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WALL TWP. - The standard for Wall's boys soccer team when it comes to defense is posting shutouts, which last year's all-senior defense did six times in a row during the NJSIAA Tournament.

This year's defense is steadily beginning to look like last year's unit and while Tuesday's performance did not feature a clean sheet, one goal allowed against a team averaging five goals per game might as well be.

Wall - the No. 7 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - locked up No. 6 Colts Neck during the second half, scored two goals to erase a halftime deficit and walked off the field at Wall Municipal Complex with its perfect record intact thanks to a 2-1 win over the Cougars.

Wall senior Jake Pepe celebrates his goal Tuesday vs. Colts Neck. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Wall senior Jake Pepe celebrates his goal Tuesday vs. Colts Neck. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Senior Jake Pepe scored the equalizer off a corner kick by senior defender Christian Cosenza in the 55th minute and junior Emmett Aravich won it with a 68th-minute strike off an assist from junior Terence Byrnes following a free kick by senior Sean Southwell.

"We knew Colts Neck is the real deal," Pepe said. "They've got a great attack and we knew we had to shut down their goal-scorers - lock down, stay on their back and Sean and Kyle (Horowitz) did a great job, as well as Christian and Danny (Hyde) of really sticking to them and not letting them have any time."

Both Shore Conference Class B North front-runners entered Tuesday's match 12-0 and the two teams will meet again Friday in Colts Neck, with a Wall win or tie giving the Crimson Knights sole possession of first place to finish the season and a Colts Neck win resulting in a tie.

During the first half, Colts Neck looked the part of a team that had outscored its opponents by an aggregate of 62-5 in 12 games. While the Cougars scored only one goal in the first 40 minutes - a header by junior Tom Samaras on a long diagonal pass from outside fullback Vivam Gandhi in the 34th minute - they generated dangerous opportunities against a defense that is perennially one of the Shore's best and a step up in competition relative to Colts Neck's previous opponents this season.

In addition to Samaras's goal, Colts Neck created a chance for junior forward David Tuschmann midway through the half, but junior goalkeeper Joe Gisoldi saved the breakaway shot by the Shore's No. 2 goal-scorer (19 goals).

After conceding a 6-2 advantage in shots to Colts Neck in the first half, Wall turned the tide in the second half with an effort that kept the Cougars to three shots.

"We had to make sure David Tuschmann wasn't turning and we were just locking down," Cosenza said. "Communication was our whole thing and we just had to keep our head in it the whole time. We knew they have scored a lot of goals, but that didn't matter today. We had the same amount of goals against coming in."

The defensive effort and pressure finally turned into scoring in the 55th minute, when the Crimson Knights earned one of their five second-half corner kicks. Cosenza swung a left-footed service that curled toward the far corner of the goal and Pepe elevated over two defenders and goalkeeper Aidan Rowohlt to head in the equalizer.

Wall was somewhat limited on corner kicks with specialist and senior outside midfielder Nico DellaPietro hobbled by an ankle injury that kept him out for part of the first and second halves before he returned to finish the game. That opened up a chance for Cosenza, whose dominant left foot proved to be an asset on corners from the right side of the field.

"I'm the only lefty on the team and yesterday at practice, we realized that the sun was going to be right in the goalie's eyes on that side of the field," Cosenza said. "They just kept telling me to put it far post and Jake would be there and that's what happened."

"Christian has a great left foot and we worked on it in practice the other day and he was just putting them on the money," Pepe said.

Colts Neck junior David Tuschmann (left) and Wall senior Christian Cosenza (right). (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Colts Neck junior David Tuschmann (left) and Wall senior Christian Cosenza (right). (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Offensive contribution was a staple of last year's back four and Wall got plenty of that on Tuesday - first with Consenza and later with Southwell. In the 68th minute, Southwell blasted a low free kick into the box from just inside midfield. After it ricocheted off a Colts Neck defender, Byrnes took a swing at it and it rolled to Aravich, who drilled it in from eight yards out.

Gisoldi is also a new starter, albeit a somewhat unexpected one. Last year's starter, Sebastian Campanile, was set to come back as a senior but a hip injury knocked him out of action this season. Consenza was a candidate to take over in net, but he proved to be more valuable as a central defender next to Southwell while Gisoldi minded the net.

"We have all been playing together since we were eight years old," Cosenza said. "Moving back to the field wasn't an issue for me, I just had to improve my footwork a little bit. Plus, JoJo (Gisoldi) is a great goalie. We knew we were going to trust him. That save he made on Tuschmann, that was a great save. Our defense is what makes the offense and our defense is gelling right now."

Wall also may have benefited from playing an overtime game vs. Matawan in its final tune-up before taking on Colts Neck. While the Cougars had won all 12 of their games by at least two goals, Wall was coming off a win in which it needed extra time to put away an upset-minded opponent.

"I guarantee that if it wasn't for that Matawan game, we would not have been able to come back or hold them off," Cosenza said. "Knowing what it's like to have to play all 80 minutes really paid off."

After its win, the Crimson Knights are one of only two remaining teams in the Shore Conference to have won all of its games in 2020. The other is Ranney, which has only played seven times and is currently shut down for precautionary reasons related to COVID-19.

Wall has not suffered an official loss in 19 matches, dating back to a loss to Christian Brothers Academy just before the start of the 2019 NJSIAA Tournament.

"This group is really special," Pepe said. "We've really built up, even with the losses from last year. Our defense has really come together and gelled well, which has been a huge part of our success."


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