FOOTBALL: Second-half surge carries Cavaliers past Wolverines

Published 11:45 am Monday, October 23, 2023

East Rutherford took command early in the second half Friday, shutting down a Polk County comeback attempt and going on to hand the Wolverines a 63-20 setback in a Mountain Foothills 7 Conference matchup.

The Cavaliers (5-5, 4-2) held the Wolverines (4-5, 3-2) scoreless in the second half to seal the win and, combined with Hendersonville’s loss to Brevard, assure itself at least a share of second place in the conference standings. That will mean an automatic playoff berth for the Cavaliers, quite an accomplishment for a program that did not field a varsity team two seasons ago.

Polk County, meanwhile, will travel to Brevard next week for its final regular-season game needing a win to secure a home playoff game. The Wolverines are projected to qualify for the state 1A playoffs even with a loss.

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The Cavaliers largely followed the same formula that worked for Chase in its win over Polk County a week ago; East primarily ran – and ran and ran and ran – sophomore tailback Brandon Pinkerton between the tackles. Pinkerton finished the evening with 28 carries for 166 yards and two touchdowns, with 22 of those attempts in the first half.

The game turned in the Cavs’ favor, though, in the span of three game minutes across the end of the second and beginning of the third quarters.

A battling Polk County squad cut East’s 24-7 lead to 24-13 on Loreynzo Sanchez’ 34-yard touchdown scamper late in the second quarter. The Wolverines then recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and scored again with 45 seconds left in the half on Lawson Carter’s 5-yard touchdown toss to Bryson Jones, pulling within 24-20.

But just as quickly as Polk had momentum, it slipped away. East responded with a four-play, 60-yard drive capped by Landon Flynn’s 48-yard touchdown strike to CJ Jackson with 13 seconds left, and Blake McClellan’s 2-point conversion made it 32-20 going into the half.

Polk exited the locker room and forced a three-and-out on East’s opening second-half possession – the only drive on which the Cavaliers did not score – and took over at its 15. But McClellan forced a fumble on the Wolverines’ first play, giving the Cavaliers the ball at the Polk 19, and Pinkerton scored from 10 yards out to up the lead to 40-20 following another McClellan 2-point conversion.

The Wolverines’ next offensive snap also resulted in a turnover, with East’s Matthew Pinkerton snaring a deflected pass and returning the interception 38 yards for a score. McClellan added another 2-point conversion and East led 48-20 with 9:13 left in the third quarter, effectively sealing the game’s outcome.

Polk scored on its first possession on a jaw-dropping one-handed catch and run by Keaundrae Green, the senior reaching above his head and slightly behind him with his right hand to snare a Carter pass, then race to the end zone, the 22-yard catch-and-run giving the Wolverines a 7-0 lead and early momentum.

But Pinkertson carried eight times on East’s ensuing drive, scoring from the 11. McClellan added the first of his five 2-point conversions to make it 8-7.

The Wolverines would fail to score on their next two drives and East scored on both to take that 24-7 advantage.

Sanchez finished with 129 yards on 13 carries. Green had 54 yards on four receptions.