Banner Sports Editor
BENTON — Highway 411 runs north and south through Benton and in front of Polk County High School. Perhaps it should be renamed “Zach Miller Highway” since from now on every time Miller pulls onto that stretch of road it will bring back a special memory.
Miller ran north and south for a staggering 411 yards, scored six touchdowns, carried for a 2-point conversion and essentially single-handedly handed the Wildcats their fourth straight District 5-AA football championship Friday against Sequoyah. The 6-2, 225-pound fullback/linebacker also added an interception for good measure in the 47-21 blowout win.
The night was made even more special for Miller and the Wildcats who hoisted head coach Derrick Davis onto their shoulders during a postgame ceremony celebrating the coach’s 100th career victory.
“It is a special night. It starts with clinching the district for the fourth straight year. I didn’t even realize until they announced it that Miller had 411 yards. I don’t know that that’s ever been done. I don’t recall it if it has. We’ve had some good running backs, but I’m sure none have rushed for that many yards in a single game,” Davis said in an excited locker room.
“As for me, I have not won one single game. This is for all the guys that have come through here in the last 13 years. It is for them. I just happened to be the one who stuck around that long. I think there was a little extra there with our guys. I appreciate that. I’m not going to lie, it means a lot to get there,” Davis continued, holding back emotion.
“But, once again it is for all these players. It was nice to see a lot of the former players here tonight that, along with everyone along the way, helped contribute to this. I want to thank them for all their years of hard work. It was neat to see some of these guys, especially the 2002 team who were sophomores when I started. That was really my first group that was here for three years. But hey, I’m glad to get this one over with, I really am. Now we can move on to something else. I don’t have that hanging over my head anymore.”
The news that Miller planned to give his all to the effort Friday night came as no surprise to the Wildcats’ head coach, who received a text from his prized junior earlier in the day saying he planned to leave nothing on the field.
“I texted him back and said, “Get ready, because you are going to carry the ball a lot,” said Davis with a laugh. “And boy he did.”
Miller, who averaged 9.3 yards per carry, scored from 64 and 39 yards out in the first quarter. He added TDs from 59, 38, 4 and 2 yards out in the third and fourth quarters. He was quick to lavish praise on his offensive line for creating the gaps that allowed him to run virtually untouched through the Sequoyah defense.
“I just told my linemen I needed them and they pulled through for me and made me holes. I did what I promised them I would do,” said an exhausted Miller, who was responsible for all but 33 of Polk’s 444 rushing yards. “We talked about how bad I needed them and they told me they would open me a hole and I needed to move it. I kept my end of the deal and they kept theirs.”
The record setter said the pact with his linemen made him work even harder when he hit the open hole and saw nothing but space between him and the goal line.
“It made me feel good,” Miller said with a big grin. “My line did their job and I knew I had to do my part of the deal.”
Davis said earlier in the week Polk had planned no surprises for the Chiefs and would simply continue to play Polk County football. Execution by the Wildcats’ line made the victory even sweeter for the head coach.
“Miller mainly carried us, but he would be the first to tell you we had other guys that played a big part in this win. Our game plan was to run right at them with him. But, the other 10 guys carried out fakes and blocked like they were supposed to. He would be the very first one to say that. He just happened to be the one who got 411 yards,” said Davis.
An ailing Josh Silas connected with Aaron Caldwell for an 11-yard touchdown in the second quarter that made it 21-7 in favor of Polk County.
“What was great is they knew what was coming and we were still able to move the ball. I’m proud of our guys. We had some playing hurt, Silas in particular. At halftime the air was kind of heavy and it was kind of quiet and him (Silas) coming back onto the field really lifted us when the guys saw he was back out there. It was touch and go. He could take the snap, reverse out and give it to Miller.
A turf-toe flare up caused Silas to leave the playing field earlier to be cared for by Polk’s trainer.
Defensively, Polk gave up only 70 yards on the ground and held the Chiefs to 148 in the air. Blake Cross sparkled for the Wildcats with two interceptions. Justin Brown also picked off a Sequoyah pass and Caldwell stopped a potential score by intercepting a fourth-quarter Chief’s pass in the end zone.
“We gave up that halfback pass (for a touchdown) and a couple of other plays, but all-in-all I thought the defense played pretty well. It was just a good night,” said Davis. “Every time they would punch we were able to counterpunch.”
The victory gives Polk a leg up in the district championship race since Sequoyah and Sweetwater still must play. Each one has a loss at the hands of the Wildcats. After Friday’s homecoming festivities, the Wildcats will focus on the South Pittsburg Pirates who hit the Larry G. Davis Football Complex on Polk County Senior Night, Friday.
“Tiebreaker-wise it’s going to come down to Sweetwater in Week 10. If Sweetwater beats them (Sequoyah) that will leave them (Sweetwater) with one loss, and we win the head-to-head. If Sequoyah wins they will have just one loss and that is to us,” Davis said of the possible season-ending scenarios. “We’ve got one more district game (Meigs County) and of course a tough South Pittsburg team coming in next week. We will be celebrating Senior Night. That is always an emotional night for me,” said Davis, looking down the road. “But, we’ve played pretty well at home and hopefully we can keep doing that.”
POLK COUNTY 47, SEQUOYAH 21
Sequoyah 7 7 7 0 — 21
Polk County 14 12 7 14 — 47
S — Austin Ledford 45 pass from Blake Huffman (Loganm McDonals kick), 11:11
PC — Zach Miller 64 run (run failed), 10:59
PC — Miller 39 run (Miller pass from Josh Silas), 4:30
PC — Aaron Caldwell 11 pass from Silas (Justin Brown kick), 7:41
S — Brett King 6 run (McDonald kick), 6:12
PC — Miller 59 run (run failed), 8:06
S — Matt Gletty 5 run (McDonald kick), 5:09
PC — Miller 38 run (run failed), 2:562
PC — Miller 4 run (Justin Gren pass from Silas), 8:49
PC — Miller 2 run (pass failed), 4:25
First Downs 12 21
Rushes-Yards 19-70 67-444
Passing 148 17
Total yards 218 461
Comp-Att-Int 12-29-5 3-6-1
Punts-Avg. 3-22.3 2-36.5
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 2-2
Penalties-Yards 4-18 5-41
RUSHING: King 5-31 (S); Miller 44-411 (PC). PASSING: King 11-28-0, 103 (S); SIlas 3-4-1, 17 (PC). RECEIVING: Ledford 3-63 (S). Madison Boyd 14-168, Diamez Franklin 5-73 (SM). RECORDS: Sequoyah 6-2, 2-1 5-AA; Polk County 6-2, 3-0.