SOCCER: Wolverines fall to Thomas Jefferson on late goal in playoff loss

Published 12:21 pm Tuesday, November 7, 2023

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The Thomas Jefferson Gryphons, the top seed in the 1A West field, defeated the Wolverines in a third-round playoff matchup, getting a goal with just more than 10 minutes remaining Monday, for a final score of 1-0.

But the Wolverines did all they could, perhaps more, to produce an upset of the undefeated Gryphons (19-0-2). Defensively, especially, Polk played with grit, hustle and determination, fending off challenge after challenge in a match often played in its half of the field.

That was in part by design, and it was a game plan that the Wolverines (11-10-2) executed well, led by a senior class intent on extending the season for another night.

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“We wanted to give them the back part of the air, didn’t want to dive in and let them build a little bit,” said Polk County head coach George Alley. “I thought we did a really good job in the first half executing our defensive game plan.

“We just know we needed to hit one of our counters. We got close a couple of times but didn’t. We’re not 100 percent healthy, and I knew we were going to be at risk the longer the game went.”

That the game remained scoreless until the final stages of regulation also could be credited to Polk County senior goalkeeper Cade Bright, who turned aside threat after threat. He charged off his line early in the second half and made a kick save to stop Thomas Jefferson’s Sixx Brown, who had freed himself for a one-on-one chance. He held off Gryphon Ian Richards in a collision just in front of the goal while fighting for a loose ball.

Bright delivered save after save until the one he couldn’t reach, with Thomas Jefferson’s Cristian Escalera working free deep on the right wing and hitting a hard drive that found the far side of the net with 10:07 left in the match. It marked the second straight game-winning goal in the playoffs for Escalera.

“Cade, in my opinion, is an all-state goalkeeper,” Alley said. “Once again, he kept us in there.

“And these guys, they were fully committed. Look at them.”

Tears flowed for members of Polk County’s senior class, their Wolverine careers ended. But, as Alley noted, those tears might well be helping grow the seeds of revitalization for Polk’s program.

“The future is pretty bright, and I know that I’m going to be there to work with the kids year-round,” he said. “We’ve got 12 eighth graders coming up. We’re going to get back to doing camps in the summer.

“We want to build on this. We don’t want to go the other direction. 1A, 2A, doesn’t matter, I see a bright future for these guys. And I think the seniors can be proud of that because they went through a tough time to get here.”