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Column: Thankful for extra kicks, tackles — and one big win

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | November 24, 2022 7:11 PM

As we gather around the giant yard bird that accompanies this holiday, the Polson Pirates can give thanks for the seasons they had.

It’s been enough time, hopefully. November 11-12 didn’t go easy on the purple and gold.

“In school on Monday, spirits were so low,” Tia Mercer said. “Everyone was so upset. Both teams were very hopeful.”

Polson had both its volleyball and football teams on the big stages: The volleyball team won its divisional and was at the State A tournament; the 9-0 football team was playing a State A semifinal game in Lewistown.

That neither exploit went well is no crime. Very few teams get to end the season with a win.

“The boys played their hearts out,” Mercer said, “and it didn’t come out in our favor. So Monday was a sad day at school.”

We should note here that Mercer, a senior midfielder on Polson’s soccer team, was the placekicker on the football team as well. She made a bunch of extra point kicks, missed a few, had a critical successful onside kick in a big game, and — like the boys — had her No. 7 jersey worn by a classmate on game day.

“You’re so lucky,” she told best friend, Clara Todd.

She also had a tackle in Polson’s win over Whitefish in the regular season finale.

“I kicked it deep,” she said. “And the Whitefish returner, he’s just getting through everyone and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s going to come down to me.’”

Using the Whitefish sideline Mercer made the stop — and ignited a Bulldog scrum. Confused, she ran back to her sideline where, to a Pirate, they asked: What did those guys say to you?

“Some of the boys were so mad, because they thought the Whitefish players were talking trash,” she said. “I said, ‘I don’t think so? I wasn’t really listening.’

“They got pretty protective. It was pretty cute.”

A four-year starter on the soccer pitch, Mercer felt way more butterflies in her first season on the gridiron.

“In a soccer game I’m more of a leader, and I never really leave the field,” she said. “In a football game if I mess up it’s a bigger deal, and I don’t have too many chances to redeem myself.”

Take Sept. 30, when things got more and more tense in Columbia Falls.

“We were losing, and I could not believe that we were losing,” she said. “Then I missed my third PAT (of the season), and I was like, ‘I hope it doesn’t come down to that.’ Which it looked like it could.”

Down 24-7, Polson had drawn to 24-20 when Mercer missed. Soon the Pirates were down 31-20 before closing to 31-26 and missing a two-point PAT.

“We’re down five points, and (assistant) Cody Steele — I just remember him looking at me and grabbing my helmet and saying, ‘OK, Tia, we need this onside. Let’s go,’ and then he hits my helmet.”

Tommy Sherry recovered it for Polson.

“Then it was like, OK, the ball’s in Jarrett Wilson’s hands,” she said. “He’s got this.”

The 32-31 victory was epic, pushing Polson’s record to 6-0 and giving Mercer a first. No matter what happens next — she might walk on for Carroll College soccer — no one can take Sept. 30 away.

“I’d lost to Columbia Falls every single game in soccer,” she said. “Bad. Terrible bad. Then we got outplayed the first half, and came back the second half. It was awesome. I loved it.”

Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 758-4463 or fneighbor@dailyinterlake.com.

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