The rainbow visible over Utz Field early Monday evening perhaps felt appropriate for Polk County Middle’s boys soccer squad.
The Wolverines weathered a bit of a storm in order to celebrate beneath the multi-colored display.
Polk Middle is bound for the Blue Ridge Conference Tournament championship match, topping Smoky Mountain Middle 4-2 in a rugged semifinal.
The Wolverines (13-2-1) will look to claim the school’s first conference championship since 2006 against either Macon or Flat Rock. Those two teams will meet Wednesday, and the championship match is tentatively set for Monday, with Macon hosting with a win or Polk hosting with a Flat Rock victory.
Polk may well enjoy the break after Monday’s battle. The Mustangs (7-6) were relentless from start to finish, and while never leading, kept scoring and challenging Polk until the final whistle.
“That’s the most adversity we’ve had to face for the season,” said Polk Middle head coach Lennox Charles. “We had to hang in and hang on through the entire first half.
“For me, that’s where the game was won, because if we can at least survive the first half and then talk at halftime, you could tell our confidence was done because they did such an unbelievable job of attacking the ball, pressuring the ball, putting us under pressure.
“We survive that and I think that’s where everything turned around.”
Both teams had scoring chances in the first half but failed to convert, keeping the match 0-0 at the half. The Wolverines quickly changed that early in the second stanza as Cole Huntley scored off a corner kick, only to see the Mustangs respond less than two minutes later to make it 1-1.
With Smoky Mountain keeping Polk from surging through the middle of the field, the Wolverines began to find some free space on the wings, and that paid off in the 46th minute as Luke Garrison dribbled down the left flank, pushed past two defenders and nearly reached the end line before striking a perfect cross that Huntley tapped in, returning the advantage to Polk.
Huntley completed a hat trick in the 48th minute as Ross Dow played a long pass down the right wing, allowing Huntley to race ahead, corral it, dribble in and strike a line drive into the left corner of the net, giving the Wolverines a 3-1 lead.
Back came Smoky Mountain, scoring in the 50th minute to make it 3-2. The Mustangs continued to press. but Garrison delivered a much-needed insurance goal with five minutes remaining, hitting a low rolling drive that just slipped inside the left post.
“We did a lot better job of matching up second half and attacking balls and being a little more aggressive,” Charles said. “That really changed the game.
“We couldn’t play a possession game against this time. Partly because we weren’t composed at times, but mostly because they did such a good job of putting you under pressure and getting to the ball. So we had to be more direct.”
Polk Middle has already seen both of its potential championship-match opponents this season, having lost at Macon Middle 6-2 earlier this season while sweeping Flat Rock in division play.
The Wolverines have lost just once since that late August trip to Macon. Thanks to their efforts Monday, they may well be making a late October journey to Macon County.
“This was a battle,” Charles said. “And the guys fought as hard as they could. And then when we needed be composed, we were in front of goal in the second half. And I think that was huge.”