FOOTBALL: Resilient Wolverines outlast Bearcats in 34-30 rollercoaster
Published 12:16 pm Sunday, September 24, 2023
Epic. Dramatic. Just about any other adjective you can imagine.
Nearly three hours of twists and turns, ups and downs, maybe even a few sideways, finally ended Friday with Polk County owning a 34-30 victory over Hendersonville, delighting a G.M. Tennant Stadium crowd that might have been as emotionally drained as the players.
Hendersonville’s Hezzie Rudisill rushed for 315 yards. Polk County’s Loreynzo Sanchez rushed for 175. The Bearcats had nine drives that ended inside the Polk County 25. There was a safety, a tipped pass that a nearby receiver caught for a touchdown, a fake punt, a field goal attempt that wasn’t one and two fumble recoveries in end zones for scores.
When all the madness was said and done, Polk County had evened its record at 3-3 and stood tied with Brevard for first place in the Mountain Foothills 7 Conference with a 2-0 league mark.
“We kept and stayed in it, man, and that’s really what it is, just resilience,” said Polk County head coach Dustin Fry. “That’s a big one for us as a program.
“I’m proud of these guys. They fought their tails off. So much emotion in that game.”
Sentiment ran high on Polk County’s sideline for two and a half quarters. The Wolverines built a 20-0 lead early in the second period, led 27-14 at half and took a 34-14 edge midway through the third quarter on a Sanchez 57-yard scoring run in which he pushed through a pack of tacklers near midfield, burst free and won a foot race to the end zone.
And the good feelings continued as the Bearcats (2-4, 1-1) fumbled after driving to the Polk 1, a poor snap that never reached quarterback JaRon Ward leading to Zalen McCraw’s recovery at the 3.
But on the next play, all-everything defensive lineman CJ Landrum shot through the back side of Polk’s offense and dropped Sanchez in the end zone just after he took a handoff, and that safety seemed to ignite Hendersonville. Landrum caught an 18-yard touchdown pass two minutes later, and Rudisill broke free for an 88-yard scamper early in the fourth quarter that set up his 4-yard scoring plunge with 9:55 remaining, slicing the Wolverine lead to four.
Polk’s tiring defense, though, held not once but twice in the closing minutes. The Bearcats had one possesion kept alive by a Wolverine penalty for too many men on the field (which was marked off 15 yards), but saw that drive end with sacks first by Angel Alvarez and Jadyn Virgil, then McCraw.
Hendersonville’s final drive ended with consecutive incompletions, and the Wolverines could finally exhale.
“We’ve got some really gritty kids, and I think we just took the next step,” Fry said. “I’ve seen us, when things start going bad, we just start going bad with it. But we stayed with it.
“Big up for our defense tonight. They came up huge.”
Huge indeed – Hendersonville had five drives reach at least the Polk 21 that failed to produce any points.
Polk took the opening kickoff, marched 73 yards and scored on a Styler Blackwell 11-yard pass reception. After stopping the Bearcats’ initial drive, Polk took over at its 54 and immediately looked to strike again, with Lawson Carter sailing a long pass down the middle of the field toward Keaundrae Green. Green collided in mid-air with Javanni Suber, popping the ball straight up. Antonio Simpson raced by, snared it as if grabbing a rebound and strolled into the end zone, giving Polk a 13-0 lead with 7:26 still left in the first quarter.
Simpson chased down Rudsill on a breakaway run on the Bearcats’ next drive, and that hustle saved points when the possession stalled at the 16. Polk moved to its 49 and faced fourth-and-6 when assistant coach Jamie Thompson suggested running a fake punt. Fry called it, Green threw it, Sanchez caught it and raced 47 yards to the 4. He then carried to the goal line on the next play, but fumbled just before breaking the plane. No worries – Simpson plopped onto the ball, and Polk led 20-0.
The Bearcats immediately answered as Landrum turned a short toss into a run to the 5, where Simpson poked the ball free, only to see Amir Albany fall on it in the end zone and complete a 64-yard scoring play. But Green returned the ensuing Bearcat kickoff 82 yards to the 5, then caught a touchdown toss from Carter. Hendersonville came right back with Ward’s 8-yard scoring run to make it 27-14 with 9:22 left in the half.
That, by the way, was four combined touchdowns in a span of 2:16 of clock time.
The teams swapped interceptions late in the half, which ended with Polk trying a 34-yard field goal attempt that failed. Officials ruled an inadvertent whistle had sounded before the kick and gave the Wolverines a second try, though with the ball spotted five yards back. That kick also failed, leaving the Wolverine lead at 13 at the half.
Sanchez’s score would return the lead to 20, and the Wolverines would eventually hold off the late Bearcat threats.
“I’m just so proud of these guys,” Fry said. “I’m so happy we got it done.”