You could question the call, and Polk County certainly did so, briefly.
But the foul on the Wolverines stood, and soon stood Union Academy some 20 yards in front of Polk County’s goal, a free kick awaiting with a chance to tie Thursday’s 1A third-round playoff match.
Oh, and just 15 seconds left on the clock to do it.
Tense atmosphere in G.M. Tennant Stadium? You bet.
But the Union free kick clanged off the crossbar, then bounced about in front of the goal before being kicked over the netting and out of bounds. The final seconds ticked off, and Polk County had secured a 2-1 victory.
The win sends the Wolverines (14-10-1) into the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2008. Polk County will host Gray Stone Day in that match, set for Saturday in Tennant Stadium at 5 p.m., with a berth in the 1A West Regional championship at stake.
There’s a decent chance it won’t be as exciting as this one.
Union Academy (15-8) evened the match at 1-1 early in the second half, and for the next 30 minutes the two teams fought furiously for a go-ahead goal. Polk County had a long blast from Jordan Wyatt just tipped away, a Grayson Jones cross roll across the front of the goal untouched, an Isaac Edwards shot from well inside the penalty area deflected.
But in the 73rd minute, Alex Pearson took a long shot from the center of the field that Union goalkeeper Luke Mullen pushed aside. The ball rolled toward Mullen’s right, where Mateo Mendoza took possession, moved around a defender and drilled a shot just inside the left post, beating Mullen and putting Polk in the lead.
“I just got to it, and he cut inside so I cut outside,” Mendoza said. “I just shot and hoped for the best. I was so excited. It feels like we’re making history.”
The excitement didn’t end as Union upped its offensive pressure in the waning minutes. With 1:25 remaining, the Cardinals had a flurry in front of the Polk goal, the ball bouncing from foot to foot until Wolverine goalkeeper Jonah Wyatt smothered it, preserving Polk’s lead just before the wild final minute unfolded.
“We played to the very end. We had to. That’s a good team,” said Polk County head coach Josh Trejo. “I’m very proud of this team. They played with heart. After the game, they were all emotional because they wanted to win this one so much. It’s an absolute blessing.”
Polk County snapped a scoreless tie late in the first half as Jordan Wyatt launched a high-arcing shot from the right wing, looking to find Clark Phipps at the back post. Instead, the ball drifted into the top left corner of the net, giving the Wolverines the lead.
It was the second goal of the playoffs for Wyatt, who helps anchor Polk County’s defense.
“Honestly, I was just trying to cross it and it happened to go in,” Wyatt said. “It’s happened three times. I don’t know if it’s luck or what, but I’ll take it.”
“Jordan’s been hitting those all season,” Trejo said. “Whether it’s luck or not, they keep going in.”
Union’s leading scorer, Gaston Moise, briefly shook free and scored three minutes into the second half to tie the match at 1-1. That would be the last score until Mendoza’s winner.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Wyatt said. “I’m so happy. The last time we’d been this far was my freshmen year, and now we’re going farther than that.”