HOLMDEL – Now beginning his senior season, Toms River South’s Ryan Shiffer has made the journey from the back of the formation to the top, going from stopper back as a sophomore to a defensive center midfield last year to a striker on opening night Monday against Holmdel.

After doing the job during his first two years for coach Ed Leibe, Shiffer may have found his home on the field.

Shiffer scored the game-winning goal in the 71st minute after assisting junior Cameron Geerinck’s equalizer in the 66th as Toms River South – No. 8 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 – opened its season with a come-from-behind, 2-1 win over No. 5 Holmdel.

“I like the pressure, I like how Leibe puts his trust in me,” Shiffer said. “He’s given me the trust to score goals, and hopefully I can keep it up. I’m a battler. I like to go out and work hard, and hopefully we keep getting the bounces that we got today.”

Toms River South scored just 22 goals in 20 games last year in support of a defense that allowed only 23. Shiffer played more of a defensive role over each of his first two varsity seasons, but if Monday is any indication, he will called upon to score while one of last year’s forwards – senior Jared Knowles – played his first regular-season game at right fullback.

After one game, the reshuffling is working for the Indians. Shiffer had a hand in each goal and nearly created two others, while Knowles fit in nicely with the back four of Toms River South’s formation.

“He’s a big, strong, athletic kid who can turn and hit a ball,” Leibe said of Shiffer, who is also a two-year standout starting catcher on the Toms River South baseball team. “I think he led us in preseason scoring and he got on the board tonight, so he’s kind of believing in himself that he can score goals, and we need somebody who can score goals."

Holmdel took a 1-0 lead into the half and held onto it into the final 20 minutes of the game. Shiffer nearly tied the game in the 51st minute when, with the entire Holmdel defense focused on setting up a wall, he struck a resting ball into the goal following a foul call that resulted in a direct kick. Although the ball was not moving, the official ruled that the ball was not close enough to the spot of the foul to allow the goal off the quick restart. Senior midfielder Jordan Urbaczek hit the ensuing direct kick from 25 yards off the crossbar.

“I’ve seen that happen a bunch of times and even on my old teams, we’ve scored goals off of that play,” Shiffer said. “I went over to the ref, and he was looking at me like he didn’t even know what happened. He looked at me like I had four heads when I asked him, ‘Isn’t that a goal?’”

Shiffer would eventually help Toms River South pull even when he quickly sent the ball forward on a throw-in with the Holmdel defense slow to recover. Geerinck beat the Hornets' defense to the ball and slid a shot to the far left post from the right side for the equalizer.

Just under five minutes later, Shiffer finished off the go-ahead goal that turned out to be the winner. Urbaczek sent the ball forward to senior John Timmes, who took a shot from the left angle that Holmdel goalkeeper Tyler Marchiano saved with a dive to his left. Marchiano parried the ball right to a crashing Shiffer, who charged in from the right side to pound in the rebound and give Toms River South the lead.

Holmdel managed two more shots over the final nine minutes, but neither stretched the limits of Tom River South goalkeeper Kollin White. Each team took 12 shots, and both White and Marchiano finished with three saves. Toms River South outshot Holmdel 8-5 in the second half after the Hornets owned a 7-4 edge in first-half shots.

“The last 10 minutes of the first half, we could sense they were getting tired,” Shiffer said. “They started yelling at each other and getting frustrated, and we knew it was time to push one in and turn the pressure up.”

“In the last four years, I’ve never seen a team that I’ve coached play that poorly for 40 minutes and just get outworked,” Holmdel coach John Nacarlo said. “And hats off to them (Toms River South) because they wanted it more and they deserved it.”

Holmdel took the early advantage in the 13th minute on a goal by sophomore Brendan Wall. Senior midfielder Menos Hiras played the ball through to junior Nick Chrystal on left side of the field, and Chrystal crossed it over to Wall at the top of the 18. The sophomore attacking midfielder took two touches to his right and got off a falling shot that went off the hand of a diving White and inside the right post.

“I liked the way our backs played,” Leibe said. “They (Holmdel) had some good chances, but we didn’t let them get in behind us. Most of their chances were from far range, and I like Kollin in goal on long shots.”

Marchiano helped Holmdel preserve its lead with a diving save of close-range shot by Shiffer in the 26th minute.

Monday’s match marked a meeting of the last two Shore Conference public school programs to win an overall NJSIAA Group championship, with Toms River South winning Group IV in 2009 and Holmdel winning Group III in 2010. Holmdel has since won two Central Jersey Group II championships, appeared in two Group II finals, two Shore Conference Tournament championship games and the last three Shore Conference Tournament semifinal rounds. The win by Toms River South – which finished 9-9-2 last season – is a noteworthy start for a team that returns nine of its 11 starters from a year ago.

“We have guys back and we’re deep,” Shiffer said. “We can play 16 or 17 guys if coach wants to, but today we shortened things up because it was working. We really wanted to get the season started off on the right foot against a good team, and we went all out.”