Southern Tops Brick, Remains Unbeaten in Boys Soccer

By David Biggy | Oct 02, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Southern’s Nico Leonard (left) celebrates with teammate Jack Pleyn after scoring the Rams’ third goal during a 3-1 victory over Brick on Sept. 30.

Stafford Township — TO WORD

Back in 1989, when Guy Lockwood was a junior at Southern Regional High School, the boys soccer team won the Shore Conference Class A South championship. Now 30 years later and head coach of the program, Lockwood’s Rams have a shot at winning it again.

Jackson Memorial and Central Regional stand in the way of that feat.

“We’re confident we can play with any team in the Shore (Conference), but we’re not too confident,” said Nico Leonard, who buried the last goal of the Rams’ 3-1 win over division rival Brick on Sept. 30, sending Southern into October unbeaten at 8-0-1. “We’re happy with what we’ve done so far, but we’re not there yet. We still have some things to do.”

At the midpoint of the season, the fact Southern is unbeaten is a story in itself. But Lockwood is most impressed with his team’s defense.

“I don’t recall a Southern team being unbeaten at this point of the season,” he said. “And we definitely never gave up only three goals through the first nine games. That’s the story to me, so far, that our team defense has been fantastic.”

In nine games, the Rams have outscored their opponents 23-3 and registered five shutout wins. The other shutout was a scoreless tie against Toms River South on Sept. 10. Besides the Brick Green Dragons, the only other teams to score single goals in a game have been Manalapan (Sept. 4) and Atlantic Tech (Sept. 16).

“We have a very composed group of players this season,” Lockwood said. “This is a very intelligent group. They face adversity and respond well. They don’t really have to get riled up to perform, and they save their emotion for after the game, when they win.”

Following a scoreless first half on Monday, the Rams’ composure showed throughout the second half as they quickly grabbed the lead, added to it soon after and, even after Brick scored its only goal, finished strong with another goal late in the contest.

With the first touch for the second half, Southern swiftly worked the ball down the right side of the field. Kevin Kiernan ran onto the outer edge of the penalty area before crossing it deep into the box, where Ryan Leavitt one-touched it into the goal, 23 seconds into the half.

Just a few minutes later, Martin Rojas dribbled a ball toward the middle and then slipped a pass through a pair of Brick defenders and onto the feet of Kiernan, who settled the ball forward and blasted a shot into the goal from 15 yards, making it 2-0 with 36 minutes left.

“At the half, Coach told us to just stay calm and keep creating opportunities,” Kiernan said. “We knew we could get it done on offense. We just had to stay composed and get the ball into the net. Once we were up, it was smooth sailing.”

Not quite. The Green Dragons had a few moments during which they put the Rams on their heels, which included the 53rd minute, when Brick worked the ball deep for a corner kick that was ultimately converted to cut the deficit to one.

But even as the minutes ticked away and the game remained a one-goal contest, Southern remained in control, with both the pace of play and sustained offensive pressure. Eventually, with just less than two minutes to go, Leonard got to a ball in the penalty area, worked his way through a pair of defenders and calmly delivered a low shot into the right corner past the diving goalkeeper.

“We have a patient, organized team,” he said. “We don’t let our heads get low. We’re able to stay composed and finish when we get our opportunities. We keep them up and keep battling until we win the game.”

Lockwood said that aspect of his team is different than other squads in recent years.

“In the first half, we had seven shots, so I think our guys knew it was going to come,” he said. “When it was 2-1, we didn’t start firing shots from 30 yards. Because that’s what a desperate team does. Our guys know their best chance to score is behind the back line, and they keep plugging away until they get those opportunities. All our goals were inside 18 yards, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

In a 1-0 win over Toms River North on Sept. 26, Brandon Notte assisted Leavitt for the only goal of the contest. Three days earlier, in a 4-0 win over Shawnee, Notte scored twice, while goalkeeper Kayce Bennet tallied 10 saves to maintain the shutout.

“We’re playing really consistent soccer,” Kiernan said. “We just want to keep going with that and win as many games as possible.”

— David Biggy

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