Head coaches Damon Floyd (BCHS) and Derrick Davis quickly agreed there are no secrets between the teams. “They know what we are going to do and we know what they are going to do,” both commented is separate interviews earlier this week. “It’s just a matter of execution and holding onto the football.”
While, like many teams, Bradley has gone to the one-back, four-wide passing oriented style offense over the last few years, Polk has continued to be the predominately power running team that has been the hallmark of the Wildcat program for many decades.
“We know it’s going to be the ‘Zach Miller Show,’” Floyd said in reference to the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Wildcat fullback who gained more than 2,000 yards and scored 23 touchdowns last season with 1,930 of them coming on the ground. “They are going to line up and come right at us on every play. We’ve got to find some way to slow him down.”
Averaging over 7 1/2 yards per carry in 2012, the all-state power back ran the ball 257 times, which was more than 100 times that of his nearest local competitor — Walker Valley’s Justin Ware at 154.
“The thing about them (Polk) is we can’t just pack the box on them, because they have some other guys they can swing the ball to that can get some yardage as well,” the Bear mentor remarked.
From Davis’ prospective, trying to stop Bradley’s multifaceted attack presents several problems. “It’s tough to defend what they do, because they have so many weapons. We felt good knowing that (four-year starting QB Bryce) Copeland was finally gone, but then this other guy shows up.”
The veteran coach was refering to new Bear signal caller Brett Standifer, who had been the starter for the last three seasons at Soddy-Daisy before transfering to Bradley last January.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound gunslinger passed for more than 3,100 yards for the Trojans, including 1,283 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
“It’s going to be different not having Bryce (Copeland) out there,” related coach Floyd. “I knew what to expect from him and he knew what to expect from me. We knew how the other would react to different situations. I told Brett (Standifer) that he needs to be able to hold his composure during a game, because I often don’t.”
“He (Standifer) has a good, strong arm and a lot of experience,” the coach added. “Even though we’ve had him in spring drills and the fall practices, it’s time for him to connect with our receivers in real game situations.”
Standifer will be looking to get the ball in the hands of an experienced group of skill players with Dee Crisp, Cal Pickel, Baylor Terrell and Daniel Clark having combined for 1,665 yards on 123 catches and nine TDs as the spread receivers last season, plus Logan Fetzner, who had more than 280 yards in last year’s game against Polk, coming out of the backfield.
“We’ve got to put pressure on the quarterback and try to find a way to slow down their speed,” coach Davis assessed. “The problem is it’s not just one guy you have to worry about, because any of them could break it at any time.”
“We’ve been able to play them pretty close the first half the last few years, but they (Bradley) have so much more depth than we do,” he added. “In the second half of those games, when we are wearing down, they’re were still going strong. They are able to use a lot of guys just one way, while the majority of our guys play both offense and defense.”
In fact after trailing 13-0 in the first meeting of the renewed series, Polk fought back to stun the Bears for a 20-13 victory in 2009.
The last three years the games have been tight at the intermission with Bradley holding leads of 13-8, 13-6 and 14-7 respectively, before the Black-and-Gold dominated the final two quarters for wins of 26-16 (2010), 34-12 (2011) and 31-7 (2012).
Overall, the Bears hold a 25-7-1 advantage in the matchup that dates back to just the second season of Bradley football in 1917. The vast majority of the games were played between 1924-1959, with 1987 and ’88 being the only other battles before the series was most recently renewed.
“It has turned into a very big game with a lot of community pride on the line,” expressed coach Floyd. “This is one of the most talked about games on our schedule. It’s becoming a rivalry to equal what we have with Cleveland, Walker Valley, Ooltewah or McMinn County.”
“The only problem I see with this game is we haven’t won enough to make it a good rivalry,” commented coach Davis. “There’s no doubt this is our biggest money game of the year with the biggest crowd, but we have got to be more competitive. Just one win in four games isn’t enough.
“The community has really gotten into us playing this game. I like starting the season with a game like this,” the Wildcat coach added. “I’d rather have that excitement and challenge to start the season, rather than to play somebody you know you’re going to beat that you really can’t get pumped up for,” he stated.
“It’s going to be a very physical, emotional game with such a big crowd,” expressed coach Floyd. “We are playing one of the most respected teams in our area, that has been to the playoffs for 12 straight years. It’s been a great way to start the season the last four years, and I expect nothing less Friday night.”