At times Wednesday evening, G.M. Tennant Stadium had a bit of a playoff atmosphere – loud opposing crowd, talented opponent, hard-fought match waging on the pitch.
Exactly what Polk County head coach George Alley wanted to see in the Wolverines’ final regular-season contest before the 1A playoffs begin Monday.
And Polk played well in Wednesday’s encounter with Brevard before ultimately falling 2-1 to the Blue Devils, who secured second place in the Mountain Foothills 7 Conference with the win.
The Wolverines saw their regular season end with a 9-9-2 overall record and 6-6 in conference play, finishing fourth. Polk County should receive a first-round home playoff match when the North Carolina High School Athletic Association announces on Friday pairings for the state 1A playoffs.
Polk will need the same type of effort in the postseason as it displayed much of Wednesday in staying with the Blue Devils (15-6-1, 10-2).
“I’ve been telling the guys that you’ll see a team this good in the third or fourth round, so you know you can compete with them,” Alley said. “That’s what we talked about coming in, let’s just give ourselves a chance to win and get into the second half, which they did.
“So I’m proud of them, but we’re banged up, so I’ve got some concerns about that.”
The Wolverines grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first half on a Thomas Varnadore goal, then relied heavily on the goalkeeping of Cade Bright to keep that edge.
Bright made a number of big saves, none any better than his stop early in the second half of a penalty kick try by Brevard senior standout Noah Backes (44 goals, ranked fifth in the state). Bright dove to his left to deflect Backes’ shot, scrambled to his feet and turned away a Brevard follow off the deflection, preserving the Wolverines’ edge.
The Blue Devils, though, finally found a way past Bright with 23:10 left in the match. Brevard freshman Rion Coadwell ran past the Polk defense toward a long ball played into the penalty area, forcing Bright to charge out of goal toward the ball. Coadwell won the footrace by a half-step and poked a rolling shot just past the rushing Bright that crossed the goal line to even the match.
The goal sparked the Blue Devils, who began controlling possession and keeping the ball in the Wolverine end of the field. Polk’s defense held firm, though, until 10 minutes remained, when Coadwell raced down the left side for a pass and hammered a hard drive into the right side of the net for the game-winner.
“Cade made some huge saves, as he is wont to do, to keep us in the game,” Alley said. “I thought we had some opportunities, we go up 1-0 at the half and we’re feeling pretty good.
“But their size and speed takes its toll. We had some kids start to get banged up a little bit, and they’ve just got speed cut all over the place and it’s kind of what happened to us. We got split a couple of times.”