LEDGER — With an opening-week playoff bye in the rearview mirror, the second-seeded Mitchell Mountaineers football team went back to work in its quest for a 1-AA state championship, facing a familiar foe in Polk County in a second-round matchup.
Mitchell shut out Polk 33-0 just three weeks earlier, and the rematch was expected to be a much tighter affair. The Mountaineers defense were the statement makers in the game, however, as it held Polk County to 128 yards in total offense on the night, while the Mountaineers offense scored three times in the first half en route to a 28-0 shutout victory and a third-round date on Friday, Nov. 29, against No. 6-seeded Swain County.
After forcing a Polk punt on the first series of the game, the Mitchell offense scored the game’s opening points as, on 4th-and-11 play, quarterback Noah Pitman scrambled right and dashed through the Polk defense for a 32-yard touchdown. Elliot Kadans’ PAT gave the Mountaineers an early 7-0 lead midway through the opening stanza.
Polk found success through both ground and air on its ensuing series as it kept the football for almost 10 minutes of the game clock, driving inside the Mitchell red zone. The Wolverines’ march came up empty, however, as the Mountaineers defense bowed its neck to force a field goal attempt. The 39-yard kick sailed wide left to turn PCHS away.
Later in the first half, Mitchell began to find success by passing the football, while Pitman also used his athleticism to keep plays alive with his legs.
Early in the second quarter, Mitchell compiled its longest scoring drive of the matchup, an eight-play, 80-yard march. A lengthy pass play to an uncovered Tyler McKinney set up the Mountaineers inside the red zone, with Mitchell scoring two plays later on a one-yard touchdown plunge on a keeper from Pitman with 5:54 to play in the second quarter to give Mitchell a 14-0 advantage.
Polk found a measure of success running the football into the teeth of the imposing Mitchell defense, but again was forced to surrender possession of the pigskin. With approximately two minutes remaining in the half, Mitchell took possession from its own 28-yard line and utilized a two-minute drill to swiftly march 72 yards over four plays. The Mountaineers again exploited the slot position in the passing game for a 30-yard gain on a pass from Pitman to Garrison Phillips to enter Polk territory. A bubble screen to McKinney picked up an additional 20 yards after McKinney broke multiple Wolverine tackle attempts. From the 2-yard line, running back Tanner Duncan scored off left side for a touchdown with :52 left before halftime. The Kadans PAT gave MHS a 21-0 lead entering the intermission.
Late in the first half, Noah Pitman appeared to roll an ankle in the second quarter and, though he played the third quarter and early into the fourth period, he primarily passed and handed off the football from the spread offense while staying on the sideline defensively in the second half.
Polk forced a Mitchell punt to open the third quarter, then opted to attempt a fourth-down conversion later in its own offensive series, only to again be denied by the MHS defense. During the drive, PCHS lost quarterback Bryce Jergenson, who was hit on a blind-side sack and did not return to the contest.
Later in the third quarter, Mitchell forced Polk to punt, then cashed in on its next series, driving 73 yards over seven plays, capping the drive with a 19-yard TD pass from Pitman to Logan Hudgins. The extra point gave the Mountaineers a 28-0 lead with 23 seconds to play in the third period.
The Wolverines (9-4), who could only manage 45 yards of total offense in the second half and found no traction against an inspired MHS defensive effort, as Ty Sparks put the finishing touches on the shutout with a fourth-quarter interception.
Pitman ran for 80 yards on eight carries with two touchdowns, while completing 10-of-14 passes for 207 yards and a score. Phillips and Ty Sparks each caught three passes for 60 yards, with 51 yards on two catches by McKinney.
Angus Weaver led Polk with 46 yards on 10 carries, while Jergenson was 4-of-6 passing for 25 yards. Polk quarterbacks were sacked three times by the Mitchell defense, with Cole Sparks leading the MHS defense with nine tackles.