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Athletes at any level will not typically admit to overlooking an opponent, which is why Holmdel junior Eric D’Aleo’s statement about his team’s anticipation for a rematch with Rumson-Fair Haven carries some weight.

Holmdel senior Jack Flanagan (right) battles Rumson sophomore Jamie Martin for the ball just before Flanagan would set up the game-tying goal. (Photo by Matt Manley)

“Ever since we lost to them, we haven’t been thinking about any other team,” D’Aleo said, referencing a Sept. 16 loss to the Bulldogs. “We had other games against other good teams, but all we could think about was getting another shot at Rumson.”

Holmdel dug out of a one-goal deficit and fought back for a 2-1 win Saturday over the previously-unbeaten Bulldogs – the No. 2 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 – to extend their unbeaten streak to six games and move into sole possession of first place in Shore Conference Class A Central.

D’Aleo converted the game-winning penalty kick in the 60th minute after junior Gino D’Agostino tied the game by finishing a through ball from Jack Flanagan in the 53rd.

“Every team at the beginning of the year is trying to figure out who they are and what they can do,” Holmdel coach John Nacarlo said. “Maybe Rumson was a little ahead of the game at the beginning of the year because they have so many seniors, but I just know that with us, we’ve been searching for who we are and how we’re going to play, and I think we found out a lot about ourselves today.”

Beating Holmdel 3-2 in the first meeting was a significant win for the senior-laden Bulldogs considering that the Hornets are three-time defending A Central champions and had not lost a home game since the 2009 season. Saturday, the Hornets went to Borden Stadium on the campus of Rumson-Fair Haven looking to regain control of a division they have owned since the 2010 season.

“The seniors were really letting us hear about it after the first loss (to Rumson),” D’Aleo. "They had never lost at home and they had never not won a division title, so that kind of raised the stakes. But we knew we had one more shot at them, and we weren’t going to go away without a fight.”

[onescreen item="5145667"]Rumson-Fair Haven broke a scoreless tie in the 50th minute on a goal by sophomore Jamie Martin off a corner kick by senior Chris Drummond. Drummond sent the ball from the left corner to the far side of the box, where senior Kieran Doherty sent it back to the left post. Martin’s first shot was rejected by Holmdel goalkeeper Tyler Machiano, but the sophomore finished his second chance for the 1-0 Bulldogs lead.

“We’ve had a bad habit lately of coming out flat to start the second half, and we did it again today,” Nacarlo said. “Rumson comes at you with a lot of energy, and we weren’t even close to matching it and it cost us a goal.”

A little more than three minutes after Rumson took the lead, Holmdel drew even. Flanagan threaded a pass to D’Agostino, who slotted a shot just inside the far left post.

Holmdel again created a chance in the 60th when senior Jason Kyriacou dribbled through two defenders and was taken down inside the 18-yard box. The takedown drew a foul call, which gave the Hornets a penalty kick for a chance to take the lead. D’Aleo buried his shot to the lower right corner.

Martin’s goal left Rumson with a 1-0 lead and an 11-4 shot advantage, but Holmdel switched from a 5-4-1 formation to a 4-4-2 and mounted an attack. From the time of the switch, Holmdel outshot Rumson 7-4.

“I had stressed to our backs that I wanted them to look to push up and attack, but we have some new guys back there and maybe they just aren’t comfortable doing that,” Nacarlo said. “By pushing guys up, it puts them in that mindset to attack, and the four guys in the back can still focus on defending.”

Rumson outshot Holmdel 15-11 with nine shots on goal to Holmdel’s five. Marchiano kept the Hornets in the game by making eight saves, including three acrobatic saves in the final four minutes of the first half to keep the Bulldogs off the board.

“I’ve told Tyler from Day One that he’s going to have his ups and downs because he’s a sophomore and he’s in his first year,” Nacarlo said. “The important thing is when you have your bad days you have to learn from them and get better. He’s had some rough moments, but he’s never let it get to him, and he stepped up big time today.”

Holmdel has been to two straight Shore Conference Tournament finals and three straight NJSIAA Group finals on top of the three straight division titles, but lost three All-Shore first-team players to graduation and three other starters on top of that.

“We don’t have the seniors like Rumson does, but we still have guys who have played in big games before,” Flanagan said. “They have talent, but they are just starting to play in these big games while we have guys who have played in them every year. They got us the first time around, but today I think we showed we still know how to win when the pressure is on.”

Box Score

Holmdel 2, Rumson-Fair Haven 1





Holmdel (8-1-1, 6-1-1)




Rumson-Fair Haven (8-1-1, 5-1-1)




Goals: (H) D’Agostino (Flanagan) 53’, D’Aleo (PK) 60’; (RFH) J. Martin 50’
Shots: Rumson-Fair Haven, 15-11
Saves: (H) Marchiano 8; (RFH) Tierney 3