:30 left in the third period.

But as much as McAuley hurt the Wolverines, Polk County’s struggles in the red zone were far more the postgame pain point. The Wolverines finished with 359 total yards, including 205 rushing, and dominated time of possession. But, including overtime, Polk County had four drives inside Landrum’s 20-yard line that failed to produce any points. That proved the difference in the game.

“The kids fought hard, but we just couldn’t finish drives,” Thompson said. “We’re moving the ball well, but we get down in the red zone and can’t score. That’s something we’ve got to rectify and something we’ve got to get better at.”

Overholt finished 8-of-11 for 118 yards and a touchdown and ran for 92 yards on 22 carries, with Storm Wheeler adding 59 yards on 13 carries. Knighton had 60 yards on three receptions. Tyler Ussery threw for 186 yards on 15-of-25 attempts.

And, despite the loss, the sun still came up Saturday morning in Polk County. Which is part of the postgame message that Thompson delivered to his team.

“This game means a lot, means a lot to Polk County, means a lot to Landrum, means a lot to the players,” Thompson said. “But in the big scheme of things, they’ve got conference ahead. We’ve got one more non-conference game to get some things right before we head into conference play.”

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