Written by Andy Rhinehart

The road to 300

The road to 300 by Andy Rhinehart

When Polk County takes the field to host Mountain Heritage, its seventh game of the 2014 season will be much like the other six games already played in the current year. Four quarters, 48 minutes, supportive fans on both sides, team with the highest score wins.

The game will also be the 300th in the history of Polk County’s football program, and as often happens whenever a nice, round milestone number occurs, PolkSports decided to take a look back, to recall some of the memorable nights from the previous 299 times that Wolverines met opponents on the field of play.

To help pick 20 memorable games, we turned to an expert, Polk County athletic director Jeff Wilson. He, in turn, brought in more experts, names such as current Polk County head coach Jamie Thompson, Polk County Board of Education chairman Geoff Tennant and many others familiar with the history of the program.

And, so, from their suggestions and a couple of our own, we offer you 20 memorable games from Polk County’s football history.

We hope you enjoy. And feel free to also view our game-by-game list of all 299 games.

Photos courtesy of Jeff Wilson and Jane Ollis

1) August 25, 1989: Polk County 40, Christ Church 7

The football teams from Tryon and Polk Central High Schools were no more, having been combined to form the Polk County High School Wolverines. But when the Wolverines journeyed to Greenville to face Christ Church for the first game in the program’s history, no one was certain what to expect.

Local fans need not have worried. On the first offensive play in school history, a long punt return giving Polk County excellent field position, Shawn Cunningham broke free for a touchdown run, though a penalty negated the score. Cunningham’s brother, Kyle Cunningham, soon scored the program’s first touchdown on a 4-yard run, Lamond Twitty adding the extra point, and Polk County had the first of the more than 7,000 points that the program has recorded since.

Kyle Cunningham would score once more, Shawn Cunningham would score twice and throw a touchdown pass, David Price would add a short scoring run and Eric Waddell returned an interception 10 yards for a score as the Wolverines dominated Christ Church.

As debuts go, you couldn’t have asked for much more.

2) September 28, 1990: Polk County 39, Charlotte Latin 6
Touted as one of the top private school squads in the state, Charlotte Latin expected to steam past Polk County when the Wolverines journeyed to Charlotte for a late September game. Instead, the Wolverines rolled to one of the biggest wins of the Dennis Stokes era.

Polk County roared to a 26-0 lead as Kelly Ruff threw touchdown passes to Travis Dotson and Travis Callahan and Shawn Cunningham and Neal Petty each ran for scores.

Polk continued to build the lead in the second half on a night when the Wolverines ran for 330 yards and gained another 132 via the air while allowing Charlotte Latin to post just 164 total yards. Cunningham rushed for more than 200 yards.

“You guys played football tonight the way it’s supposed to be played,” Stokes told the team after the game according to a News Journal report.

3) September 3, 1993: Polk County 46, Landrum 7
Derrick Canady turned the annual border showdown with Landrum into a personal showcase, setting a school record with 342 yards rushing on just 16 carries as the Wolverines won in style at Landrum.

Canady had touchdown runs of 44, 32 and 12 yards in the first half, then carried the ball once in the second half – a 97-yard scoring scamper.

Polk County also got a fumble return for a score from Walter King, a touchdown pass from Otis Miller to David Moody and an Aundra Staley scoring run.

4) October 7, 1994: Polk County 20, Hendersonville 0
No football team from Polk County had defeated Hendersonville since 1948 when the Bearcats rolled into town for an early October visit.

But Hendersonville soon would realize that its 46-year mastery of Polk County football was over. After a scoreless first half, Chris Eckert ran for a touchdown in the third period and another in the fourth with 6:51 remaining to give Polk a 12-0 lead. Barry Foy then added a 16-yard scoring run in the waning minutes as Polk ended its run of futility against the Bearcats.

Give credit to the Polk defense for this one. David Moody intercepted a first-half pass in the end zone to stop the only real scoring threat for the Bearcats, who never crossed the 50-yard line in the second half.

5) November 11, 1994: Polk County 55, Mountain Heritage 22
After missing the playoffs in 1992 and 1993, Polk County returned to the postseason with an emphatic statement, routing Mountain Heritage in a first-round game.

