Polk County's Nate Smart battles for possession during Monday's match.

A funny thing happened Monday night on the way to a penalty-kick shootout between Owen and Polk County.

The shootout never happened.

With the hard-fought Western Highlands Conference match deadlocked at 2-2 following two 10-minute overtime periods, coaches, players, fans and everyone else in attendance at Polk County Middle School expected a round of penalty kicks to determine a winner

Everyone else, that is, except the three match officials, who told captains from both teams that there would be no penalty kicks and promptly left the field, hopping in their cars and driving away to the bemusement of both teams.

“We don’t have a choice (about having penalty kicks) according to what we did last year,” said Polk County head coach Lennox Charles. “Our conference adopted (a shootout) for soccer last year. I didn’t hear anything that said that had changed.”

The rule from the North Carolina High School Athletic Association handbook: “If a tie score exists at the end of regulation play in regular season varsity conference games, play will continue with two overtime periods of 10 minutes each; if there is no winner at that point, by conference adoption, a winner can be determined by penalty kicks, otherwise the game shall be considered a tie for both teams.”

What happens next will ultimately be decided by officials from the two schools, though with both teams currently in the upper half of the WHC standings, leaving the game as a tie seems unlikely. Charles said one option may be to hold the penalty kicks in conjunction with Polk County’s trip to Owen later this season, though that would mean settling the match on the Warhorses’ turf field as opposed to the grass surface at Polk Middle.

An evenly-matched opening period between the two schools tipped Polk County’s way late in the first half, the Wolverines scoring with 4:16 left. Jeremy Allsbrook drilled a hard shot from near the top of the penalty box that was deflected away, but to the feet of Wil Rimer, who followed with his own line drive. That one was also turned away, but again to Rimer, who tapped the rebound into the left corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.

The Wolverines upped the lead to 2-0 early in the second half on an Owen own goal, and that lead seemed destined to hold until the final four minutes, when Owen found the net twice on long drives, the equalizer coming with just 13 seconds left in regulation.

Polk County had the best scoring opportunity in overtime, but Ewan Pratt’s shot from deep inside the penalty box just missed to the left with 4:24 remaining.

That seemed to set the stage for penalty kicks to decide the affair.

At least until the officials decided it themselves.