For the Pepperell boys’ soccer team, it’s not always about scoring a lot of goals so much as it is keeping the ball out of the opponent's net.
It’s that defense-first mentality that has propelled the Dragons to an eight-game winning streak, during which Pepperell hasn't allowed a goal for five consecutive contests, thanks in no small part to goalkeeper Andrew Wilder.
“If you’re going to keep another team out of the net for 450 minutes, you have to get lucky,” Pepperell head coach Jacob Camp said. “But we’re playing with structure — how I want them to play. There’s been a good team concept of playing defense first before we do anything else.”
Wilder has been vital to the Dragons' defense.
“It helps to have kids that played for you last year and know what the expectations are. I thought he was the best goalkeeper last year, and this year he’s really starting to pick it up,” Camp said.
The Dragons’ most recent win came Tuesday in a 4-2 Region 7-AA win over Model in Shannon. Ramiro Alanis scored three goals for the Dragons in the win, and Lane Koch scored on a free kick.
The win pushes the Dragons’ record to 11-2-1 overall and 10-2 in the region, sitting just behind Coosa, which is in first place.
The Dragons’ two losses of the season came against region opponents Coosa and Gordon Central while the team was dealing with injuries. Ryan Hurst was injured before the season started and Koch was hurt in the 2-1 loss to Gordon Central and didn’t return until the Dragons faced the Warriors again three weeks later. The Dragons won that matchup 2-0.
Koch and Hurst, along with fellow team captain Alanis, have been integral to the Dragons’ success, and their contributions late in the season will be invaluable according to Camp.
“There’s a reason they’re captains,” Camp said. “They contribute on and off the field. If things get bad during a game, those are the three the team looks to. It’s all in different ways, but they all contribute, and they’re definitely the heartbeat of the team.”
Now that those players have returned, Camp is optimistic about the remainder of the season.
The Dragons face Armuchee today at 5 p.m. in Lindale and finish up region play April 16 at home against Model. The Dragons will face an Indians team today that is also finding success late in the season, coming out on top in seven of their last eight contests. Pepperell topped Armuchee 2-1 on March 12.
“We just have to play our game,” Camp said. “Armuchee is a solid squad, but I feel like we’re healthier now than the first time we played them. It's not easy to get wins in this region.”