Polk County's Riley Ballentine soars to head away a Triad Math and Science threat during Monday's match

Playoff survival, when teams are typically evenly matched, is often a matter of which side delivers in big moments and perhaps gets the better of a break or two.

Such proved the case Monday for Polk County.

Senior goalkeeper Cade Bright again provided a defensive spark, and the Wolverines rode that momentum to a 3-1 victory over Triad Math and Science in the opening round of the state 1A playoffs.

Polk County’s first playoff win since the pandemic-delayed 2020 season sends the Wolverines (10-9-1) to North Rowan on Thursday for a second-round contest. The Cavaliers defeated South Stokes 4-3 on Monday for the first soccer playoff win in school history.

Triad (8-8-1) disrupted Polk County’s attack for much of the evening with solid play in midfield as well as its team strength and speed and forged a 1-1 tie with a goal early in the second half.

A hand ball on the Wolverine defense minutes later then provided the Bengals with a penalty kick. But on the verge of Triad taking the lead, Bright turned aside that free kick – his second straight match with a save of a penalty – keeping the score even.

“Cade keeps us in the game again,” said Polk County head coach George Alley. “We go down 2-1 there, I don’t know.”

Good play then led to good fortune. With 12:57 remaining in the match, Nate Martinez took possession deep in Triad’s end and lofted a high chip shot toward the net. It seemed a routine stop, but as the Triad goalkeeper reached up to snare the shot, the ball instead glanced off his hands and bounced into the goal, giving Polk the lead.

“I thought we got lucky,” Alley said. ” I feel bad for the goalie, to give up a goal like that where he just took his eye off the ball, because his hands seemed pretty good and he seemed like a good keeper.

“So just opportunistic and we caught a break.”

Tanner Osborn congratulates Sebastian Azar after his goal in the first half of Monday’s match

Triad pressed hard for a tying goal in the waning minutes; Bright kept Polk alive with one save where he leaped and tipped a shot that deflected off the crossbar.

The Wolverines then sealed the win in the final seconds as Cooper Meyer pressed deep down the left sideline, pushing the ball away from the onrushing Triad keeper, then fought through two defenders to fire a shot into the empty net for the clinching goal.

“I would like to get that insurance goal a little sooner, but that’s the kind of stuff that Cooper does,” Alley said. “That’s Cooper right there.”

Polk grabbed a 1-0 lead midway through the first half. Sebastian Azar raced to a ball played into Triad’s end of the field that rolled into the upper third of the penalty area. The speedy Azar beat the Triad goalkeeper to the ball by perhaps a half-step, nudging it aside, then hit a slow rolling shot that just stayed inside the far post, putting the Wolverines in front.

That would be it for Polk’s scoring, though, until the late fireworks, the Wolverines relying on their defense to keep their postseason hopes alive.

“They shrunk the field on us and put us under a lot of pressure in midfield,” Alley said. “They’re strong and fast and well-coached, and they took away the time and space early on and it took us a long time to get adjusted.

“I made some adjustments in the back and moved some people around. Moved Charlie (Jackson) over to the side, switched Charlie and Jasper (Azar), and they started combining. Moved James (Purtill) back and into midfield and we started combining the ball and I thought we had the better of play at the end.”

Polk County’s Owen Highsmith uses some fancy footwork to control possession during the first half of Monday’s match