There was plenty to celebrate in Warhorse Stadium, Oct. 17, as 3-3 Owen hosted 7-0 Polk. The Western Highlands Conference match-up was the homecoming game for Owen, and the team didn’t disappoint its hometown fans.
The Warhorses, coming off a 41-7 loss to Mitchell, gave the crowd reason to cheer immediately, as junior Shavoy Harding fielded the opening kickoff at the 5-yard-line. After catching the ball cleanly, Harding hit the seam up the middle and outran the Wolverine coverage on his way to a 95-yard touchdown.
Owen coaches protested as officials appeared to grant Polk an extra down on the ensuing possession, but the Warhorse defense forced a fumble and the offense took over at its own 41.
The Owen drive stalled and the Wolverine offense put together a drive that took them to the Warhorse 1-yard-line by the end of the first quarter. Polk tied the game, 7-7, to open the second quarter.
The teams would go into the half knotted at 7-7, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against senior offensive and defensive lineman Saevion Gibbs, resulted in his disqualification from the contest.
Gibbs, who had been flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty earlier in the game with little explanation from officials, told his coach on the sideline that he was attempting to disengage from his opponent. Gibbs claimed the Polk player had his hands near his head and he pushed him away to stop him.
Owen head coach Nathan Padgett pleaded his case to officials to no avail. It was the third time in three games a Warhorse player has been ejected or disqualified as a result of a controversial call.
“We told our guys at halftime that somebody else is going to have to step up,” Padgett said in an interview at midfield after his team’s 20-14 victory. “We told them this was something we had to overcome together, as a team.”
Junior Dequan Boyce was among those to answer that call. He broke away with a 95-yard touchdown run to put the Warhorses back in front in the third quarter. Boyce then intercepted a Polk pass to halt the ensuing Wolverine possession.
Owen would lead the rest of the way. Junior quarterback Caleb Scott added a rushing touchdown later in the third quarter, and Polk would pull to within a touchdown in the fourth.
But Padgett’s team held on for the victory on a night when the school introduced its homecoming court and crowned senior Kayla Roseman queen.
The coach addressed his team on the horseshoe in the center of the field after the game.
“This is one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of,” said Padgett, who played for Owen before taking over as head coach in 2015. “To come in here, face an undefeated team on your home field, for homecoming, and put it to them like that takes heart. I’m proud of you.”
Gibbs, who engaged with his teammates throughout the second half, following his disqualification, pointed out the work his team did to get the win.
“That was a great week of practice we just had,” he told his team after Padgett spoke. “That’s where it started; we earned this.”
All of the players responded after facing adversity in the first half, Padgett said.
“Someone had to carry the load and they all stepped up,” he said. “That was huge.”
Boyce picked up 100 yards on 5 carries for Owen, while Scott notched 92 rushing yards on 17. The defense, Padgett said, also played a key role in the victory.
“We bent but we didn’t break,” he said. “Once we got that lead we were able to protect it and come away with the win.”
The Polk defense had not allowed 20 points to any of its seven previous opponents this season. The win was Owen’s first against the Wolverines since 2014.
Owen introduced its homecoming court at halftime, as 2018 homecoming queen Chesney Gardner crowned 2019 queen, Kayla Roseman.
The 4-3 Warhorses will head to Bakersville, Friday, Oct. 25, to take on 6-1 Mountain Heritage. The Cougars handed Mitchell its first loss of the season on Oct. 18.
“As we proved this past week, it all starts with practice,” Padgett said. “We want to come out there this week, work hard, and get ready to face a good Mountain Heritage team.”