BENTON — Polk County senior fullback Zach Miller rushed for 164 yards to cap off a 2,038 yard season and scored a touchdown Friday night. But it was a somber locker room the Wildcats walked into after a 24-14 loss to Notre Dame in the second round of the state high school football playoffs.
A fumble inside the Polk 10-yard line just before halftime that led to a game tying touchdown by the Fighting Irish and a third quarter Notre Dame interception that turned into the go-ahead TD proved to be the difference.
A 25-yard field goal with just over two minutes left in the game sealed it for Notre Dame.
“It definitely shifted the momentum. We were just trying to run the clock out. Everybody made mistakes tonight including me. There were a handful of plays tonight that could have swung the game either way. We didn’t make enough of those,” said Wildcats coach Derrick Davis after the disappointing loss.
“I knew it would be a handful of plays and the four turnovers hurt. A block here or there to get a first down or a missed assignment on a routine play could have made a difference. I thought we played hard and I’m really proud of them. We fought, even though we got down 10 in the last few minutes. With them up 10 we didn’t use our timeouts. It would have taken a miracle to help us and the field goal pretty much salted it away for them. Their defense is very good and they are a good team. That’s why they are moving on to the quarterfinals.”
Polk struck first on an opening 82-yard drive that saw Miller gain 53 yards on eight carries. He capped the march with 6-yard touchdown run.
The Irish evened the score late in the first half after recovering a Polk fumble at the Wildcats’ 8-yard line. Notre Dame quarterback Alex Darras found Kareem Orr open on in the corner of the end zone on the next play and Polk went from a seven-point lead to being tied 7-7 with 33 seconds left in the second quarter.
Polk County recovered a Notre Dame fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half, but gave the ball back to the Irish on the next play on an interception. Notre Dame took the gift to the Wildcats’ end zone six players later and led 14-7 with 8:25 left in the third.
Corey Swallows picked off Notre Dame pass with just under three minutes left in the third and raced 63 yards for Polk’s second TD tying the game at 14-14.
The Irish answered on their next possession taking a 21-14 lead on a quick score just before the end of the quarter.
After forcing a Polk punt with nine minutes left in the game, Notre Dame was able to run nearly seven minutes off the clock moving the ball to the Wildcats’ 10-yard line where Darras booted a 25-yard field goal to nail down the win with 2:39 left. Notre Dame recovered a third Polk fumble on the ensuing kick and was able to run the clock to double zeros.
“In the big scheme of things somebody had to go home tonight and unfortunately it was us. It’s tough to get your thoughts together after a tough loss like this. We would liked to have had one more week, the same as everybody would especially with this group. It just didn’t happen. Mistakes in a game like this, multiple mistakes will bite you and it did tonight,” said Davis.
“I’ve been through 14 of these and the finality is tough with the seniors realizing this is it. It’s a chapter in their life that is closed but they’ve got some unbelievable chapters left to open down the road. I think they are going to be better men for going through the program here. We will worry about next year down the road. Right now it’s just tough.”