Friday evening was a classic case of a back-and-forth football game, where the determined Pioneers came away with a 20-19 victory over the rough and tumble seventh-ranked (3A) Wildcats.
“East Ridge did a great job, and we got out-coached and out-played. They out-toughed us, and that’s something we pride ourselves on. They gave us a dose of what we try to do to other teams,” Polk County head coach Derrick Davis said. “If I had the money, I’d give our fans every dollar back that they spent. I’m embarrassed at the way that we played. We did not play like we should have.”
Despite winning the toss and starting the game out with possession of the ball, the Wildcats quickly discovered that the Pioneers meant business.
An East Ridge interception and a 15-yard penalty on Polk County set the home team up at the Wildcat’s 30 yard line.
Pioneer QB Jo Jo Tillery carried the ball 15 yards to get his team into the red zone. Two plays later, it was also Tillery who crossed the final five yards to make it to the end zone with 7:13 left in the first quarter.
Polk’s offense came to life in the second quarter, with the Wildcats positioned at East Ridge’s 31 yard line. Zach Miller was able to reach paydirt on a 5-yard play at 8:43, and Reno Wimberley’s kick tied things up 7-7.
Things began looking up for Polk as the Pioneers fumbled the ball on the kick return, allowing the Wildcats’ Seth Sloan to recover it.
With a distance of 30 yards between them and the end zone, Miller, Chris Wimberley and Josh Sillas chipped their way through the East Ridge defenders.
Miller’s 3-yard touchdown with 4:07 remaining in the half gave the Wildcats a 13-7 lead over the Pioneers.
Unfortunately for Polk, East Ridge was able to capitalize on two personal foul calls on the Wildcats. The latter of the two calls came when the Pioneers were 11 yards away from scoring.
With only 14 seconds remaining in the half, Tillery made a 1-yard scramble into the end zone. Tad Whitaker’s kick gave East Ridge a 14-13 lead going into halftime.
“We’re on the flip side of what happens when you don’t go out and start playing the game hard. A lot of times, being ready to go from the first kickoff instead of waiting till the second half to play is hard to overcome,” Davis commented.
The Pioneers got the third quarter started off with another fumble, which was recovered by A. J. Pittaway to set the Wildcats up at the East Ridge 45 yard line.
Miller provided the scoreboard with its only activity in the next quarter in the very next play, as he made a charging 45-yard dash to the end zone with 11:40 remaining in the third.
Polk County lead East Ridge 19-14 up until the seven minute mark of the fourth quarter, when Tillery once again crossed over for a 1-yard touchdown.
That touchdown would push the Pioneers over the Wildcats by a single point, and that single point was enough to cost the heavily favored Polk team the game.
“We got beat by one, but there was plenty of opportunities in the game where it wouldn’t have come down to that,” Davis stated. “East Ridge did what they needed to do, so hats off to them.”
Miller led the Wildcats offense with 190 rushing yards in 33 attempts. Chris Wimberley had a total of 36 yards for his nine rushing attempts.
Tillery completed six of his nine passes for a total of 31 yards and also racked up 84 yards rushing in 20 attempts.
The Wildcats finished the game with eight penalties totaling up to 69 yards, while East Ridge only gave up 15 yards in three penalties.
Polk County will have the home field advantage for the next two weeks as they host District 5-AA rival McMinn Central next Friday and Walker Valley on Sept. 27.
Polk County 0 13 6 0 — 19
East Ridge 7 7 0 6 — 20
ER — Jo Jo Tillery 5-yd run (Tad Whitaker kick), 7:13
PC — Zach Miller 5-yd run (Reno Wimberley kick), 8:43
PC — Miller 3-yd run (pass failed), 4:07
ER — Tillery 1-yd run (Whitaker kick), 0:14
PC — Miller 45-yd run (run failed), 11:40
ER — Tillery 1-yd run (pass failed), 7:00
Team stats PC ER
First downs 14 11
Rushes-yards 51-245 34-125
Passing yards 0 31
Total yards 245 156
Comp-Att-Int 0-4-1 6-9-0
Punts -Ave. 2-43.0 4-35.8
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 2-2
Penalties 8-69 3-15
Rushing: Zach Miller 33-190, Chris Wimberley 9-36 (PC); Jo Jo Tillery 20-84 (ER).
Passing: Josh Silas 0-4-1, 0 (PC); Tillery 6-9-0, 31.
Receiving: Kolbe King 4-24 (ER).
Records: Polk County 2-1; East Ridge 2-2.