EAST FLAT ROCK – Polk County’s soccer season opener Wednesday turned a battle of attrition as much as position.
Cramps raced through the Wolverine lineup, especially in the second half, bringing frequent stoppages and a constant stream of substitutions. But Polk fought through that and a determined East Henderson squad to earn a 3-3 draw at E.L. Justus Field.
The Wolverines (0-0-1) trailed 2-0 early and 3-2 at the half, but evened the score early in the second half on Will Garrison’s long free kick. Finding a rhythm offensively thereafter proved a challenge for Polk with the injury interruptions; East (0-1-1) also endured cramping issues, but could never again find a crack in the Wolverine defense.
“In the second half it got hard to really think about making any tactical adjustments,” said Polk head coach George Alley. “We were just subbing kids to try stay healthy and stay in the game.
“But we slowed them down, and we figured out where the seams were in the defense. It wasn’t particularly pretty, but huge. A gut check, especially at the beginning of the season. Now we’ve got to have a little nutrition and cramping discussion.”
East Henderson struck twice in a 64-second span in the first half, scoring on its own long free kick and then getting a break when Polk goalkeeper Cade Bright made a diving stop of a shot, only to see the deflection wind up on the foot of Luis Alejos Rojas, who poked the loose ball past a scrambling Bright to give the Eagles a 2-0 advantage.
Polk proved undeterred.
The Wolverines first responded with nine minutes left in the half. Nate Martinez played a perfect ball down the right flank, where Owen Highsmith outraced a defender, took a touch and let loose a drive into the left side of the net, slicing the East lead in half.
Polk began to aggressively push for the equalizer and earned an indirect free kick 19 yards from goal moments later. Players and coaches on the bench yelled at the on-field gathering to “run the play we practiced yesterday,” and that they did, with Martinez tapping the indirect to Thomas Varnadore, who hammered a shot that struck the left post and richocheted into the goal, evening the score.
East retook the lead in the final two minutes of the half, though, as senior Daniel Lagos broke free, pushed past a defender and scored on a point-blank shot from the left side.
The offensive fireworks slowed in the second half, with Garrison’s lengthy drive, which bounced in the penalty area and cleared the East goalkeeper before landing on the goal line, the only tally.
Polk County will return home Monday for its G.M. Tennant Stadium debut, facing Madison in a match slated to begin at 6:45 p.m. The game will also air live on NFHS Network.