WORCESTER, Mass. -- Fred Pereira stood quietly in the back row of the visiting bleachers at Worcester State College's John Coughlin Field. The Ludlow High legend and North American Soccer League veteran always stays quiet behind the scenes these days, but admits he wasn't at ease watching his son lead the Lions to an eventual victory over New Bedford until the waning moments.
"We've been up 2-0 at the half and lost games," Pereira said quietly. "And this New Bedford team, they score so quick, so I didn't feel comfortable until the last five minutes of the game."
Forgive him, though, for the anxiety even as Ludlow dominated the pitch last night against the Whalers in the Division 1 state championship. In his legendary senior season of 1971 with the Lions, he scored 50 goals but couldn't lead them to a championship, falling 2-1 to these same Whalers in the state final.
But Fred can rest easy now. His son, Chris, took control of the match from the opening minutes, reeling off break after break through the New Bedford back line, en route to an easy-looking 4-1 victory that gave them their second state title in three years, and 16th overall.
"I always like to make my dad proud," Chris laughed. "And that's what we came out here to do tonight. But my dad wasn't the only one from way back when with a son on the team. So we're just glad that we could come out and make our community proud tonight."
New Bedford (19-2-3) came into the contest having allowed just 13 goals all season. But the connection between Pereira (two goals, assist) and fellow senior forward Alex Goncalves is one that demands marking from one's speediest defenders, and they showed why in the opening minutes. Less than five minutes into the contest, the two struck the opening goal for the Lions (16-2-5) with Pereira setting Goncalves up on the break, drawing Whalers goalkeeper Eli Ries off his line and beating him with a shot to the far post.
Pereira then made it 2-0 in the 23rd minute when he stole the ball deep in Whaler territory and beat Ries to his right from inside the 18-yard box, before closing out the scoring in the 50th minute with a one-timer from Goncalves, sliding across the goalkeeper's box and tapping it in with his heel.
"We watched them play in the (Eastern Mass) final (against Newton North), they're a talented group, and we knew if we let them play we were going to be in trouble," head coach Greg Kolodziey said. "So we tried to put some pressure on them and disrupt their flow. It seemed to work, we got the early goal, and that carried us for most of the game."
Special credit, then, can be given to junior midfielder Shaun Mello, who was tasked with marking New Bedford's physical forward Fernando Baptista, he of the double-overtime game-winner in Tuesday night's thriller over Newton North. Baptista got on the board with a 30-yard strike in the 43rd minute, but by then the Lions had already built a 3-0 lead and seized momentum.
"We knew Baptiste was going to try to control the game," he said. "We had a special kid that was up for the task to get him off his game. I think that worked a little bit, and he did a great job. He took him off his game a little bit."
As the minutes ticked off the clock, and the Lions' grip on their victory locked up, hugs and high fives were abound on the jubilant sideline. The capacity Ludlow supporting side, complete with Portugal flags and drums, roared on and even stormed the field to greet the champs. Chris was hounded by a sea of maroon.
Even old Fred couldn't help but let down his guard.