Andrew Erickson | Trib Live
In a six-day span last week, Peters Township’s boys soccer team played games against Bethel Park, Upper St. Clair and Canon-McMillan. This week and the start of next week bring games against Baldwin, Mt. Lebanon and Bethel Park in an eight-day span.
Checking in with his team Friday, the day after Peters Township’s 4-1 win at rival Canon-McMillan, he sensed his players were physically and emotionally drained. That’s life in Section 2-AAAA, which produced the past 10 WPIAL Class AAA boys soccer champions and 13 of the past 14.
The Indians’ section schedule is a war of attrition, Peters coach Bob Dyer said, but it is a war in which they are outflanking their opponents.
“I don’t know if there’s anyone that’s played a harder schedule than we’ve played, and I think the defense has done a great job,” Dyer said. “I think that’s been pretty much a team-wide effort from the goalie all the way up to the forwards.”
Peters Township’s attack produced 18 goals in its first nine games and is one of the team’s most experienced units. Rex Heuler, a senior co-captain, returns at forward/outside midfielder, and is joined on the attack by several returners, including junior forwards Bryce Gabelhart and Logan Brinsky, junior midfielder Luke Kelly and senior midfielder Evan Carrington.
The Indians entered their game last Tuesday against Upper St. Clair with the Panthers having not allowed a goal in the first three weeks of the season. Peters Township broke through for a 1-0 victory.
With added experience, the group’s confidence and timing has improved. Now a senior who is more well-versed in the week-to-week grind of varsity soccer, Heuler said he is more poised, as are the rest of the team’s returning players.
“I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable around the ball. My first couple years, I was kind of nervous, scared to make a mistake,” Heuler said. “Once you realize that you’re still going to be on the field if you make a mistake, it’s a lot easier to calm down and play your game.”
The Indians are like most teams in that they occasionally bring up past championship runs as motivation. In reminiscing about the 2014 PIAA Class AAA title run, the team’s conversations touch on not only the championship itself but also what got the Indians to that point.
A major contributing factor in 2014, Dyer said, was the defense’s shutdown capabilities. The Indians allowed six goals that season, including only one during a four-game span in the PIAA playoffs.
In a nine-game unbeaten streak (7-0-2) to begin the 2016 season, No. 2 Peters Township has five shutouts and yielded no more than one goal in any game.
A large reason for opponents’ weak offensive outputs is second-year starting goalkeeper Justin Gamble, who credited the play of junior defender Kyle McFerran, senior defender Tom O’Hare and junior sweeper Matt Stuck for his favorable goals-against average.
“If you don’t give up goals, you can’t lose the game,” said Gamble, who said he has been playing goalie since he was 9. “We think that’s the most important part of the game.”
Entering this season, Dyer knew his team had talent. He knew they were relatively healthy and fit. The final step, he said, was growing by diving head-first into a tough section slate.
“They understand how to handle it, and they’re more mature, so we benefit from it,” Dyer said. “You can’t just tell kids how it’s going to be until they experience it. They’re not going to believe you anyway.”