FOOTBALL: Miscues stymie Wolverines in loss to Cardinals
Published 5:05 pm Saturday, September 9, 2023
LANDRUM–—Turnovers, special-teams mistakes and a lot of Colton Link made Friday a long evening for Polk County.
Link rushed for 196 yards and three touchdowns, returned a kickoff for another score and the Wolverines committed five turnovers in dropping a 47-21 decision at Landrum in the latest matchup of Thermal Belt rivals.
Cardinals defeated Wolverines for just the seventh time in 31 tries and the first instance since 2016 (the teams didn’t meet in 2018-2021). Friday’s final score didn’t indicate the competitiveness of the game – Polk had chances until the final eight minutes to pull within a touchdown – but did reflect Landrum’s success running the ball and the miscues that plagued Polk throughout the evening:
- Braden Mashtare added to Link’s big night with 126 yards rushing and three scores as Landrun (2-1) racked up 326 yards on the ground.
- Polk (1-3), which protected the ball well in its first three games, committed five turnovers, four of those in the fourth quarter.
- Landrum recovered an onside kick to open the game, kept an early scoring drive alive with a fake punt and broke Link free for a 96-yard kickoff return for a score at a key moment in the first half.
Field position also played a vital role in the outcome – Landrum’s average drive began at midfield, and the Cardinals began just two of their 13 possessions inside their 40.
And, yet, Polk County had opportunities to perhaps engineer a comeback to remember.
Loreynzo Sanchez’s touchdown with 2:40 left in the third cut Landrum’s 20-point halftime lead to 34-21. The Wolverines forced a three-and-out and took over at their 36, but a holding penalty and three straight incompletions stymied that possession.
Billy Booker’s ensuing 59-yard punt pinned Landrum at its 15, but Link broke free for a 62-yard scamper on the next play, reaching the Polk 23 before a hustling Antonio Simpson hauled him down from behind. That effort proved vital as the Cardinals later fumbled at the goal line, Zalen McCraw recovering in the end zone.
But, again, good fortune eluded Polk County; the Wolverines fumbled near midfield on their second play, beginning a series of turnovers that ended every possession in the fourth quarter. Landrum took advantage of two of those miscues to score on drives of 8 and 51 yards to put the game out of reach.
The first quarter-and-a-half of the evening featured a back-and-forth scoring battle, with Sanchez scoring twice for Polk, the second of those a 16-yard touchdown catch that left Landrum’s lead at 21-14 with 7:11 left in the first half.
But just as Polk appeared to be building momentum, Link snatched it away, racing through the middle of the Wolverine special teams for that 96-yard scoring return. The Wolverines failed to convert a fourth down on their next drive, and Mashtare led a 56-yard possession that ended with his 1-yard scoring plunge, putting the Cardinals up 34-14 with 1:25 left in the half.
Sanchez finished the night with 101 yards rushing on 18 carries and caught six passes for 69 yards as Polk played much of the second half without senior receiver Keaundrae Green, sidelined by severe cramps. Simpson finished with seven catches for 75 yards to move past 100 receptions for his Wolverine career.
Lawson Carter ended the night 20-of-39 passing for 252 yards. The 39 attempts are a new school single-game record, breaking the mark of 34 set last season by Casey Beiler.
Polk County begins Mountain Foothills 7 Conference play next week, traveling to Patton for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.