The green flag will drop on the 2010 version of high school football’s Daytona 500 Friday at the Larry G. Davis Football Complex. The Polk County Wildcats will host the Bradley Central Bears is the first, and possibly the biggest game of the season for both teams.
The Wildcats are looking to get a jump on the rest of the field for another bid at a District 5-AA championship. The Bears want to prove they are contenders in District 5-AAA.
Both teams will be gassed up and ready to go Friday night.
Polk County coach Derrick Davis has fed his Wildcats a steady diet of “remember what happened last year” even though Polk pulled out a 20-13 win over the Bears in 2009. The battle with the Bears will be the first time Davis and his staff will see how the ’Cats stand up under real pressure.
“We still remember the first play that went 85 or 90 yards. Then, they took it right down again and went up 13-0. Last year’s group would battle for four quarters. That has yet to be determined with this group. We will face adversity Friday night with some things that won’t go our way and we will see how we respond,” Davis said.
“Last year was totally different. We’ve got a lot of kids back but the team chemistry and how we work together was in our favor last year throughout the year. They may jump on us again like that and have a good shot at doing it. We’ve just got to hang in there and hopefully, they will make a few mistakes or hopefully a lot of mistakes and if we are lucky enough, we can capitalize on one or two of them. But we are going to need some help from them and we are going to have to play a mistake-free game on our end.”
There is no question the Bears are looking for revenge. There is no question both teams will be prepared. There is no question the place will be packed. There is no question Davis is nervous about such a big game right off the bat.
“I ought to be fired for scheduling them. We’ve had games over the last 11 years that were good little tune-up games. If you didn’t play your best, odds were you still had a chance of winning. This is not one of them,” he emphasized. “They are a very much improved team. That’s why it’s so important these next few days of practice to soak up everything we can. They are a 6A team and the tables are turned. We are a tune-up game for them. They can probably make some mistakes and still maybe win. It’s no tune-up for us, that’s for sure.”
The Polk coach said the one good side of the situation is, it gives his team a chance to see what a real team looks like. But that, according to the coach, is about it.
“They are greatly improved. Opening up with a team like this, I guess it’s good and bad. It’s good that you are playing a quality team. It’s bad because you could very easily start out 0-1. This is no warm-up game. This is a pretty tough team we are playing,” he said. “If we are even going to keep it close we are going to have to play the best we are capable of playing.
“When you are opening up with somebody like Bradley you have to be at your best from the opening whistle. A lot of our guys played last year and experienced the type of game that will be. So maybe they understand the significance.”
He admitted the Wildcats may have been a bit fortunate last time around. This time, however, the ’Cat is definitely out of the bag and the Bears’ shock at the loss has turned to anger.
“We probably caught them by surprise last year. Some may even say it was a fluke and they might be close to being right. They are going to be ready this year. They are not going to allow that to happen two years in a row. We were glad to get them the way we got them last year. But that isn’t going to have any bearing on this year,” Davis conceded. “They are intimidating. They have better athletes and they have better coaches. We’ve got to make do with what we’ve got. That’s what we are going to have to do.
“It’s going to me like the old TV show ‘Mission Impossible’ because that is kind of what we’ve got here this week. Maybe we can defy the odds and make something happen. But it’s going to be very, very tough.”
In preseason preparation, Davis and his staff have not been unreasonably unsatisfied with the progress shown by the Wildcats. In two of Polk’s three scrimmages things did not go according to schedule with fumbles, miscommunication and a general lack of intensity at times.
“In the first scrimmage we fumbled it around. In the second, we kind of improved on that. The third scrimmage is like we didn’t even want to be there. We’ve addressed those issues but the thing is there are no do-overs now. We don’t have another scrimmage. We don’t have another jamboree,” Davis acknowledged. “ This one, good or bad, is going in the record books Friday. We can’t wake up Saturday and say ‘I wish I had done this or that.’ It’s too late. There shouldn’t be a whole lot of crying. We should have been out here this whole month crying at practice about the mistakes we made.”
Further complicating Polk’s rehearsals, senior starting quarterback and University of Tennessee baseball signee Jared Allen was hobbled in the Wildcats’ scrimmage against Loudon. Allen’s stand in, junior Alex Akins has run the Polk offense during the jamboree and is set to lead the team Friday.
“It may be a game time decision (with Allen). We’re afraid it could be more than just a sprain. They did an MRI on it and we will have to wait and see. But if he can’t play, we’ve got two other quarterbacks in Logan Swafford and Al Akins that we feel very comfortable with. We should be fine,” said a cautious Davis.
“If he can’t go I know Bradley’s not going to feel sorry for us and we’re not feeling sorry for ourselves. We’ve worked these “What if?” scenarios in case this happens with any position. We’re prepared if that happens.”
The only thing Davis said he is sure of is a large crowd. Efforts are under way to help alleviate the expected crush of fans destined to rendezvous at Polk County High School.
“This will be the biggest crowd since we opened the stadium in 2005. We try to stress carpooling. We are a little bit more limited on parking. That would help relieve a lot of that,” he stated.
“But a big crowd is expected and I know there will be a lot of Bradley fans here to see their team get a little revenge. Hopefully, we can keep it close and give the fans a good game.”