Wolverines make first-half statement, but fall to Cavaliers

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, October 2, 2018

It was not a win, nor a particularly close loss.

Yet Polk County left G.M. Tennant Stadium on Friday night perhaps more buoyed about its future than in quite some time.

For two quarters, the Wolverines kept pace with an East Rutherford team deserving of its ranking in the Associated Press state 2A poll, even leading the No. 7 Cavaliers at the half. East Rutherford, though, pulled away in the second half for a 54-21 victory.

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Thus, the long road that has been Polk County’s nonconference schedule came to an end, the Wolverines just 1-5 against a difficult collection of non-league foes, but perhaps more upbeat about its prospects than before Friday’s kickoff.

The manner in which the Wolverines’ 21-20 halftime lead came about had much to do with that.

“The energy in the locker room at halftime was the best I’ve seen it,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “We’ve got to feed on that. When we got into the locker room at the half, I said to the players, how good does that feel?

“East Rutherford has a good football team. That’s the best team I’ve seen in a long time in this area.”

East Rutherford (6-0) rolled out of its locker room and rolled into the end zone to open the game, covering 67 yards in three plays, the last of those a 24-yard touchdown catch by Jordan Harris to give the Cavaliers a 7-0 lead just 1:11 into the game.

But then came a statement by Polk County’s offense, a 20-play, 76-yard drive that lasted more than 10 minutes. Having shifted its offensive line to help counter the size and speed on East Rutherford’s front, the Wolverines patiently and methodically marched up field. The drive had one long run — Lukas Tipton’s 23-yard burst up the middle — and three fourth-down conversions before Tipton plunged into the end zone from the 2, with Matias Akers’ extra point evening the score at 7-7.

“In 39 years of coaching, I’ve never been involved in a 20-play drive,” Ollis said. “We’ve said all along that’s what we’ve got to do to be effective. We didn’t make any mistakes and did everything right. That’s what this offense can do. It can befuddle the defense.”

The Cavaliers immediately responded with a Harris 80-yard kickoff return for a score.

Back to work went Polk County’s offense, this time driving 60 yards in 11 plays. Freshman Bryce Jergensen had a key 13-yard run before an even more important 12-yard scamper, that one into the end zone on a fourth-and-3. Akers again added the extra point to make it 14-14 with 7:46 left in the half.

East put together its own long series, a 67-yard, 10-play effort ended with Cameron Simmons’ 14-yard run for a 20-14 edge.

Once again, the Wolverines answered. Avery Edwards tossed a 17-yard pass to Ryan Heider before Mitchell Yoder burst over the right side and outran East’s secondary for a 54-yard touchdown jaunt. Akers drilled the extra point and suddenly, Polk held a 21-20 edge with 1:35 left in the half.

Three drives, three scores, 36 plays, 209 yards of total offense.

The Cavaliers, though, ended Polk County’s upset dreams in the third period. East Rutherford scored on its first three drives and forced four straight three-and-outs for the Polk offense in the third quarter. The Cavaliers added two more touchdowns in the final period.

“We certainly didn’t finish,” Ollis said. “We’ve got to be able to do that.”

Yoder finished with 89 yards rushing on 12 carries, with Tipton adding 59 yards on 11 attempts to lead the Wolverine attack.

“Avery ran the offense well, we blocked well upfront and Lukas Tipton and [Cameron Blackwell] ran hard,” Ollis said. “Our slot backs ran well, Mitchell and Jergsnsen. I’m just awfully proud of how we played in the first half.”

Polk County will open Western Highlands Conference play on Friday at home against Owen.

– Submitted by PolkSports.com