Wolverines hold on for thrilling win in conference opener

Published 10:00 pm Monday, September 26, 2016

Polk County’s Dillon Knighton (11) and Elijah Sutton bring down a Madison runner in Friday’s game.

Polk County’s Dillon Knighton (11) and Elijah Sutton bring down a Madison runner in Friday’s game.

MARSHALL – It could have been much easier, probably should have been much easier Friday night for Polk County. Instead, take your pick of phrases that described the ending of the Wolverines’ Western Highlands Conference opener at Madison – nail-biter, thriller, cliffhanger.

The Wolverines, though, would offer a different descriptor – step one.

There are now only four WHC teams can now go undefeated this season in league play. Polk County is one of those thanks to a 28-21 victory that both spoiled the Patriots’ Homecoming and gave the Wolverines an early leg up in the conference title chase.

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Polk County (3-3, 1-0) made getting to that point an adventure.

Leading by seven with a minute remaining, the Wolverines picked up a key first down on a third-and-9 play, Dillon Knighton making a sliding pass reception for an 11-yard gain to the Madison 19. The Patriots had just one timeout left, meaning all Polk needed to do was run a play, move into victory formation, take a couple of snaps and celebrate. And hold on to the football throughout.

Except the Wolverines didn’t, fumbling the snap on first down, with Madison (3-3, 0-1) recovering at the 19 with 56.2 seconds left. Suddenly given hope, the Patriots quickly completed a couple of passes to move to the 40, then added another and a quarterback scramble to reach the Polk 27.

An incompletion there left the Patriots facing second down with 8.2 seconds remaining. Taking the snap, Madison’s Jordan Baker rolled to his left, looking downfield, but Polk County’s Josh Chupp came from Baker’s blind side to drag down the quarterback before he could make a throw, ending the game.

“We’ve got to protect the football and we’ve got to finish drives,” said Polk County head coach Jamie Thompson. “We did a better job of finishing tonight, but the turnovers are going to kill us.”

As important as Chupp’s sack, Dillon Overholt’s 2-yard touchdown run with 8:02 left in the game that proved the game-winner and a touchdown-saving tackle in the third quarter by Knighton all were, perhaps the best move that Polk County made came during the extended Homecoming halftime.

Trailing 21-13 at the break, the Wolverine coaching staff made some defensive changes, hoping to slow a Madison offense that scored on three of its final four first-half possessions. That they did, the Patriots not only failing to score in the final two quarters, but recording drives that ended like this: Interception, fumble, fake punt stopped short of a first down and end of game.

“We made some adjustments in the second half that slowed them down,” Thompson said. “In the first half they threw it all over us and ran the ball some as well. We made some adjustments and bowed our necks and got some stops.”

Polk County’s second-half possessions: 11 plays (5:04), two plays (:32), 12 plays (5:36), 8 plays (3:51).

A wild sequence late in the third period ultimately led to Polk’s winning score.

The score tied at 21, the Wolverines seemed set to take the lead late in the quarter, but a fumble on the 1-yard line ended that opportunity. Two plunges into the middle by Madison quarterback Colby Edwards netted 21 yards before Patriot senior Derek Gonzalez swept around right end, broke a tackle and seemed bound for the end zone, only for Knighton to run him down and make a tackle at the Wolverine 9.

A three-yard loss on first down, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a 1-yard gain on second down left Madison facing third-and-goal at the 26. As he did to end the game,
Chupp got to the quarterback from the blind side, knocking the ball out of Edwards’ hands. Luke Sellers recovered, and Polk had possession at its 32.

The Wolverines then ate up almost six minutes, driving 68 yards in 12 plays. Overholt’s 2-yard plunge ended the drive, giving Polk a 28-21 edge.

“They faced some adversity, but they kept fighting,” Thompson said of the sequence. “It’s hard when that happens, especially with so many kids going both ways. If you just have kids playing offense, the defense can come out and say we’ll pick you up. But with so many going both ways, it can affect both sides of the ball. They did a good job fighting through that.”

Just as important for Thompson was the Wolverines’ first drive of the second half, an 11-play, 70-yard march keyed by an Overholt 20-yard scramble and an offsides penalty on Madison on fourth-and-2 at the 31 that prolonged the drive and set the stage for Austin Wilson’s 17-yard burst up the middle into the end zone.

Overholt then lofted a perfect pass into the left corner of the end zone to Chupp for the 2-point conversion, tying the game at 21-21 with 6:56 left in the third.

“The biggest thing was taking the kickoff in the second half and driving down and scoring,” Thompson said. “That was big for our kids after being down at the half.”

Polk took a 7-0 lead midway through the opening period, a 39-yard pass from Overholt to Chupp setting up a 1-yard Overholt sneak for a touchdown.

Madison answered with an 85-yard scoring strike from Edwards to Dawson Coates to even the score less than a minute later, then took a 14-7 lead with a 14-play drive, capped by Edwards’ 1-yard run with 9:01 remaining in the second period.

The Wolverines immediately responded, with Overholt scampering 42 yards for a touchdown with 6:26 left in the half. An offsides call moved the ball near the 1 and Polk decided to go for two, but Madison stopped the play to retain a 14-13 lead.

The Patriots then scored just before the half, Elan Littrell making a leaping catch of an 18-yard Edwards pass with 11 seconds remaining to give Madison a 21-13 lead at the break.

– article submitted by PolkSports.com