BENTON — For two weeks Polk County has rested, relaxed, recuperated and recovered.
Now, it’s time for the Wildcats to get back to work.
And work is what it will take if they are to get back in the win column.
Polk County, 3-3, steps out of region in a home game Friday against 3A Sweetwater, 4-2 in a homecoming battle of the Wildcats.
“The bye week came at a good time for us, especially coming off the loss to Whitwell,” said Wildcats coach Derrick Davis. “It allowed us to focus on some fundamentals and heal some injuries up somewhat. Plus, the team we are facing this week was ranked No. 3 in 3A and it gave us a little extra time to prepare for them. So it was a good little break halfway through the year.”
The week off also allowed Polk to get a little tougher in practice as far as physicality, in particular blocking and tackling, two areas that have bitten the 'Cats more than once in their six-game stretch.
“We need to get a lot better at tackling. That was very evident in the Whitwell game,” said Davis.
Before losing to Red Bank last week, the Sweetwater version of the Wildcats were ranked No. 3 in the state in 3A football. The loss to the Lions dropped them out of the Top 10, but Davis said the team is still formidable with their only losses coming to Red Bank and Meigs County.
“They will give you a lot of different looks on offense. They will also hit you at various times with trick plays. They are a well-coached team. The offensive line is really big. They are the Sweetwater of old. They are back to their winning ways,” emphasized Davis.
“This is not going to be an easy week by any means. It just seems to get tougher. They have athletic kids who can really play football.”
Sweetwater will be back at full strength this week and will more than likely run a two-quarterback system according the Polk coach.
“There’s another dimension you have to prepare for,” he said. “They’ve also got a couple of good running backs who really run the ball hard.”
Hopefully for the Polk Wildcats, the two-week break has allowed the team to shore up some holes on defense that've shown up over the course of the season. Davis reiterated the problem has been missed tackles, lack of containment and bad angles.
“If you are doing those things you are not going to be a good defense,” admitted Davis.
The Wildcats have shown at times the ability to play well. It is the lack of consistency, particularly, as Davis notes, his squad's tendency to surrender explosive plays by opponents that has haunted the team occasionally.
“We’ve given up the big play more than we should have. It has really hurt us,” Davis acknowledged. “I think we can still consistently play harder on defense than we’re showing. These kids have got it in them, they are just going to have to do it more than one or two plays at a time. You can’t go one or two plays and take a play off.”
Friday night is the beginning of the final four-game run for the Wildcats that includes two region games — Bledsoe County and Marion County — along with Sweetwater and Meigs County.
“It’s a tough stretch, but we can do very well if we shore some things up. These teams have the ability to make you look bad if you don’t,” said Davis.
Offensively, the Wildcats have been able to move the ball on a reasonably steady basis. The problem arises again with getting defensive stops at critical times to give the offense a break.
“We have been able to move the ball. That’s evident when you score 32 against East Ridge. But, we gave up 35,” recalled the coach. “Defensively, we are just going to have to play better. Bottom line.
“Offensively we can do better also. We have shown we can move the football, but we’ve got to be more consistent there too.”
The Polk offensive playbook is not designed, according to Davis, to handle many third-and-long situations. He is looking for the offense to put itself in manageable spots on second and third downs.
Those two objectives are the keys for the Wildcats to pull off a win Friday.
“We are seeing the same thing on film after every game. A lot of times it is the effort [or lack of it] by a few individuals that is costing us. All-in-all, most of the guys are playing hard,” he said. But, we just can’t take plays off.
“It’s my job to get these guys ready to play, but they’ve also got to take ownership and get themselves ready. It’s a two-way street. I think we will be ready coming back home after the break.”
The bottom line for the Wildcats is the understanding their return to the gridiron will not be an easy one by any means. The Northern Wildcats will be coming to the Larry G. Davis Football Complex looking to avenge last week’s loss and it will be up to Polk to stand tall and play as the coaching staff knows they are capable.
“They are a familiar for and our job will not be easy by any means. This is a very good football team,” Davis said. “We’ve got to come out from the opening kickoff and lay extremely hard.”
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