SUWANEE — After a slow start to the 2019 season, it wasn’t so much an identity that Peachtree Ridge’s boys soccer seemed to be searching for.
It was more of a direction to get to that identity.
“We had some struggles early on,” Lions coach Ryan Sutton said. “We knew we were a process in the making. It took us a little longer than normal to figure it out.”
Indeed, the Lions (6-3-1, 1-0) seem to have not only figured it out, but have turned a corner after winning their third straight game, and sixth in the last seven, with a 2-0 upset No. 4 state-ranked Collins Hill in their Region 6-AAAAAAA opener Tuesday night at Collins Hill.
Their early-season issues actually started even before their 1-2-1 start to the season, with an injury to Nishaan Patel, the lone returning defender from last year’s Class AAAAAAA state semifinal team, forcing Sutton to totally rebuild the entire Peachtree Ridge back row.
But with the development of newcomers like brothers Albert and Edwin Jang, Rio Onwumere and Dennis Lee, plus a stalwart in goal in Paarth Desai, the Lions have found more consistent defense, having allowed just five goals in its current seven-game run, four of which came in one game.
And that cohesive defensive work was on display in Tuesday’s win, as the defensive until withstood several challenges from a powerful Collins Hill offense to post its fifth shutout in the last seven games.
“Our back line dealt with (the Eagles’ game plan) well,” Sutton said. “And Paarth was quick off his line. He’s had some trouble with that throughout the year. We’ve given up some real sloppy goals (early in the season) in the back, and he was quick off his line to secure the win (Tuesday).”
Of course, Sutton came into the season knowing his team had a consistent source of offense with the return of Super Six forward James Williams.
Having set a goal for himself of doubling his scoring total from the previous season in each of his high school seasons of his career, the senior is nearly there just past the halfway point of the regular season.
In fact, with 17 goals on the season after scoring both tallies in Tuesday’s win, Williams is not only approaching the goal of doubling last year’s total of 10, he’s only one short of his career total coming into the 2019 campaign, and is only six goals away from matching Dalton Seckinger’s single-season school record of 23.
Still the individual accomplishments aren’t all that have motived him during the Lions’ current run.
“I’m looking for at least a goal every single game,” Williams said. “If I can get more, I’ll definitely take that. … I think the corner-turning game for us was (actually) before (Tuesday’s) game. We’ve been working for this. (Region play) is all that matters (to get into the state playoffs), but you can’t (wait to) turn the corner in region games. They all matter.”
Williams used plenty of his trademark speed and skill in his two-goal outing against Collins Hill.
However, Sutton sees a different trait in both of those goals that the prolific senior scorer has not used quite as much throughout his career.
And it is that ability to add to his skill set that he believes can make Williams and the Lions even more dangerous down the stretch.
“He’s just a quality, phenomenal player,” Sutton said of Williams. “He’s gotten better every year, and his goal production has proved that. But this year, he came in more fit with everything to prove still.
“His speed and his physicality — he didn’t do (the latter) the last three years. Just to challenge that ball (with a defender on him) just shows you exactly what kind of kid he is.”
Sutton also realizes that his team cannot rest on the laurels on Tuesday’s win with another tough region road game against a ranked opponent looming today at No. 5 North Gwinnett.
“(Winning the opener) is a huge deal. You’re either 1-0 or 0-1,” Sutton said. “Region head-to-head is huge. We’ve always played Collins Hill last game of (the) region (schedule) for the past two years and now it’s the first game of the year. So we knew we had to be better prepared early on because we know how good they are.
“Now we’ve got North Gwinnett, and they’re a top five team (in Class AAAAAAA) on the road, Friday. Like I said, Collins Hill is a great team, … and now we’ve got to start worrying about North.”