Polk’s late heroics help Falcons past Cougars

By Brad Fauber

WOODSTOCK — Cody Polk’s heart was probably racing 100 miles per hour during the last few minutes of Central’s Homecoming football game against Manassas Park.

Polk and the Falcons defense had attempted — and mostly failed — to stop the Cougars as they marched down the field for the potential game-tying touchdown as the final minutes ticked down.

But on the 17th play of Manassas Park’s final drive of the game, Polk delivered.

Facing a second-and-goal from the Central 8 with 13 seconds remaining, Manassas Park quarterback Jonathan Bunner dropped back and sent a pass over the middle towards receiver Shawn Kolb. Polk, a linebacker, was right there to intercept the pass at the 3 and seal a thrilling 20-13 win for the Falcons.

“Heart-beating. That’s the only way to describe it,” Polk said of the decisive final drive. “You’re just out there and you’re waiting, you’re trying to figure out what’s going on. Then the play comes and you get your chance and you make it.”

Polk’s game-clinching play came during a drive when Central (3-2) simply couldn’t seem to catch a break.

Manassas Park’s drive began at its own 26 with 5:37 remaining in the fourth quarter, and the Cougars used a critical fourth-and-1 conversion at midfield to keep the drive alive.

Later in the drive, Falcons junior Trey Riley made a huge defensive play when he registered a 12-yard sack with a minute to play, but several plays later, the Falcons were on the wrong end of a personal foul penalty when Kolb was stacked up at the Central 36 after an 8-yard reception. That penalty gave the Cougars a first down at Central’s 22 with 32 seconds left.

Back-to-back passes from Bunner to Benjamin Foster moved Manassas Park (1-4) to the Falcons’ 8, and some game-clock confusion ensued before the officials waved off an initial delay of game penalty on the Cougars.

“It was frustrating because we were talking to the referees and they acknowledged that they had made a couple mistakes,” Falcons coach Mike Yew said. “I appreciate them saying that, but it could’ve gone the other way for us.”

Polk then came through with the Falcons’ fourth — and most important — interception of the game.

“Coach [Rowdy] Hoover was yelling, ‘When [Kolb] releases I want you to drop back,'” Polk said. “The quarterback rolled and they pressured him. I saw [Kolb], I dropped back and [Bunner] threw it. I just put my hands up and caught it.”

The huge defensive stop concluded what could’ve easily been a very frustrating second half for the Falcons, who marched down the field on their first two drives of the third quarter but had to settle for 29- and 28-yard field goals from sophomore Clifton Croom.

Croom’s second field goal, which came with 2:49 left in the third quarter, gave Central a 20-7 lead.

“We came out in the second half and we went two straight drives all the way down to the 5-yard line and then we stalled. We made … really huge mental mistakes inside the 10-yard line and it could’ve cost us tonight,” Yew said of the Falcons, who committed costly penalties inside the 10-yard line on both scoring drives. “Fortunately we persevered and showed some resiliency.”

Central got on the board in the second quarter immediately after the defense held the Cougars to a three-and-out after a bad snap on a Falcons punt gave the Cougars the ball at the Central 30 late in the first quarter.

The Falcons went 75 yards to the end zone behind three big pass plays from senior quarterback Sam Barbour (7 of 18, 144 yards passing). The senior’s first pass of the drive went to senior Connor Hammack for 34 yards, and Barbour then found Tristan Rau for a 16-yard strike. On the next play, Barbour found Hammack wide open for a 26-yard touchdown pass to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead with 10:56 left in the second quarter.

“We did a Utah, which is a 5 [yards] and out and then we turn up for the end zone,” said Hammack, who caught two passes for 60 yards and had an interception on defense. “The backer was covering me and that was the whole problem. I’ve got more speed than him.”

Manassas Park immediately answered with a touchdown drive of its own, as quarterback Sean Kapus found Kolb (4 catches, 46 yards) for a 27-yard scoring pass with 6:53 left in the first half.

Central came right back with a 71-yard touchdown drive, which running back Hank Hoover capped with a 3-yard scoring run with 1:32 left in the first half. Central went into halftime with a 14-7 lead.

The Falcons were able to hit on some big running plays against Manassas Park — mainly on the legs of Barbour (11 carries, 91 yards) — but Central had to grind out a lot of its 321 total yards on offense.

Central finished with 183 yards rushing on 38 carries.

“Our line, they tried their hardest. We pushed it up. Five or six yards, that’s all we need,” said Hoover, who finished with 22 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown.

Manassas Park cut Central’s lead to 20-13 in the second half when Bunner, who had just come in for the injured Kapus, broke off a 25-yard touchdown run with 8:06 left in the fourth quarter to cap a 29-yard drive that was set up by Barbour’s second interception of the game.

Central’s defense held Manassas Park to 214 total yards of offense and intercepted Kapus and Bunner a combined four times. John Hepner and Carston Shockey had the Falcons’ other two interceptions.

“We were being disciplined,” Hammack said. “We knew we had to just drop back, drop back, drop back and wait in our zones and he’d just throw it to us. Last week against George Mason we really stressed that because they were the big-play team. We saw how much these guys passed it and we said let’s do the same thing and we’ll be right there. And it worked. The coaches got us really prepared.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com