EARLVILLE - An odd-bouncing soccer ball, a perfect Beckham-style bend, a daydreaming defender or a fleet-footed forward can all lead to a goal.

Pure luck can cause a goal.

Pure skill can cause a goal.

So far this postseason, nothing has caused a goal against the Earlville/Leland defense.

The Earlville/Leland defense has posted four shutouts in four postseason games entering Tuesday's sectional championship game.

"When they realized that we had shut out everybody so far in the postseason, you could see the eyes glitter a little bit, and hopefully, we can keep that up," says Earlville/Leland head boys soccer coach Roger Essmann. "I know we got our hands full. (Rockford Keith is) a great team. They're a fast team."

Earlville/Leland is scheduled to face Rockford Keith Country Day at 7 p.m. Tuesday on the field in Tiskilwa for the championship of the Class 1A Princeton Sectional.

This is Earlville/Leland's fourth consecutive trip to the state quarterfinals.

"Since the end of last year, I knew we could make it this far, and honestly, I think we can make it farther," says Earlville/Leland senior sweeper Trevor Becker.

Becker is the anchor of E/L's stingy defense. He is a third-year starter who vocally directs the defense from the field.

He combines with senior stopper Brad Nordlund, senior left fullback Joe Meyer and junior right fullback Andrew Abens to form one of the best defenses Essmann's had in his 28-year career at Earlville.

The 13 shutouts this season ranks fourth in program history. The 20 goals allowed this season ranks seventh in program history.

"They like to play together and they like to work together and they seem to work as a unit. That's a big key," Essmann says. "You can't be an individual out there. You have to work together. If you miss something, somebody else has got to be there. For the most part, that's worked out so far this year."

Constant talking on the field helps the defense play as a unit, which Nordlund sees as the defense's biggest of many strengths.

"We have good communication," Nordlund says. "We know each other and how we're going to react to the plays. We just know each other from being around each other for so long. We know what the other person's thinking and what to do."

Becker, Meyer and Nordlund all grew up in Earlville, and they played soccer together since they were 7 or 8 years old.

"We're pretty good friends and a tight group," Meyer says.

Abens is from Leland, but he has fit in well with the Earlville trio.

"They are helping me a lot. It's great," Abens says of the three senior defenders around him. "They are talking the whole time out there and helping my confidence when we're out on the field."

Abens brings a quality to the defense that is different from Becker, Meyer or Nordlund - brute strength.

"He's a brick wall," Meyer says of Abens. "He just runs through people."

With that brawn comes brains, too.

"Abens is a smarter player," Becker says. "He knows when to go after balls. If he can get it, he goes after it, and if not, he backs off and plays it smart."

Becker and Nordlund are both returning starters from last year. Abens and Meyer had to fight to earn their starting spots.

Essmann waited until about a month into the season before he consistently played the lineup of Abens, Becker, Meyer and Nordlund. The delay in determining the lineup pushed Abens and Meyer to perform, says Becker.

"I think they got way more serious in practice just to try to get a starting sport," Becker says. "They were playing harder in games and in practice."

The hard work earned Abens and Meyer two of the starting spots, and they helped Earlville/Leland make a fourth consecutive trip to the state quarterfinals.

"It's so much fun being out on the field with all the guys and winning," Abens said. "It was really exciting watching the guys win (last year), but it's much better being out on the field helping."

Eight minutes on the field Tuesday, and Earlville/Leland's defense could have shutout No. 5 of the postseason. Shutout No. 5 would send Earlville/Leland to the state semifinals for the first time in school history.

Do not count out another shutout because Abens, Becker, Nordlund and Meyer take it personal when opponents score.

"I think they are proud of what they do back there," Essmann said. "That's something you have to have. … Their job is to stop the other team and allow our offense to do its job. … They are very proud of what they do."

Erik Hall can be reached at 223-3200, ext. 195, or at sports@newstrib.com.


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