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MANASQUAN — Senior attackman Charlie Curran already has the biggest goal in the history of Rumson-Fair Haven’s boys lacrosse program to his credit, and in another defining game for the Bulldogs it was Curran who once again came through in the clutch.

Curran scored the game-tying goal with just over three minutes to go, then scored the go-ahead goal with 2:34 left in regulation as Rumson rallied past Manasquan, 5-4, to win the NJSIAA South Jersey Group II sectional championship in another epic game between the Shore Conference juggernauts on Saturday at Vic Kubu Warrior Field.

“Off the timeout we saw a weakness in their defense and I ended up being the one to get the ball,” Curran said. “I just made a play and executed.”

Two years ago Curran scored in overtime when Rumson beat Mountain Lakes to win the Group I title, the first for a Shore Conference program. Now he’s helped send the Bulldogs back to a group final with the third sectional championship in program history. Rumson will take on North Jersey Group II champion Ramapo, which stunned Chatham, 10-8, in their sectional final. The Group II final is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Wednesday May 31 at Shore Regional High School.

Rumson-Fair Haven defeated Manasquan, 5-4, to win the NJSIAA Souh Jersey Group II championship. (Photo by Paula Lopez).

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Curran said. “We hate playing this team (Manasquan) because they’re so damn good. It’s a really big honor to beat them, especially on their home field, with all these people here in a great environment.”

Last year Rumson was humming along having already defeated Manasquan in the 2016 Shore Conference Tournament final, but the Warriors dethroned them in the sectional final to end their season. Since then Rumson has wanted another crack at Manasquan, and that chance came two weeks ago in the SCT final. Manasquan, however, won that game as well in an epic 8-7 victory for the Warriors’ first SCT title in program history. Reeling after the loss, Rumson knew if it took care of business and got back to the sectional final they would likely get a second chance at their rival.

“We’ve been looking forward to playing Manasquan since losing to them last year,” Curran said. “Losing in the Shore Conference hurt, so getting redemption now, it means more than anything in the world.”

“I’m speechless right now,” said Rumson senior goalie Conor Deverin, who stood tall in goal with eight saves. “I’m just really excited for us. These are my best friends I’ve been playing with since the fourth grade, so to do it with them and against Manasquan, to get redemption from the SCT and last year in the state sectional title game, is just a great feeling.”

Just as the Shore Conference Tournament ended with a wild final few minutes, the sectional championship followed a similar path. Curran’s game-tying and eventual game-winning goals came in a span of 51 seconds. Manasquan was able to gain possession and call timeout with 1:12 left, but Rumson’s ride forced a turnover by pushing the ball carrier out of bounds. Rumson looked poised to take the title, but it wouldn’t come that easily.

Manasquan defenseman Jack Mallett grabbled a ground ball with 25 seconds left, scanned the field and launched a desperation clear across midfield. On one bounce it found the stick of senior attackman Jarrett Birch, who had given the Warriors a 4-3 lead early in the fourth quarter with his state-leading 86th goal of the year. Birch raced into the box down the middle of the field and whistled a bounce shot that beat Deverin, but not the post. Birch’s shot bounced high off the left bar and out near midfield where Rumson’s Wyatt Feinberg picked it up to run out the clock. It was yet another parallel to the SCT final where Rumson had its final shot hit off the crossbar.

“He’s a great player and it’s a little scary when he’s running in like that,” Deverin said. “I didn’t know where he was going to shoot it. It was a little bit of deja vu there with us hitting the crossbar (in the SCT final). I’m just happy we got the win. Credit to Manasquan because they came to play today and they’re a great team.”

“I was trailing behind and as soon as he got the ball on his stick you’re like, ‘oh, man’, because you know he can shoot it from anywhere,” said Rumson senior midfielder Bryan Hess. “It popped off the pipe, Feinberg got the ground ball and it was just an amazing feeling.”

