BENTON, Tenn. -- In the first half of Friday's Class 3A high school football state-playoff game at Polk County, the Wildcats absorbed a sample of the smash-mouth brand of football they've been accustomed to playing over the years. It left them trailing but seemed to serve as a reminder of how they're supposed to play.
Polk County coach Derrick Davis said there wasn't much adjusting done at halftime, other than with the team's attitude. A seemingly different Wildcats team came out in the second half, turned around the deficit and went on to a 28-14 victory.
Polk County (8-3) will play next week at Christian Academy of Knoxville (9-2), which beat Sweetwater 42-22.
After the Wildcats went three-and-out in the first possession, Kingston (7-4) drove 68 yards in 10 runs with one pass completion mixed in. Fullback Demarcus Foster took it in from the 3, which was the shortest gain on the drive.
Polk County tied it early in the second quarter, but later in the period the Yellow Jackets used nine rushes to cover 64 yards with Foster scoring from 17 yards out at the 2:47 mark. Riley Collins' extra point made it 14-7, which was the score at halftime.
"We didn't play too bad in the first half in areas," Davis said. "What I think happened was they got after us. They blocked us. They were just a little bit tougher than we were in the first half. They kind of gave us a dose of what we been doing over the years. They just ran right at us."
The second half started with another Kingston march on the ground from its 28 to the Wildcats' 25. On third-and-4, Foster was hit and fumbled and Polk County recovered.
This time it was the Wildcats' turn to string together a scoring drive that quarterback Al Akins capped with a 29-yard run. After Kingston fumbled back to Polk County on the ensuing kickoff, the Wildcats went 24 yards on six running plays with fullback Derrick Saxe's 4-yard run on fourth-and-1 at 1:24 of third quarter providing the lead.
"I thought a big key, and I live from play to play, was when we caused a fumble on their first drive of the second half," Davis said. "Even though we bent all the way down the field, we finally stopped them. I saw a spark there."
Davis said his father and offensive coordinator Larry Davis made one halftime adjustment to an off-tackle play they were running with Saxe, who wound up having 20 of his 25 carries and 83 of 105 rushing yards in the second half.
Akins ended up carrying 16 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns. He was 5-of-7 passing for 53 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Caldwell that Akins set up by intercepting Kingston's Preston King.
The Yellow Jackets lost three fumbles in the second half and ran 13 plays after halftime. They ended the game with 81 yards in penalties to Polk County's 10.
"Turnovers and penalties killed us," Kingston coach Vic King said.
"It's hard to move the ball when you don't run many plays in the second half. I figured there would be some long drives in the game, but I didn't figure there would be a low number of possessions because we'd fumble every time we turned around. Give them credit. Their quarterback's tough. Their fullback's tough. I wish them luck."
Foster was the game's leading ground gainer with 150 yards on 20 carries.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.