RUMSON - With 80 career goals in his three-plus varsity seasons, Shore Regional senior forward J.T. Kessler is used to seeing multiple defenders man-marking him, so when he saw that Rumson-Fair Haven decided not to shadow him with a defender, he knew it was only a matter of time before he made the Bulldogs pay.

Kessler scored four goals Saturday, including three in a span of 12 minutes, as the Blue Devils - No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - scored four unanswered goals to rally from two one-goal deficits and beat the Bulldogs, 5-2, to continue their perfect start to the season.

Kessler's four goals give him a Shore-Conference-leading 28 for the season and 84 for his career.

"I'm used to seeing a defender mark me and sometimes even two defenders," Kessler said. "Rumson decided to play me and Dante (Montesinos) straight up and once I saw that, I knew there was going to be space all day. We just needed to keep the ball out of our net, win some 50-50 balls, get possession and we were going to start scoring."

Matt Maisto scored from inside the six-yard line with the 50th minute to give Rumson a 2-1 lead, but Kessler answered 1:50 later off a through-ball from Stevie Johnson to even the score. Kessler beat the last man back and tucked a shot to the far right post from 12 yards out.

Kessler scored the game-winner on a direct kick from 20 yards out that he bent around the Rumson wall and inside the near post in the 58th minute. He capped his four-goal game in the 64th with a low shot to the far lower left side netting from 14 yards out.

"Their wall was kind of on a diagonal angle and they left the near post open, so I thought I could just bend it around the outside of the wall and get it on goal," Kessler said.

With two regular-season games remaining and both the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I Tournaments remaining, Kessler will have a chance to pursue 100 career goals.

"Last year, he was pretty much just a goal-scorer for us," Shore coach Christian Pontier said. "This year, he's been a lot more unselfish. When he gets doubled, he's quick to get the ball off his foot and that's a big reason why Dante (22 goals) is having a big year too and also why Kessler has almost 20 assists."

Stevie Johnson scored the final Shore goal in the 73rd off an assist from Matt Dutra, capping a one-goal, two-assist game.

Rumson took the first lead on a penalty kick by Jamie Martin in the 11th minute following a trip in the box. Kessler tied it with a penalty kick in the 20th after he was taken down in the penalty area on the other end.

For the first 10 minutes of each half, Rumson put Shore on its heels by holding the ball in the final third of the field for the majority of both stretches. Rumson owned the shot advantage for most of the game and held a 10-6 edge after Kessler's second equalizer, but Shore bombarded the Bulldogs over the final 20 minutes and finished with a 15-12 advantage in shots.

"I was surprised they came out as strong as they did in the second half," Pontier said. "Once we got the game tied at one, I thought we were going to put them away in the second half but they did a good job putting us under right out of the half. I still felt like we were going to be able to one to get us back even and as long as we did, they wouldn't be able to keep us out of the net for too long."

Saturday's win gives Shore a legitimate case to be the No. 1 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament despite the recent history of Class B Central champions being seeded behind teams from the larger-school divisions. The Blue Devils have defeated both Class A Central champion Rumson-Fair Haven and Class B North champion Ocean, while Class A North still has not crowned a division champion among its top three teams - all of which have at least two losses.

"It's not too important," Pontier said of the No. 1 seed. "I'd say I'm just hoping to have a home game until we get to the neutral site, if we're fortunate enough to make it that far. As long as we don't have to play a road game, I think we'll have a fair shake."

"It's flattering to be considered the number one team in the Shore, but it's not our ultimate goal," Kessler said. "We want to be able to go deep into the tournament and have a chance to win a championship and regardless of what our seeding is, we like we'll have an opportunity to do that."


Box Score

Shore 5, Rumson-Fair Haven 2

1 2 F
Shore (15-0) 1 4 5
Rumson-Fair Haven (12-2) 1 1 2

Goals (Assists): (S) J.T. Kessler (PK) 20’, J.T. Kessler (Stevie Johnson) 52’, J.T. Kessler (DK) 58’, J.T. Kessler (Stevie Johnson) 64’, Stevie Johnson (Matt Dutra) 73’; (RFH) Jamie Martin (PK) 11’, Matt Maisto (Jamie Martin) 50’
Shots: Shore, 15-12
Saves: (S) Evan Coffey 3; (RFH) Markar Krikorian 5