BENTON — The Polk County Wildcats have already enjoyed their bye week, but coach Derrick Davis would be grateful to have another break to rest up a bit — not so much physically as mentally.
Davis could only watch and hope for the best while his Wildcats made just enough plays when it counted then held on to win a 12-10 heart stopper over a fighting group of Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
"As long as we win, I guess I can go through these nail biters. It seems like every week we play one," said a still nervous Davis after the slim victory. "Notre Dame is a great team offensively and defensively. We hurt ourselves with turnovers, but I will give our defense credit they played lights out tonight, to hold them to 10 points is a great accomplishment."
The Wildcats (6-1) held the Irish ground game in check for the most part limiting the Notre Dame rushing attack to only 88 yards. The Irish (4-3) were far more successful in the air, with quarterback Alax Darras finding open receivers for 140 yards. The Fighting Irish ended with 206 yards through the air.
Polk's Chris Wimberley kept Notre Dame from racking up more yards through the air with two crucial first half interceptions that led to Wildcats touchdowns.
The Wildcats squandered another chance to put points on the board after another drive-killing interception in the third quarter by Luke Harrison. A fumble at the Notre Dame 12-yard line put the ball back in the hands of the Irish.
Offensively, Polk County again put the ball in the hands of Zach Miller, who again did not disappoint. The senior fullback rushed for 100 yards for the fifth time this season with 148 on 35 carries. The Wildcats took a 12-0 lead on Miller's 19th TD of the year.
It was the passing game, however, that came through for Polk in the first quarter after Wimberley's first pick of the night. Wildcats quarter back Josh Silas connected with Wimberley from 29 yards out to complete the five play drive.
Wimberley's second interception put an end to an Irish drive at the Polk 4-yard line. The speedy senior helped set the tone on the Polk march with a 21-yard scamper to open the drive. Devin Weber carried for 17 more and Miller added 12 to set Polk up at the Irish 33.
From there, the Wildcats stayed on the ground with the exception of a Silas to AJ Pittaway 7-yard connection to the Notre Dame 8-yard line. Two plays and a Notre Dame offsides call later, Miller capped the 96-yard commute punching it in from three yards out for the score.
"As usual, everybody was keying on Miller. But we did just enough to keep them off balance, and Chris Wimberley also came through with some big runs for us," said Davis. "I'm very excited to be able to get this win. They are a good team."
Notre Dame scored on a 36-yard touchdown pass with 2:16 left in the first half and made it 12-10 on a Darras 33-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
"We moved the ball pretty good. We had a 96-yard drive, but we hurt ourselves with two fumbles and an interception. Most of the time when you turn it over like that, you are not going to win the game. We were fortunate to pull that game out," said Davis.
"I want to commend our guys on the effort and intensity they have had the last three weeks. That won us the game tonight."
Polk County's defense came through with just over three minutes left in the game to stop the Irish on a fourth-and 11 at the Notre Dame 20-yard line.
The Wildcats took possession and pushed ahead for a first down to the Irish 8-yard. Polk moved to the 5-yard line where an offensive offsides call allowed the Wildcats to run the final six seconds off the clock to preserve the win.
"The offense stepped it up a notch when we had to have a first down on our last possession," Davis said. "The penalty was a called play by us. It's a crazy rule, but if you jump offsides they start the clock again. It happened a few years ago, and we remembered that. But, they did step it up."
Polk gets back into district play next week on the road against Sweetwater, where a win would lock up the District 5-AA championship. The wildcats close out the season with a non-district trip to South Pittsburg and a final home district game with the newcomer Loudon Redskins.
"We've got Sweetwater, South Pittsburg and Loudon. we're guaranteed three more games. By my calculations, if we win next week, we are district champs no matter what happens after that," said Davis.