Seconds remaining, an Owen shot screaming toward the goal, Polk County defender Carson Marshall had just one thought Wednesday night.
“I saw it coming and thought, ‘Uh-oh’,” Marshall said.
Marshall cast that thought aside, then did the same to the Warhorses’ last hope for a game-tying goal. The Polk junior made Senior Night one to remember, kicking away Owen’s last-ditch effort to preserve a wild 3-2 win at G.M. Tennant Stadium.
An emotional, controversial, frenetic final 10 minutes fell in Polk’s favor thanks in no small part to Marshall, whose presence on the goal line in the final seconds proved fortuitous as he deflected – meeting the shot nearly waist high with his foot – what looked to be a certain goal high into the air as time ran out.
But there were standout performances everywhere as the Wolverines (11-8-1, 8-2) won their sixth straight match, moved into second place in the Western Highlands Conference and improved their position for what is likely to be another state 2A playoff berth, all while rebounding from a 3-0 loss to Owen earlier this season.
“I felt like we gave them a couple of goals on really bad breakdowns at their place,” said Polk County head coach Lennox Charles. “Tonight we were able to keep close and get a lead. I told the guys I don’t think they expected this tough a game from us, based on the first game.”
Marshall also played a role in the game-winning goal, his long throw-in eventually finding the feet of senior Brett Phipps, who tapped it into the net with 18:28 remaining to snap a 2-2 tie.
Owen (11-6-2, 9-3), which had scored two second-half goals in a four-minute span to rally from a 2-0 deficit, immediately surged again, and nearly scored a minute later, only to see Polk goalkeeper Wilson Edwards turn aside one shot with a kick save, then stop a followup from point-blank range with an assist from Luis Hernandez.
Edwards turned aside every other Owen try before being involved in a play that tossed fuel onto the emotional fire building in the waning minutes.
With just over three minutes remaining in the match, an Owen shot ricocheted off the crossbar above Edwards and high into the air. As it came down, Edwards leapt to corral the free ball, falling to the ground with it in his hands. The ball bobbled a bit as Edwards fell, and an Owen player kicked it from Edwards’ grasp, both knocking it into the goal and hitting Edwards in the face.
Owen players celebrated and ran back to midfield. Polk players, as well as the head referee, gathered around Edwards. After making certain he was OK, the head referee conferred briefly with the linesman on that end of the field before waving off the goal, setting off a frenzied Owen protest.
“By rule, it should be a foul if the goalkeeper has his hand on the ball and has possession. You can’t kick it out,” Charles said. “It was a bang-bang play. If I were on his side, I would have argued the call as well.”
Phipps scored the opening goal of the match, tallying in the first half with an assist from Akers to give the Wolverines a 1-0 lead at the break. Akers then extended the margin to 2-0 10 minutes into the second half, heading in another long throw-in from Marshall as seniors accounted for all three Polk goals.
The Warhorses then fashioned their two-goal response moments later, setting the stage for an unforgettable final 20 minutes.
“As always happens, our seniors stepped up,” Charles said. “We earned this tonight.”
Polk County ends its regular season with two away matches, traveling to Hendersonville on Monday and Madison on Wednesday.