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Wolverines pick up easy win in home opener

Polk County’s young ones had plenty of fun Friday evening.

It took a bit of time for the Wolverines to find their footing in their home debut. But once they did, very little went wrong, Polk County romping to a 49-14 victory over East Rutherford in G.M. Tennant Stadium.

Casey Beiler threw three touchdown passes, Angus Weaver rushed for three touchdowns and the Wolverines recovered three fumbled kickoffs. Spin threes such as that across the board and success is typically going to be the result.

“One of our goals is to get better every week,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “There’s an old coaching adage that you show the most improvement between your first and second games. We certainly improved tonight, and that’s very encouraging.”

Beiler’s 66-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Barnes for Polk County’s first score set the tone for a theme that recurred throughout the game and will no doubt do the same all season – freshmen and sophomores making key plays. Those underclassmen scored five of Polk’s seven touchdowns and had two of the three fumble recoveries that helped the Wolverines force a running clock by early in the third quarter.

Yet the night did not begin so brightly for Polk County. The Wolverines (1-1) went nowhere on their first possession, then incurred a pass interference penalty on the Cavaliers’ first drive that led to Alex Moore’s 29-yard weaving run through the Polk defense for a touchdown. Three minutes in, the Wolverines trailed 6-0 and Ollis’ voice had already become scratchy on the sidelines from being repeatedly raised.

“I read them the riot act the first couple of series,” Ollis said. “We didn’t execute well.”

The rest of the half, though, would be an exercise in Wolverine dominance. East Rutherford (0-2) is in rebuilding mode, and that quickly began to show. On Polk’s first play following Moore’s score, Barnes streaked past the Cavalier defense to haul in a long strike from Beiler and race to the end zone, Matias Akers adding the extra point for a 7-6 Polk lead.

East Rutherford fumbled the ensuing kickoff – prepare to read that a few more times – with Mackus Simpson recovering at the Cavalier 46. A 24-yard Beiler pass to freshman Keaundrae Green led to an 18-yard scoring toss to senior Nate Henderson, and Akers’ kick made it 14-6 with 5:37 remaining in the quarter.

Polk stopped East Rutherford on downs to end the first period, and a wild second quarter ensued:

  • The Wolverines drive 52 yards in six plays, with Weaver scoring from six yards out for a 21-6 advantage
  • East Rutherford fumbles the kickoff, Gage McSwain recovers at the 15. Weaver scores on an 8-yard run to make it 28-6
  • A McSwain sack helps force a Cavalier punt. Polk has just 48 yards to drive, and McSwain races around right end for the final 36 yards of those, upping the margin to 35-6
  • East again fumbles the kickoff, with the ball being kicked around before Weaver falls on it at the 3. He scores on the next play to make it 42-6

The Wolverines nearly scored again before halftime, Beiler stopped at the 3 on a last-second scramble, but then added their final score on their first possession of the third period as Beiler tossed a short pass to Antonio Simpson and the talented freshman did the rest, pushing through two East defenders before stretching for the end zone.

“Once we regained our focus, we played great team football,” Ollis said. “We had a lot of people contributing. Tonight, we added a little bit to our offense and that showed. We were much more diverse.

“After that first touchdown, we played incredibly well on defense. We finally pulled up our bootstraps a little bit and decided to play hard.”

Polk allowed a safety for the second straight game early in the fourth quarter, McSwain tackled in the end zone on a play that began at the 2, and the Cavaliers then used nearly the entire quarter – running clock, remember – on ther final drive, a 16-play, 66-yard slog that ended with Matthew Mull sweeping around right end and just slipping into the end zone as time expired.

The last drive didn’t take away from what was a solid defensive effort by the Wolverines. East Rutherford finished with 223 total yards, more than half of that total on its final two drives after Polk’s lead reached 43 points. Marquis McCombs rushed for 61 yards and Yamaurka Littlejohn added 54 for the Cavaliers.

Beiler finished 9-of-14 for 217 yards and three touchdowns, with Barnes catching two passes for 79 yards and Weaver grabbing two for 63. Weaver had 88 yards rushing on 11 carries and McSwain had 58 yards on four as Polk finished with 377 total yards despite running only one offensive play in the final 19:58 of the game.

And thus, ends the non-conference portion of the schedule for Polk County. The Wolverines will travel next Friday to Madison to begin their final run through the Western Highlands Conference with realignment scheduled to send Polk elsewhere next season.

The largest margin of victory for the Wolverines in their series with East Rutherford, who will join Polk in that new conference, should provide a much-needed foundation for the five weeks ahead.

“It’s a huge energy boost,” Ollis said. “It’s a great confidence builder.”

By Andy Rhinehart

andy@polksports.com