SOCCER: Polk celebrates Senior Night with dramatic 2-1 win over Brevard

Published 1:21 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2024

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Polk County players raised their arms in protest. Wolverine fans shouted and yelled.

Everyone on the home side of G.M. Tennant Stadium felt certain Tuesday that the Wolverines had scored the go-ahead goal late in the second half of their conference showdown with Brevard.

Officials, though, said nay. The game remained in a 1-1 deadlock.

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Until Caroline Taylor decided otherwise a few minutes later.

The Polk County senior drilled the game-winning goal with just more than six minutes remaining, lifting the Wolverines to a 2-1 win over Brevard in the regular-season finale for both schools.

The Wolverines (11-4-3) climbed into a second-place tie in the Mountain Foothills 7 Conference with Brevard (17-2-2) and gave their playoff seeding prospects a boost with the victory. Polk will learn its first-round playoff opponent on Friday.

The Wolverines will hope for a performance similar to Tuesday’s in every remaining outing. Polk held the upper hand most of the match against a Brevard team coming off a 2-2 tie with conference champion Hendersonville, the only other team to beat the Blue Devils this season.

“A great effort all the way around,” said Polk County head coach Lennox Charles. “You expect a good effort on Senior Night. But with the effort, we played really well.

“Just a complete team win today.”

Taylor looked to perhaps have given Polk a lead in the 68th minute, striking a shot that Brevard goalkeeper Abby Huler deflected, only to see the ball take an odd bounce toward the goal line. The ball looked to perhaps clear the line for a second before Huler snatched it back, and while Polk players appealed for a goal, the ruling was no score.

Taylor, though, left no doubt in the 74th minute. A Brevard defender played a loose ball back to Huler, who struck a clearing shot toward the middle of the field. Taylor intercepted the strike, moved to her left to avoid a defender and hit a shot from several yards outside the penalty area that soared inside the left post and into the net, giving Polk the lead.

The Wolverine defense and goalkeeper Cate Brown, Polk’s third keeper of the evening, made Taylor’s goal stand as the decider.

Senior Maggie McCammon, the Wolverines’ starting goalkeeper until an injury earlier this season, dressed and played the first few minutes of the match, even catching a shot and punting it away. Fellow senior Maggie Johnson finished the first half before Brown settled in for the second half.

“(McCammon) got taped up enough to get out there,” Charles said. “We talked about that last week and that was my plan, and it worked out even better than I thought. My plan was about two minutes, and she was in there for almost five.”

A Brevard hand ball on a Polk throw-in late in the first half led to the Wolverines’ first goal, Jessica Baird’s penalty kick in the 27th minute. That tally gave Polk a 1-0 lead that lasted exactly nine seconds, with Blue Devil senior Meleah Foster hitting a high-arching shot from far out on the right flank that just cleared Johnson and dipped inside the crossbar to even the match.

“I feel like if we hadn’t given up that goal immediately, the score could have been a bit bigger margin,” Charles said. “I think you could tell in the second half that they were getting really frustrated because they were expecting to do a lot better. I would have, too, coming off the Hendersonville result.”

Polk began to threaten at regular intervals in the second half, with Hayden Blackwell narrowly missing a score in the 52nd minute off a Charley Dusenbury pass. Taylor, though, finally found the net to give the Wolverines a chance to celebrate before the playoffs begin next week. Charles said he expects to have sophomore forward Gabby Savaia back for the opening match on Tuesday.

“This was really good, with not having Gabby and not having a healthy starting goalkeeper,” Charles said. “And to be second (in the conference) twice in a row, even though we’re sharing it this time, with all the injuries we’ve had and mixing and matching everyone. Everybody just stepped in again.”