Last Line of Defense
Warren enters final regular-season game having allowed just four goals
NORTH WARREN — Eighty-eight to four.
That’s the goal differential for the Warren boys soccer team this fall.
In 13 games played, the Dragons have allowed just four goals.
And almost every member of the team, as well as the coaching staff, remembers the four goals like they were yesterday.
After outscoring District 10 Region 4 opponents 39-0 over the first five games of the season, Warren allowed two goals — including a fluke indirect kick to trail for the first time — to Meadville on Sept. 26.
“For the Meadville game, we had three senior captains out,” head coach Denny Flatt recalled at practice Tuesday. ” … We knew if we only gave up two with those guys out there was a good chance we could do some things.”
“(Goalkeeper) Alex (Ferry) let the indirect kick go because nobody had touched it and it actually bounced off the goalpost on to somebody’s foot,” assistant coach Chris Darling said. “Bad luck on that.”
The Dragons allowed their first home goal of the season at War Memorial Field three days later in a 5-1 win over Saegertown.
“Of the four goals we’ve given up this year, three were just (bad),” Flatt said. “One was just a guy kicking the ball as hard as he could and it went under.”
Then on Monday, Warren fell behind for the second time all season when Saegertown scored in the first five minutes of the game, but the Dragons rallied for a 6-1 victory.
“That one was a miscommunication where the goalkeeper actually hit the defender running at him as he tried to clear,” Darling said. “It wasn’t a defensive breakdown.”
While 88 goals certainly pop off the page and offensive names like Parks Ordiway, Wes Kiehl, Mark Lynds, JT Blum and Ian Darling are likely the first to come to mind when discussing the Dragons, their Region 4 championship and the possibility of a perfect regular season after Thursday’s game in Titusville, are due in large part to their defense.
“As a team, defensively, we pressure the ball a lot,” senior defensive midfielder John Page said at practice Tuesday afternoon. “We communicate a lot. We know where everybody is. When we win the ball back, a big part of it is not just the defense winning the ball and kicking it. The defense wins the ball and then we play with it. We keep it. That really is eliminating the other team’s chances which has resulted in only four (goals) against us.”
Senior goalkeeper Alex Ferry has been in net for all 10 shutouts and has been credited with 25 saves.
“As a goalkeeper, we’d like it to be zero,” Ferry said of the number of goals against. “Having that big of a differential is really good.”
Right outside back Sean Duckett is the lone senior starter on the back line.
“We were striving for less than five (goals against) for the entire season,” Duckett said. “So far we’ve hit that mark. They have been complete accidents and probably shouldn’t have happened.”
Sophomore Jack Darling is a returning starter at center back while fellow sophomore Ethan Best starts are left outside back.
“I’ve always known Jack as a good player,” Duckett said. ” … I trust him. He’s been my left man and he has my back.”
The other starter on the back end is junior center back Ricky Madril while sophomore Holden Creal has spelled the outside backers at times.
“Ricky and Ethan both have incredible speed on the sidelines,” Duckett said. “They are able to hold off … and wait for us to get back to cover them. … Ricky especially is not afraid to get in there and get the ball, and then clear it up. He has amazing control with the ball once he gets the steal from the tackle.”
Despite being just a sophomore, Jack Darling has impressed during his second season on the varsity squad. Being the son of the assistant coach and younger brother of forward Ian also helps.
“We thought with Jack back there we would have a good defense,” Flatt said. “Jack has definitely been a leader on the field.”
The back line is also supported by Page, who has controlled several of the Dragons’ games thus far this season.
“John Page can take a ball with his chest, spend 20 seconds moving it around from the defenders to get where he wants and really control the midfield,” Chris Darling said. “When you control those types of pieces of the game, it makes it really frustrating for the opposing team.”
While scoring goals is usually the most fun part of soccer, to a man the Dragons follow the old saying: “Defense wins championships.”
That will likely become even more important Monday, Nov. 2 when Warren hosts the Region 5 No. 2 seed in the District 10 Class 3A semifinals at War Memorial Field.
“I definitely think it’s going to get a lot more serious,” Madril said. “We are going to get a lot better competition. There’s definitely a big test coming.”
“We really just have to get up to playoff speed,” Best added.
The Dragons (13-0-0) have steamrolled Region 4 competition this season, but they have played easier competition and smaller schools — five Class 2As and two other Class 3As than they are accustomed to due to COVID-19.
“When you go into the playoffs, everybody is 0-0,” Jack Darling said. “Nothing in the regular season means anything. We just have to keep proving what we’ve been proving all year.”
Region 5 features Class 3As Cathedral Prep, General McLane and Harbor Creek as well as Class 4As Erie and McDowell.
“Everything changes. Nobody cares about your record,” Ferry said. “There is just more motivation to beat you. Everything has to be faster and everything has to be better.”
Warren hopes to advance further than last season when it lost to Fort LeBoeuf in the District 10 quarterfinals. In that game, the Bison tied the game on a free kick and won it off a corner-kick rebound with 28 seconds left.
“Playoff soccer is different than the regular season,” Flatt said. “If I was the other team and you were 13-0 or 14-0, that’s a bigger target. … Everybody wants to knock off the undefeated team.”