“We knew who they are and what we were getting into going down there,” commented the veteran mentor. “We could have played a weaker team and pumped ourself up with false confidence, but they (EH) are the type of team we are going to be facing all year. We are only going to get better by going against a team like them.”
After a state quarterfinal playoff run in Class 4A last season, Coach Ted Gatewood’s Hurricanes have already been picked to win the District 5-AAA title their first season in the league.
“We were giving 40-50 pounds a man up front. They are a lot more athletic than we are, but we’re going to be facing that most Friday nights (during the regular season),” remarked coach Davis, who has led Polk to the TSSAA playoffs each of the last nine years. “As with most scrimmages, we saw some good things and some things we need to work on.”
“The biggest thing I saw was we need to get a since of urgency about us. We only have three weeks until the first game, and we are nowhere near where we need to be.”
As expected, East Hamilton dominated the warmup 7-on-7 drills with its strong passing game. The ’Canes completed 11-of-19 passes, three of which would have been 75-yard scores if run all the way out, while Polk, a predominately running team throughout its history, connected on just 1-of-12 tries. Defensively in the passing drill, the Wildcats got a pair of knock aways by AJ Pittaway and Corey Swallows, while Devin Weber picked off an interception.
After a short water break in the 90-plus degree heat and a brief special teams session, the teams began a pair of 10-play, full contact series.
Both teams managed to earn a trio of first downs in their respective opening offensive series, with Big Red Train engine Zach Miller bulling for 25 yards in his first four carries.
When the hosts got the ball for the first time, they had some success as well but were hindered when Miller and Tanner Plemmons combined to trap a ball carrier for a loss on one play. Matthew Hammons and fellow defensive lineman Walker Hood teamed up to sack ’Cane quarterback Hunter Moore on another play. Pittaway stopped a sweep at the line of scrimmage before Hammons “hurried” Moore for an incompletion on another down.
Playing under real game possession rules beginning with the following series, Polk moved the ball with Miller picking up another hard fought 17 yards on four carries, while Pittaway broke through the line for a 13-yard gain.
On the ninth play of the possession, the Wildcats put the ball in the air, but East Hamilton’s Tre Herndon snagged the aerial, and the Vanderbilt commitment would have had an easy 70-yard “Pick 6” had the play not been blown dead.
Instead taking over on their own 30, the Hurricanes came out blowing strong with a 16-yard run by Matt Milita.
After Polk’s Josh Silas nailed receiver at the line of scrimmage for no gain, the ’Canes connected on pass plays for 21 and 10 yards. David Whiteside finished off the drive by scampering the final 18 yards to paydirt for the lone score while the first teamers were on the field.
Polk once again earned a trio of first downs on its next possessions with Miller ripping off a 25-yard run as well as three other gains of more than five yards apiece. However, the ’Cats had to turn the ball over on downs at the East Hamilton 24 yard line.
The hosts responded quickly as a 20-yard dash by Milita on the fourth play moved the ball over midfield, while a pair of double-digit aerials by Moore, including a 20-yarder to Herndon, moved the ball in the Red Zone.
Showing he could be just as punishing from his linebacker slot as a ball carrier, Miller blitzed Moore on the following play, jarring the ball loose while making the sack, and a Wildcat teammate pounced on the pigskin.
“Miller always gives a good effort and was a bright spot on both offense and defense,” coach Davis praised. “Matthew Hammons and some others also played well during that part of the scrimmage.”
Davis’ compliments ended there as he was disappointed with how his team ended the evening.
“We finished off the night with some goalline plays,” he related. “We went 0-for-4. They (EH) went 4-for-4. Each time after they scored, our body language was not good. We’d hang our heads. A good team has to battle through adversity. You have to have a short memory. Forget about bad plays or mistakes and get ready for the next play.”
“We are looking for players who will battle and not look at the scoreboard. It doesn’t matter what the score is, you need to win the battle every play,” he added.
“We did some positive things (in the scrimmage), but I’m a hard man to please. We still have a long way to go,” Davis summarized.
Polk County will play host to Karns and Greenback in a three-way scrimmage Friday at 5:30 at the Larry Davis Football Complex.
The Wildcats will also tangle at Tyner in a scrimmage on Aug. 15 before playing in a jamboree against Tellico Plains Aug. 16 at McMinn Central High School.