Penalty kicks? Not something a goalkeeper typically enjoys. Facing an opponent one-on-one on a breakaway? Equally unenjoyable.
Polk County goalkeeper Jonah Wyatt stopped one of the former and one of the latter Saturday night – and the Wolverines are a win short of a state championship trip because of it.
Polk survived a marathon 1A boys soccer quarterfinal on a chilly evening at G.M. Tennant Stadium, outlasting Gray Stone Day 3-1 on penalty kicks to advance to the 1A West Regional final for the first time since 2007.
The Wolverines (15-10-1) will square off with Community School of Davidson (21-1-2), the top seed in the West, on Tuesday at 6 p.m. That game will be played at Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte.
Wyatt is far from the only reason the Wolverines will travel to that match. But his contributions in extra time were noticeable and noteworthy.
The senior ended the first five-minute sudden death period with a sliding save outside the box just before time ran out. With just over two minutes remaining in the second sudden death session, Gray Stone Day’s Zack Norman slipped down the right side of the field, behind the Wolverine defense, took a pass and dribbled alone toward Wyatt.
Wyatt held his line for a moment, then charged toward Norman. He blocked his shot – right back to Norman, who took another effort that Wyatt again corralled.
“I was nervous throughout the whole thing, obviously, but I did my job,” Wyatt said. “When he came over I just focused and just had to do what I had to do or else we were going to lose. I just dove in with all my heart and just grabbed it with all I could.”
Polk County head coach Josh Trejo knew then that penalty kicks wouldn’t be a problem.
“The double save. Twice. That’s when I knew, when we went to the PK shootout, when he saved that back-to-back,” Trejo said. “Came out smart, aggressive, cut his angle down, was strong, saved the first one, reactions, got back up and saved the second one.
“I knew if we go to a PK shootout, we are good.”
The Knights (16-8-1), playing their third overtime match in four days, shot first in penalties, with David Almond converting. Clark Phipps answered, drilling the first effort for Polk into the right corner of the net. Gray Stone’s second shot sailed wide, and Matias Akers converted to put Polk up 2-1.
Gray Stone senior Chase Viscomi, a dangerous striker who kept Polk’s defense on its toes throughout the match, then drilled a left-footed drive toward the left post. Already moving that way, Wyatt dove and pushed the shot aside before falling to the turf.
He got up, calmly retrieved the ball and then jogged back to his position to await the next effort.
“After the overtime, I was really nervous,” Wyatt said. “It’s the common goalie thought process, I guess. But once I got in, it just turned into a job. I got seriously focused. I could feel the crowd hyping me up and that really helped so much. I just knew I couldn’t let my teammates or my family down.
“When I go to block a PK, I zone in. You can’t think about it or it will be too late. I just trust my reaction time and all these years I’ve been practicing, taking PKs in practice. I’ve been a keeper for a long time, so I just relied on my instincts and it paid off.”
Wyatt’s twin brother, Jordan, converted his penalty to make it 3-1. The next Gray Stone shooter also missed wide right. No one moved for a second before Akers made a mad dash toward Wyatt to begin the Polk celebration.
“Unbelievable, tonight with the dramatic effect that we gave the fans with the PK shootout,” Trejo said. “When I was at home earlier today I went ahead and marked my seven PK takers just in case it came to this point.
“I knew, 100 percent, that Jonah was going to save one because of the game he was having. He was on fire. So I wasn’t worried about it at all.”
Polk had a pair of opportunities to score in the first five minutes, with Grayson Jones crosses finding open teammates deep in the penalty area. Both shots sailed high, though, and the teams settled into a defensive struggle.
The Wolverines finally snapped that in the 34th minute. Alex Pearson cleared a ball from the Polk end of the field, sending it to midfield to Jack Tinkler, who pushed it ahead to Isaac Edwards. The junior dribbled into the left side of the penalty box before unleashing a drive into the right corner of the net, giving Polk a 1-0 advantage.
Edwards narrowly missed a long low drive from the right side in the 56th minute, and Gray Stone Day soon responded, finally finding a crack in a Polk defense that played well all evening, with Norman winning the race to a bouncing ball in the box and heading it over a charging Wyatt to even the match.
Polk barely missed a chance off a set piece in the 69th minute, and Wyatt made a key save with 22 seconds remaining to bring about overtime.
Both keepers made routine saves in the first 10-minute extra session and enjoyed a relatively quiet second 10 minutes as the two teams tired. That set the stage for the late-match theatrics.
“I told the boys that odds against us,” Trejo said. “Some little 1A school, Polk County, playing some of these charter schools that are very good. They’ve got good programs.
“But, you know, we’re upsetting. Before, they might not know us, but now they’re going to know us. It’s a good thing for our school and for our players.”