Wolverines thump Panthers in conference opener

Published 1:40 pm Sunday, September 17, 2023

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MORGANTON – Patton’s public address announcer proclaimed prior to kickoff Friday that “the big cat is on the prowl.”

Not, it turned out, in the end zones of R.L. Patton Stadium.

Only found Wolverines there.

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Polk County scored early, often and quite a bit, rolling to a 57-12 victory over the Panthers in the Mountain Foothills 7 Conference opener for both squads.

That audible sigh of relief heard at game’s end came from the Wolverine side of the field, Polk (2-3, 1-0) snapping a three-game losing streak while posting its highest point total since scoring 59 in a 2018 win over Avery.

“I’m just definitely happy,” said Polk County head coach Dustin Fry. “We needed that after a three-game slide. This team needed some joy, some weekend joy.

“Obviously we hope we can carry this over for the next few weeks, but it’s a good start. It’s nice to be 1-0 in the conference.”

Antonio Simpson surpassed the 2,000-yard receiving mark for his career, doing so on a 32-yard reception early in the second quarter. Simpson finished with four catches for 104 yards and a score and also had a 36-yard interception return for another touchdown.

Billy Booker also returned an interception for a score, his 33-yard return in the third quarter scoring the 10,000th point in school history, coming in the 405th game for the program.

The two pick-sixes served as the defensive highlight on an evening where Polk County allowed just 152 total yards. Offensively, the Wolverines scored seven times, reaching double digits in every quarter. Senior quarterback Lawson Carter had a career evening, throwing for 283 yards and five touchdowns on 15-of-18 attempts. Carter hit his first 11 passes and had 230 yards in the first half.

Keaundrae Green scored three touchdowns. Loreynzo Sanchez scored twice and ran for 107 yards. Nolan Simpson hauled in a long touchdown. Accolades flowed as amply as points.

“I really liked our plan this week,” Fry said. “I was excited to get Nolan in the fold, too, because he’s just been doing so well. I was really excited with the way we executed, the way Lawson executed, all our guys, really. The O-line did a good job blocking and picking up pressure when they needed to.”

The Wolverines scored on the game’s opening possession, driving 49 yards in five plays to score on a Sanchez 1-yard run. Zalen McCraw’s fumble recovery led to Carter’s 34-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Simpson and a 13-0 lead with 8:15 still left in the first quarter.

Carter hit Nolan Simpson for a 44-yard score on the Wolverines’ next drive, and Polk then marched 89 yards in nine plays, with Carter tossing an 11-yard touchdown pass to Green with 7:54 to go in the half. Green added a 33-yard scoring strike to make it 32-0, and Polk nearly scored again just before halftime, fumbling at the Patton 1.

Patton’s Desmond Sexton escaped a pile of tacklers and raced 26 yards for a score on the opening possession of the second half, but the Wolverines answered as a spectacular Green catch at the 2 led to a Sanchez score. Booker followed with his interception return, deflecting a Joe Tate pass to himself and racing to the end zone.

Polk followed a Patton score with Green’s third touchdown, that on a 12-yard pass early in the fourth quarter, before Antonio Simpson closed the scoring with his interception return.

The victory over a rebuilding Patton (0-5, 0-1) will give Polk County a boost heading into next week’s home game against a Hendersonville squad that routed R-S Central 49-20 on Friday.

“We’ve just got to be able to play this way against the top-tier opponents,” Fry said. “We gotta feel this type of juice and not be intimidated against the other teams.

“This will be a good one to watch film. It will actually be fun to watch film this week. It’s nice to finally get one again.”