LOCKPORT — Flexing their boys soccer muscles on the road Monday, the Niagara-Wheatfield Falcons opened their 2019 Niagara Frontier League season with an impressive 3-0 victory over the Lockport Lions.
Seniors Jake Vallas and Andrew Ramballi and eighth-grader Noah Morelli all found the net for the Falcons (1-0 NFL), last year's league runner-up to Kenmore East.
While head coach Jeff Hulshoff's Lions (0-1 NFL) showcased their brand new stadium, the Falcons showcased the type of play that will make them among the teams to beat this year in both the NFL and Section VI.
“It's six practices and very early for a first game, but I'm very impressed the way we jelled and the overall team effort that we put in,” Coulter said.
“We have a great core of seniors coming back this year, but we had a great performance by some of our underclassmen, we had an eighth grader score a goal today and a couple freshmen out there and a 10th grader in the net (Josh Morelli shutout), so it's kind of an interesting mix for us.”
Both teams had their scoring opportunities early on in the first half, but neither team could find the back of the net. The closest chance came when a Falcons blast bounced off the crossbar at the 25-minute mark.
Moments later, Vallas, a four-year starter and First Team NFL all-star last year, made a nice move to the inside and got hauled down in the penalty area. His penalty kick went bottom right and it was 1-0 Falcons with 9:11 to go. The goal was the historic first in the NFL regular season at the Lions' new artificial-turf complex behind the school.
“This year, we came with a big team. Everyone of them are skilled players. As seniors, we had to show them what to do early on in the game. I put one in the back of the net,” Vallas said.
“It's a great field. Nice and big. I can see us improving on our conditioning and we'll work on that, but I think we can go the distance this year.”
Ramballi made it 2-0 midway through the second half. Lions senior keeper Ryan Bewlay made a tremendous save on a penalty kick by Vallas, but Ramballi was there to knock the rebound home.
“It's Vallas and I already knew he went to the left on the first PK, so I knew if I faked to the left, he would go to the right and made the save,” Bewlay said of his penalty kick save.
Our defense broke down too many times today,” Bewlay said. “We just got to work at it and get better.”
Noah Morelli made it 3-0 at about halfway through the second half when he took a pass just past midfield, dribbled in, beat a defender and found the back of the net with a shot left.
“It's a beautiful field —a lot for space a team like ours that likes to move the ball around,” coach Coulter said. “Having a big field like this is beneficial for us. Next up, we have Kenmore West on Thursday and we expect a tough game.”
Follow veteran US&J sports reporter/editor John D'Onofrio on Twitter at @JohnD'Onofrio7.