And the Wolverines could give many thanks for the result to Barry Foy, who matched a school record with five touchdowns in the game, powering the Wolverines to their first playoff win in three seasons.

The point total remains the highest ever scored by a Polk County team in a playoff game.

6) September 6, 1996: Polk County 57, Landrum 27
“Eckert to McEntyre for a touchdown” might as well be etched in stone somewhere in Wolverine Stadium, given how often it was heard in the Wolverines’ rout of Landrum in 1996.

Quarterback Chris Eckert threw seven touchdown passes in the game, five of those to Richard McEntyre, as the Wolverines destroyed their nearby rivals. According to one account of the game, Eckert finished the game 21-of-25 for 355 yards. The school record book lists Eckert with 440 yards in the win. Either way,  McEntyre was on the receiving end of many of those, with his scoring receptions covering 66, 26, 3, 42 and 28 yards.

Robert Simpson and Travis Twitty caught the other touchdown passes from Eckert, who also ran for a 2-yard score. He would be earn state player of the week honors for his performance, the first Polk County player to do so, according to then-head coach Marshall Seay.

7) September 25, 1998: Polk County 42, Swain 7
Throughout the 1990s, Swain County routinely routed a number of opponents, and Polk County was no exception. The first two times the teams met, the Maroon Devils notched 53-6 and 38-8 wins.

So when a 2-2 Polk County squad arrived in Bryson City for a Smoky Mountain Conference matchup, most observers expected the game to be another rout. And it was – except the Wolverines did almost all of the scoring.

Up 7-0 at the end of the first quarter on a Travis Brady run, Polk County exploded for 28 points in the second quarter. Tyler Landrum ran for a score, threw for one to Robert Simpson and returned a punt 63 yards for yet another touchdown. Keith Wilson added a 12-yard scoring scamper, part of a night on which he ran for 160 yards on 21 carries. Simpson had a short run in the third quarter for Polk’s final touchdown.

“People will know about us now,” said Polk County head coach Jeff Wilson after the game.

8) September 24, 1999: Polk County 19, Swain 6
A year after Polk’s rout of Swain, the Maroon Devils visited Columbus, ranked as one of the state’s top 1A squads and eager for revenge. They wouldn’t get it.

Tyler Landrum again haunted the Maroon Devils, throwing a 67-yard touchdown pass to Adam Barton in the first period, then returning a punt 76 yards for a score in the second. Swain rallied to within a touchdown at 12-6 before Landrum hit Tony Branch with a 10-yard scoring pass late in the game to ice the win.

Swain would defeat Polk County in 2000, but the Wolverines swept past the Devils in 2007 and 2008, giving Polk County a 4-3 edge in the series between the two schools.

9) November 10, 2000: Polk County 16, East Surry 14
With the clock on zero, it appeared that 16th-seeded Polk County’s upset bid at top-seeded East Surry in the opening round of the state 1A playoffs had come to an end.

But Polk County head coach Jeff Wilson told officials that at least one second should remain in the game after a spike by quarterback Jordan Edwards, and after a conference, the officials agreed. That set the stage for Ben McEntire to kick a 27-yard field goal and give the Wolverines the unlikeliest of upsets of the previously undefeated Cardinals.

Polk County took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter on a short run by Robbie Petty, then trailed 14-7 when Josh Twitty scored on a short run with 7:02 left in the game. Wilson opted to go for a 2-point conversion, but the Cardinals stopped the play, leaving Polk a point behind.

The Wolverines still trailed by one when East Surry lined up deep in its territory to punt late in the fourth quarter, but a bad snap instead gave Polk the ball at the Surry 28 with 1:12 left to play. Three plays moved the ball to the 15, and Edwards then tossed a six-yard pass to McEntire before hurrying to spike the ball. Once the officials made their ruling, McEntire drilled arguably the biggest field goal in school history.

10) November 17, 2000: Albemarle 34, Polk County 14
In the wake of the upset of East Surry, the Wolverines journeyed across the state to face Albemarle and sensational running back T.A. McClendon. In his junior season at the time, McClendon would go on to finish his career with 9,004 yards rushing and 178 touchdowns, a national record.

But through three quarters of its second-round game with Polk County, Albemarle couldn’t shake the Wolverines, entering the final period in a 14-14 tie. Finally, though, the Bulldogs, with enough players to not have to play starters on both offense and defense, wore down the Wolverine defense, scoring three times in the fourth quarter as Polk committed three turnovers in the period.