Deverin was the last line of defense for Rumson (21-3) and made some huge saves against the high-octane offense of Manasquan. In front of him was the standout defense corps of seniors Emmett Jennings, Dan Maloney and Stephen Edler, and they played about as well as they have all season to hold Manasquan to four goals.

“The guys in front of me played awesome,” Deverin said. “They kept shots to the outside and made my job easier.”

“We all just believed,” Jennings said. “We practiced hard and we practiced on grass to get ready for this (Rumson has a turf field while Manasquan plays on a grass field). We all had each other’s backs out there.”

Rumson used its speed and athleticism to force turnovers with its ride, one of which led to a goal by senior attackman Alex Werner that tied the score 3-3 with 36 seconds left in the third quarter.  Rumson also came away with several key ground balls. One of those critical pickups came in the Manasquan zone and led directly to senior attackman Colin Pavluk cutting Manasquan’s lead to 3-2 in the opening minute of the third quarter.

“The ground balls where huge in this game,” Hess said. “Squan is a great team and we knew we had to show up if we were going to beat them.”

Manasquan jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first quarter, a direct contrast to the first meeting this season when Rumson led 3-0 early in the game. Sophomore attackman Canyon Birch scored his 77th goal of the season when he cut to the front from X and rolled back to his left for a shot that beat Deverin 52 seconds into the game.

With 4:19 left in the opening quarter and Manasquan working with a man advantage stemming from an offside penalty, senior midfielder Devan Carroll took a pass from Canyon Birch and lasered a shot past Deverin to put the Warriors (21-2) up by two goals.

Rumson got on the board with 2:46 left in the first quarter when Pavluk threaded a pass inside to Oliver Heins, who spun and scored past Tom Pollock to make it 2-1.

Manasquan got its two-goal lead back midway through the second quarter when senior midfielder John Moran dodged in front from the right alley and scored on the short side. Manasquan held that 3-1 lead through halftime, but a slashing penalty with 10 seconds left in the half gave Rumson possession and a man advantage to start the second half. Pavluk’s goal that made it 3-2 came just before the penalty expired and off a pass inside from senior midfielder Garrett Sweely. Werner’s goal was also set up by Sweely after a clearing pass was intercepted by Jennings.

Manasquan took a 4-3 lead at the 7:27 mark of the fourth quarter when Moran found a cutting Jarrett Birch, who scored up high to put the Warriors back in front. Birch was hit late on the play and limped to the sideline where he collapsed in pain. Manasquan had a one-minute man advantage as a result and Birch was able to re-enter the game during the extra-man opportunity, but Rumson successfully killed off the penalty to keep it a one-goal game.

Curran’s tying goal came after junior midfielder Peter Lucas beat three Manasquan players on a clear, raced into the offensive zone and had his shot ring off the right post. Hess grabbed the rebound out of midair and moved the ball quickly to Werner at X. Werner then found Curran alone in front for a goal that knotted the score at four with 3:25 to play.

Less than a minute later Curran gave Rumson its first and only lead of the game when he drove hard downfield, faked right, dodged left and whipped a shot that found the back of the net with 2:34 left in regulation. After holding on for the remaining 154 seconds, Rumson finally had the revenge it had been waiting 365 days to exact.

“Losing last year really sucked the wind out of us, and this year our motto was to just keep working,” Jennings said. “This is a great group of guys and I’m so happy to win it with them.”

BOX SCORE

Rumson-Fair Haven 5, Manasquan 4

Rumson (21-3)      1 0 2 2 — 5

Manasquan (21-2) 2 1 0 1 — 4

GOALS — RFH: Charlie Curran 2, Oliver Heins, Colin Pavluk, Alex Werner; M: Canyon Birch, Jarrett Birch, Devan Carroll, John Moran.

ASSISTS — RFH: Garrett Sweely 2, Alex Werner, Colin Pavluk; M: Canyon Birch, John Moran.

SAVES — RFH: Conor Deverin 8; M: Tom Pollock 10.

SHOTS: Rumson, 31-28.