NEPTUNE - With each consecutive win the Wall boys soccer team racks up, the competition has intensified and Wednesday marked the Crimson Knights' toughest challenge to date.

Wall had to figure out how to stop the Shore Conference's top scorer in Neptune senior Wilby Alfred, who entered Wednesday's Shore Conference Class B North showdown with 12 goals in seven games to lead the way at the Shore.

Wednesday's two biggest offensive plays, however, did not belong to Neptune's lethal striker but rather to the forwards on the other side of the field.

Senior Riley Powers scored the first goal of the game off a cross from sophomore Jake Pepe in the 57th minute, then returned the favor to Pepe in the 64th to give Wall the scoring punch it needed in a 2-1 win over the Scarlet Fliers - currently ranked No. 5 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10.

Wall senior Riley Powers. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

"We have a big rotation of forwards," Powers said. "Usually we don't, but that's pretty big this year. We have fresh legs coming in all the time, which is always good, and we all move the ball pretty well."

With the win over a Neptune team that also started the season on an unbeaten run of five games, Wall has now won eight straight since dropping its season-opener to Freehold Boro. Prior to this week, Wall had not defeated a team that currently sports a record of .500 or better, but its wins over top 10 teams Manasquan and now Neptune have further validated the current win streak.

Wall's best teams are always exceptional defensively, but the most unique part of this Wall squad is how the Crimson Knights have organized their attack. Normally a four-midfielder team, Wall has employed primarily a 4-3-3 formation to make use of its army of forwards, of which Wednesday's two scorers are a part.

"It's something people have probably never seen us play," Wall coach Garry Linstra said of the new look. "We just have so many kids who are offensively explosive with speed that we had to make an adjustment to fit the players that we have.

"The first couple scrimmages, we wondered if we were doing the right thing. It clicked for us in the last scrimmage against Point Boro and I think playing a really good game against Freehold Boro - even losing - gave us the confidence to stick with it."

With the game scoreless in the 57th, Pepe beat two defenders on the right side of the field and slipped the ball on the ground to the middle of the 18-yard box, where Powers gathered it and slammed a shot into the upper left of the goal for the opening score.

"Offensively, I think this is the best we have moved the ball all year," Powers said. "We have been working on getting the ball to the outsides and splitting the defenders and I think that came to fruition today."

On the second goal, Powers beat a defender around the edge on the left side and skipped a cross on the ground that made it's way to Pepe on the far right post. The sophomore settled the ball and ripped it in.

Powers has been an impact scorer for the prior two seasons but Pepe is a complete newcomer to the Wall soccer program. Not only did Pepe not play varsity soccer as a freshman - he was not even in the program. Now in his first year, Pepe has scored three goals while serving as a dangerous depth piece in the Wall attack.

"This is his first year playing with us," Powers said. "He was a basketball player last year and he has come out and made an immediate impact with his energy and his speed up top."

"Riley has done a great job not only scoring goals but also setting up other guys, and being a great team player, which has taken us to another level," Linstra said. "I almost see Jake as a younger Riley Powers. The strength, the speed and the tenacity are all there and he's come in and done an outstanding job."

While Powers and Pepe handled the scoring, defense was again Central to a Wall win on Wednesday. Senior Jeff Burdge and junior John Knight drew the primary duties in marking Alfred, with Burdge spending the lion's share of the time on him.

Both Burdge and Knight came in with insight on facing Alfred. Burdge plays on the same travel team as the Neptune striker while Knight is the son of Neptune head coach John Knight.

"I play with Wilby a lot so we knew that we have to play tight to his back at all times," Burdge said. "We can't let him turn with his explosive speed. If you let him have any time, he can just turn a rip a shot."

Neptune did make things interesting when it cut Wall's lead to 2-1 in the 77th minute. Junior defender Jett Tinik blasted a high-arching ball into the box from 40 yards out and it carried over sophomore keeper Sebastian Campanile and dipped under the post for a bizarre goal that cut Neptune's deficit in half.

After giving up a chance at a sixth straight shutout, the Wall defense tightened up and closed out the win.

"In the beginning, we were struggling defensively," Burdge said. "We have a new goalie who is only a sophomore and he has been stepping up big time with each game. We have been playing well, finishing the ball and just showing we're a well-rounded team."

 

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