Jordan Edwards threw for a score and ran for another for Polk, which ended its season with a 7-5 record. McClendon finished the game with 203 yards on 20 carries.

11) October 17, 2003: Polk County 75, North Lincoln 7
Jim Ollis left quite a legacy at Polk County, one of the biggest standouts in the program’s history. In a rout of North Lincoln, he left his mark on the Wolverine record books.

Ollis ran for 254 yards and five touchdowns. He threw for 112 yards and two touchdowns. He kicked nine extra points. He had eight touchbacks on 12 kickoffs. Even against an outclassed opponent, the performance ranks as one of the best individual efforts in school history.

The win, Polk County’s ninth of the season at that point, enabled the Wolverines to tie a school record for most wins in a year. And it came with just 20 players in uniform.

12) October 24, 2003: Polk County 24, Maiden 19
One week after routing North Lincoln, Polk County trekked to Maiden to face a program that, two years earlier, had thumped the Wolverines 72-6, a program known statewide for its football prowess.

But Daniel McIntrye broke free for a 69-yard touchdown run on the game’s third play, added another 69-yarder in the second quarter and then scored on a 34-yard touchdown reception with 8:40 left for the eventual winning score. McIntyre finished with 176 yards rushing on 10 carries and Jim Ollis added a 42-yard touchdown run as the Wolverines improved to 10-0.

A late defensive stop preserved what would be a poignant win for head coach Bruce Ollis – his father, Jim, watched the game, but would suffer a heart attack later that weekend and pass away the following Monday.

“I remember going up to talk to Jeff Wilson (current Polk County athletic director and head coach in the 72-0 loss), and I said Jeff, we’re going to beat Maiden. We’re better,” Ollis said. “I don’t mean to sound pretentious when I say that. I told him, I want you on the sideline with me. . . and he was on the sidelines with us when we won that ball game. I think that gave him tremendous pride to be able to do that. Polk County had never pulled anything off like that before.”

13) November 5, 2004: Polk County 25, Hendersonville 14
Tryon High School. Polk Central High School. Polk County High School. No football team from any of those schools had ever managed to go to Hendersonville and defeat the Bearcats. That changed in 2004.

Trailing 14-8 at halftime at Dietz Field, Polk County rallied for a historic victory. Daniel McEntyre ran for 113 yards in the second half and scored two of his three touchdowns while Justin Jackson ran for 110 yards as the Wolverines roared back to end years of futility. Polk County surrendered just one first down defensively in the second half, that on a penalty, and six total yards.

“I’ll never forget it, after we won that game there, I had people coming up to me and hugging me that I had never seen before. Older men and women coming up and patting me and ladies kissing me,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “When you break new ground, and that’s what we did that night, I think our fans and our players understood that, hey, this is something we plan on doing on a consistent basis. That was a huge win.”

14) September 2, 2005: Polk County 27, R-S Central 21
Polk County owned a 2-0 record when 3A R-S Central rolled into Columbus. It took two overtimes, but the 1A Wolverines would finally post a huge win.

R-S held a 7-0 lead before Zack Edney scored on short touchdown runs in the third and fourth quarters to make it 14-7. R-S Central then tied the game to force extra football.

R-S scored a touchdown in the first overtime, but so did Polk on a pass from Edney to Josh Twitty. R-S Central then tried a field goal in the second overtime, only to have the kick blocked by Regis Bittle. Edney then ran for five yards on first down, and five yards to the end zone on second down to end the game.

“This is an incredible win for us,” Polk head coach Bruce Ollis told the Times-News. “Any time you beat a team two classifications above you, it’s an achievement.”

15) August 24, 2007: Polk County 48, Cherokee 27
Cherokee entered the game touted as one of the top 1A teams in the state, its roster featuring running back Langston Wood, who would finish his career as the school’s all-time leading rusher, earn two All-State selections and play collegiately at Western Carolina. Cherokee opened its 2007 season with a 55-28 rout of Andrews and seemed primed for a big home win over Polk County.

