FARMINGDALE - The Freehold Township boys soccer team has forged some intense rivalries while playing in the Class A North division of the Shore Conference, including the one the Patriots - ranked No. 9 in the latest Shore Sports Network Top 10 - have forged with No. 5 Howell.

This year, with the Shore Conference shifting to just one game against each divisional opponent, the Patriots knew an early September match on the road against the Rebels could make or break any hopes of a division championship and it showed on the field Thursday.

Junior Bennett Messinger scored the winning goal in the 71st minute and the Patriots defense withstood one last push from Howell to win an intense, see-saw match, 2-1, to pick up a critical early-season win in the pursuit of both the A North overall and public division titles.

Chris Orrico (left) and Bennett Messinger (right) celebrate Orrico's goal in the 48th minute. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"We knew we weren't going to play them twice this year so we had to come at them," Messinger said. "We only had one shot to beat them so we had to go all-out for the entire game."

Although Class A North is littered with dangerous opponents, Howell stood out as a team that finished third in the division (behind Christian Brothers Academy and Freehold Township) and brought back the bulk of its starting 11. Thursday's win by a Patriots team that, by contrast, graduated 43 of its 53 goals from 2017 was another example that a lack of goal-scoring will not be Freehold Township's demise.

"Goal-scoring for us is really a team effort," senior midfielder Chris Orrico said of his team, which now has nine goals in three games this season. "Even though we don't have the big goal-scorer, we have a lot of guys who know how to get in the right position and we have the chemistry to find the open guy. I think we have guys who can finish and so far, guys have been stepping up."

After a first half that saw each team create one quality chance, the pace picked up after halftime. Orrico opened the scoring in the 48th minute when he headed a cross from senior Cristian Corcione past goalkeeper Justin Smith. Corcione tracked the ball near the right flag and whipped a cross to the far left post, where Orrico camped out and struck his header from close range.

The assist was the fourth in two games for Corcione, who picked up three in a win over St. John Vianney. A baseball standout, Corcione came out for soccer this season and has made an instant impact at the top of the formation.

"We get a lot of our chances on those cross, especially on the far post," Orrico said. "Cristian has done a really good job setting those up. I just had to make the run and not miss it."

Howell responded to the 1-0 deficit with pressure shortly thereafter and broke through in the 58th minute. Senior Dylan Dougher unleashed a shot off the bottom of the crossbar that bounced in front of the goal. Junior Pat Coughlin jumped on the bouncing ball and poked it into the open net to tie the game.

The game-winning sequence began on the right side, with sophomore Zach Orrico sliding a pass to junior Evan Savino, who played a cross into the box. A Howell defender attempted to clear the ball and sophomore Joe Lardaro deflected it to the feet of Messinger, who took one touch to his right and fired a low shot back the other way from 12 yards out.

"I just saw open space and took it," Messinger said. "I just took one dribble and the shot was there."

The Rebels had a chance to strike in the first half, but Freehold Township goalkeeper Evan Nastarowicz denied a one-on-one chance for Howell junior Mike Anello, stopping the shot from the six with his face.

Freehold Township later hit the crossbar on a shot that Smith parried just high enough to clear the frame.

Howell played its second straight game Thursday without standout senior goalkeeper Shane McBride, who was issued a red card in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV quarterfinal loss to four-time sectional champion Washington Township. Howell's schedule called for three non-divisional games prior to the critical Freehold Township showdown, but excessive heat forced a cancellation of the would-be opener at Toms River South while thunder and a questionable playing surface at Jackson Memorial forced another postponement on Wednesday.

If Howell successfully completed either of those games, McBride's two-game suspension would have been complete and he would have been eligible to play Thursday against the rival Patriots.

Instead, the Rebels conceded an early advantage to Freehold Township in the battle for which team is best suited to challenge favorite and defending champion CBA for the A North title.

"It's a huge win, even though it's early," Chris Orrico said. "Every game in A North is huge and coming on the road against a rival - the only time we're going to see them - it makes it even bigger."

 

Box Score

Freehold Twp. 2, Howell 1

1 2 F
Freehold Twp. (2-0-1, 1-0-0) 0 2 2
Howell (1-1, 1-1) 0 1 1

Goals (Assists): (FT) Chris Orrico (Cristian Corcione) 48', Bennett Messinger (Joe Lardaro) 71'; (H) Pat Coughlin (Dylan Dougher) 58'
Shots: Freehold Twp., 11-8
Saves: (FT) Evan Nastarowicz 5; (H) Justin Smith 3