Bedford Bulldogs’ regular season winning streak continues into the playoffs
BEDFORD - The Bedford Bulldogs have been perfect all season. They won all 16 regular season games, entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed in Division I and have taken down two resilient opponents to advance to the state semifinals.
But the high-powered Bulldogs' perfect season has contained its share of difficulties.
'We've had an amazing season - our first season in Division I - and also we've found it tough as well,' head coach Stuart Pepper said. 'It's been a physically demanding sort of schedule. We've picked up injuries and all sorts of aches and pains, basically, but I think it's pulled this squad together.'
Captains Erik Martel and Casey Schehl have been beaten up, Pepper said, but other players have stepped to the challenge of filling their vacancies.
'Daniel Smushkin is a sophomore who has really stretched out in the last four or five games,' said Pepper. 'Jimmy Heald is another guy, another player that has stepped up when Martel and Schehl have been injured.'
Pepper said Martel and Schehl have been extremely impressive all season. They set a positive example of how to play soccer and how to be good competitors, he said, and players like Smushkin and Heald have taken notice.
'They've been unbelievable captains,' Pepper said. 'Both of them have carried injuries and fought through them.'
Another impactful player for the Bulldogs has been Bill Beubd. He anchors the Bedford defense, which never allowed more than one goal in a game all season. The Bulldogs continued that trend of staunch defensive play in the postseason, winning their games against Manchester Memorial 2-0 and Timberlane 2-1.
'Bill Neubd has just been an immense defender in the back,' Pepper said. 'He's been a strong reason why we're so hard to score against.'
Bedford has to manage two more wins to complete its undefeated season. No. 4-seed Manchester Central is up next on Thursday, Nov. 1. If the Bulldogs get to the finals, they play the winner of No. 2 Londonderry and No. 3 Hanover. The tournament's final playoff games are to be played at Southern New Hampshire University.
'It's been a tough end of season,' Pepper said. 'At the same time we're in the final four.'
Although they came away with wins in their regular season games against all three teams, each victory was by a single goal. The Bulldogs beat Hanover and Londonderry in back-to-back games mid-way through the season, both by 1-0 scores. Bedford closed out its regular season with a 2-1 win over Manchester Central on Oct. 20.
'It's just neck-and-neck,' Pepper said. 'We've beaten every team, but at the same time, they've all been close.'
Bedford's unbeaten streak hasn't gone unnoticed nationwide. The Bulldogs were recently ranked the No. 3 high school boys soccer team in New England and No. 23 in the country by the National Coaches Association.
'For a little, small school in New Hampshire, to actually be recognized on a skill level and a name level is just very unreal,' Pepper said. 'We're very humbled.'