MIDDLETOWN - Even as the Middletown North boys soccer team has been building toward a big season over the past three years while rival Middletown South was stuck in neutral during the same period, the Lions could count on their crosstown rivals giving them a game.

Now that Middletown South is showing signs of a revitalization, Middletown North - the No. 5 team in the most recent Shore Sports Network Top 10 - expected an even tougher challenge from the Eagles this time around and got just that before ultimately finding a way to remain unbeaten.

Junior Ryan Binn scored the game-winning goal 24 seconds after Middletown South tied the game in the 69th minute and the Lions held on to beat the Eagles, 2-1, and remain unbeaten.

Middletown North junior Ryan Binn scored the winner on Saturday in the Lions' 2-1 win over Middletown South. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"It doesn't matter how good or bad they are," Binn said of Middletown South. "On the stat sheet, we could be better, but it seems like every game is a one-goal game that's going into overtime or something like that. You can't take a game against those guys for granted because they always give us their best."

Middletown South freshman Danny Minze scored on a counter-attack off a pass from junior Mike Zito to pull the Eagles even with 11:40 left. Zito controlled a deflected pass from Minze and gave it back to him while Minze ran toward the right post. The freshman beat the last defender and drew Lions keeper Scott Weigel out enough to knock a shot over his head and in for the tying score.

Middletown North came right back with an answer as Binn stepped in front of an attempted clearance near the left post and deflected the ball into the far right side netting.

"I saw (the defender) was going to try to clear the ball so I wanted to get in the way and maybe be in position to deflect it into the goal," Binn said.

Middletown North opened the scoring in the 37th minute on a penalty kick by senior Ryan Harmon. Senior Elliot De La Rosa beat his man around the corner and drew a foul near the endline on the right side of the field.

Elliot De La Rosa (left) battles Middletown South junior Brandon Kalika for the ball. (Photo by Matt Manley)

De La Rosa was a menace on the right side of the field, consistently beating the Eagles up the flank and around the corner for crosses. While none of those crosses resulted in a goal, De La Rosa earned a penalty kick by continuing with the ball toward the near post. He tripped near the edge of the six-yard box and the Middletown South defender fell on top of him, which drew the foul call.

"The right side of the field is pretty good, but we felt like we could attack them on the left side of their defense," De La Rosa said. "I just tried to attack whenever I had the chance. Most of the time, I tried to get us a cross and that, unfortunately didn't work, but I was able to get around the corner and get fouled."

The Lions have yet to trail this season, but did face a similar situation against Manalapan one week earlier. The Braves rallied from a 2-0 deficit to send their game against the Lions into overtime and unlike Saturday night, Middletown North could not answer. It took all of 24 seconds, however, for the Lions to prove that a little adversity would not keep them down.

"We're not used to being in that situation because (giving up goals) hasn't happened that often," Binn said. "We talked about it after the Manalapan game - about responding to giving up goals and I think the message got through tonight."

Box Score

Middletown North 2, Middletown South 1

1 2 F
Midd. North (5-0-1, 5-0-0) 1 1 2
Midd. South (3-4-1, 2-3-1) 0 1 1

Goals (Assists): (MS) Danny Minze (Mike Zito) 69'; (MN) Ryan Harmon (PK) 37', Ryan Binn 69'
Shots: Tied 8-8
Saves: (MS) Ryan Nacelerio 2; (MN) Scott Weigel 4