But Cherokee had no answer for Derrick Overholt, who finished the night with 365 yards passing and five touchdowns and also ran for a score. Josh Twitty caught six passes for 136 yards and two of those scores. Wood, meanwhile, finished with 109 yards rushing.

“Jeff Wilson tells me that was, to him, the best victory we ever had becauase everybody had talked about Cherokee was the team to beat in Western North Carolina,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis. “At the time we were still 1A. We went up there and probably played as well on the road as maybe any team we’ve had here.”

16) November 2, 2007: Polk County 21, Hendersonville 14
Throughout its history, Polk County had never won an outright football conference championship. Not, at least, until defeating Hendersonville on the final night of the regular season.

The Wolverines capped a 10-1 season with a Western Highlands Conference crown. The game wasn’t decided until the final two minutes as Kamron Kerr, who earlier had blocked a field goal attempt, pounced on a loose ball in the end zone for the winning touchdowns. J.P. Ruth then intercepted a Hendersonville pass to secure the win.

Derrick Overholt passed for 263 yards and also ran for a score for Polk County.

“It’s been six years in the making,” said Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis of the title. “We’ve come a long way turning this program around.”

17) August 21, 2009: Polk County 26, Tuscola 21
With highly touted quarterback Tyler Brosius, who would go on to play at N.C. State, at the helm, Tuscola entered the 2009 season with high expectations and came to Columbus for its season opener as heavy favorites.

Lightning delayed the game for nearly two hours. And the Mountaineers stormed to a 14-0 lead, Brosius throwing an early touchdown pass. But Andre Overholt led a Polk County comeback, throwing three scoring passes and running for another as Polk built a 26-14 lead.

The fourth quarter came, and two things happened – Overholt suffered a broken arm and Brosius threw another pass to cut the Wolverines’ lead to five. But with Tuscola driving for a possible winning score, Landon Schlabach intercepted a Brosius pass with 3:07 remaining, then converted a fourth-and-2 at midfield to seal the win.

“I had some kids in that huddle crying, and I had a lump in my throat too,” Polk County head coach Bruce Ollis told the Herald-Journal. “The last thing Andre said was, ‘Coach, don’t win this game for me, just win it,’ and that’s what we did.”

18) November 19, 2010: Polk County 27, East Rutherford 7
Polk County had never reached the third round of the state playoffs until shutting down a talented East Rutherford team to delight the crowd at Wolverine Stadium.

Cary Littlejohn rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns and the Wolverine defense held East Rutherford to 38 yards rushing to secure the milestone victory. Andre Overholt and Cody Orick also had touchdown runs.

“We kinda got the monkey off our back with the win over East Rutherford in the second round and finally advancing into the third round,” said Polk head coach Bruce Ollis.

19) November 26, 2010: Lincolnton 28, Polk County 14
Polk quarterback Andre Overholt injured an ankle in the first half, but determined to keep the Wolverines’ season alive, played the second half with the ankle heavily taped.

With Polk trailing 21-7 in the fourth period, Overholt directed a scoring drive that ended with a 10-yard toss to Chandler Miller. Lincolnton answered with a score, but a long kickoff return helped give Polk County the ball again deep in Wolves’ territory.

But an end zone interception ended Polk County’s comeback and ended the best season in school history, a 12-2 mark.

“These guys have learned how to win,” Polk head coach Bruce Ollis told the Gaston Gazette. “The experience we’ve gained from getting here will benefit us in the future.”

20) November 9, 2013: Polk County 40, Hendersonville 27
A win at Owen the previous week ensured Polk County a share of the 2013 Western Highlands Conference title. But the Wolverines wanted more – their first undefeated conference record.

Hendersonville led 14-8 early in the second period before Polk County put together two long scoring drives and a safety for a 26-14 lead. An early touchdown in the third period made it 32-14, and Jordan Smith’s 78-yard kickoff return for a score after a Bearcat touchdown would ensure a Wolverine celebration by night’s end, a celebration of an eight-game winning streak and perfect conference mark.

“Nine weeks ago, I stood in front of this football team after the loss to R-S Central when we were 0-3,” said Polk head coach Bruce Ollis. “It was about 1:45 in the afternoon, before practice, and I told them, ‘Men, we’re going to win the next eight games and win the conference outright.’ They believed us, they believed in each other, they believed in themselves and made it happen.”