Polk County’s Jack Smith works to gain possession of a pass in Owen’s end of the field during the first half of Wednesday’s match

Second-half focus helps Wolverines knock off WHC-leading Warhorses

The manner in which Polk County forged a 1-1 halftime tie Wednesday with Owen did not leave Wolverine head coach Josh Trejo a happy man.

Intermission offered Trejo an opportunity to share that sentiment.

“The halftime speech was probably something they didn’t want,” Trejo said.

But it obviously proved a talk that Polk County took to heart as the Wolverines emerged with a 3-2 win over the Warhorses in a Western Highlands Conference battle at G.M. Tennant Stadium.

In handing Owen (7-2-1, 6-1) its first league loss of the season, Polk County (5-2-1, 4-2) kept alive its hopes for at least a share of the WHC regular-season title. More importantly, the Wolverines remain two games ahead of Avery (2-5, 2-4), who defeated Madison on Wednesday, in the race for the conference’s automatic berth to the 1A playoffs.

Polk County hosts Madison on Thursday at 6 p.m. in its final regular-season home match of the season before traveling twice next week to Avery.

Matias Akers had two second-half goals for Polk County, including what proved to be the match-winner on a penalty kick in the 62nd minute. Akers drew the foul, taken down in the penalty area while charging toward goal, and converted the chance with a low drive into the right corner of the net.

The Wolverine defense then kept Owen at bay, though the Warhorses had a couple of opportunities, most notably a hard, high 20-yard drive from Harrison Kendall in the 87th minute that Polk goalkeeper Greyson Ball turned aside with a leaping one-hand punch.

“We may not end as conference champions, though our season is not over, but it always feels good to stop somebody from being undefeated in the conference,” Trejo said.

“We’re focused on the playoffs, and once we’re there, we’re going to see teams like Owen. We have to be able to come out in matches like this and show what we can do.”

With a pair of one-goal losses to Owen earlier this season, Polk came out aggressively, looking to gain early momentum. That plan worked as the Wolverines scored in the 10th minute. Akers slipped a perfect pass through Owen’s defense to Cole Pereira, who moved past a Warhorse defender for a one-on-one opportunity with Owen goalkeeper Charlie Hurt. Pereira calmly buried his low drive into the net to give Polk the early lead.

The advantage didn’t last long, though, as a long Owen free kick in the 15th minute was deflected into the air and to the head of Gabe McGee, who flicked in a shot from 10 yards out to even the match.

“We wanted to score first and get momentum on our side, and we did that,” Trejo sid. “Then we made a silly mistake on defense and killed that momentum.”

Hurt turned aside an early Polk opportunity in the second half with a nice one-handed save, but the Wolverines soon regained the lead. Getting possession near midfield, Jack Smith took a couple of dribbles and rolled a perfect left-footed pass ahead of Akers and Owen’s back line, with Akers winning the sprint to the free ball. He touched it past a sliding Hurt to give Polk a 2-1 advantage.

Six minutes later the score would be tied again as Owen’s Bebe Rojas worked free for an open look 10 yards out and hammered a drive that sailed just under the crossbar.

Polk County’s Cole Pereira points to teammate Matias Akers after scoring the first goal in Wednesday’s match