Warren Central soccer winning with defense

Published 8:26 am Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Statistically speaking, Warren Central’s 1-0 loss to Northwest Rankin last week was nothing too impressive. The Vikings allowed 31 shots and barely generated any offense of their own. At halftime, a frustrated coach Greg Head gave his players an earful about their performance.

After it was over, though, and the 1-0 halftime score held up as a final, Head was singing a different tune. The Vikings’ young, rebuilt defense held strong after being under siege all night against one of the best teams in Mississippi. It was the kind of test they needed to build their confidence, no matter the outcome, and the kind of defensive performance Warren Central’s program is becoming known for.

“Defense wins games. It’ll take us pretty far. Especially if we can shut down a team like that,” senior defender Jacob Cochran said.

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In seven games this season, Warren Central (6-1) has only allowed two goals and posted five shutouts. It has 16 shutouts in its last 26 games, going back to the start of the 2015-16 season.

The strong performance by his defense so far this year has been a surprise to Head, who had to replace three starters and only had one coming back from his first unit. Cochran and junior Treyce Keyes have stepped into the void and anchored the reworked defense while a rotating cast of newcomers has provided support.

“We had a brand new defense. Jacob was the only returning defender we had, and I’m thinking we’ve got to start from scratch,” Head said. “So they’ve done a great job. I’ve even had a couple of young kids in there that have stepped up and did a good job, and I know I can bring them off the bench if I need them.”

The secret to the defense’s success so far, Cochran said, has been the same as it was a season ago — a talented group of players who work well together. Cochran, who was in more of a supporting role last year, said he also learned from watching his predecessors and has applied those lessons now that he’s in charge of the back line.

“Good team chemistry. Me and Treyce, and Zane (Flaharty) and Brandon (Gilliam), all of them, we’re all really good friends and work good together,” Cochran said. “Me watching the seniors last year and learning from John Austin (Burris) and Elliott (Stockett), it’s really helped a lot. I learned the game from them.”

Warren Central’s defense only allowed a total of 21 shots in its first five games, and held Clarkdale and Vicksburg without a shot. When opponents have broken through, the goal keepers have been there to serve as the last line of defense.

Junior Raymond Rimmey only allowed one goal in the first five games of the season. Sophomore Chase Graham, the normal starter, returned last week after playing with the football team until mid-November and didn’t seem to miss a beat.

Graham had seven saves in a 2-0 win over Richland in his first game back on the pitch, and 14 in the loss to Northwest Rankin. Four of Graham’s saves against Northwest Rankin were of the diving variety, after the Cougars had gotten through the defense and taken shots from point-blank range.

“Amazing. He’s got amazing hands, great reactions, everything. He’s great,” Cochran said of his keeper.

With the Vikings’ defense holding firm, Head said it will eventually pay dividends in other areas of the field. The offense scored 18 goals in the first five games, but only had two against better teams from Richland and Northwest Rankin. Knowing the defense can hold its own, Head said, will allow him to tinker with the Vikings’ offensive formation and take more chances.

That will likely come later in the season, though. Head was quick to come back and point out that the defense is still young and evolving, and its best days are ahead.

“We even looked at trying to go to a 3-5-2 because the defense is working so well together, if we can cut it down to three defenders when they’re only running one up top it may help us in the midfield more,” Head said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re looking at doing that in the future.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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