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COLTS NECK — The rivalry aspect of Tuesday morning’s game against Colts Neck was downplayed, but there was still no denying it was a win Howell desperately wanted to have.

After falling to the Cougars in each of the last three seasons, the Rebels, ranked No. 5 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, ended that streak while remaining unbeaten on the season with a 7-3 Shore Conference Class A North victory over No. 8 Colts Neck. Junior midfielders Jason Kenny and Nic Rossi each scored twice as the Rebels improved to 4-0 and continued their best start since 2011.

“In my opinion and from what the team has said, we don’t really believe in rivalries - we’re all about playing every game as if it’s a rival,” said Howell senior midfielder Zack Ornstein. “But personally, beating this team after we haven’t beaten them in three years, I couldn’t be happier right now.”

Ornstein scored a goal while going 9-for-13 on face-offs and picking up seven ground balls, while Mark Buannic had a goal and an assist and Jake Sherman also scored. Senior Ian Colmorgan stopped eight shots to pick up the win.

Colts Neck (0-2) received goals from Julian Cruz, Anthony Mauriello and Chris Bisignano while junior goalie Andrew Halmi nearly stole the game for the Cougars by making 19 saves, 14 of which came in the first half.

“This is huge, especially not beating them the last three years,” Rossi said. “This should do a lot for our momentum moving forward.”

Halmi’s presence was something Howell was well aware of coming in. He made 21 saves in a 5-4 loss to Manasquan and is one of the top goalies in the Shore Conference this season. Howell had a possession and shots advantage throughout the game, especially in the first half when it outshot the Cougars 24-8. Halmi kept Colts Neck in it with seven saves in each quarter, many of them coming in one-on-one situations.

“We preached all week that he’s going to make saves, but we’re going to win face-offs, make stops one-on-one defensively, clear well and get ground balls,” Howell head coach Anthony Bonjavanni said. “When you do those things you can take a million shots. He’s capable of making 30 saves, but if we can get to a high number it doesn’t matter.”

“He’s phenomenal,” Bonjavanni continued. “We just told the kids to keep shooting and doing the little things that allow us to play fast and take chances on offense.”

“Today a lot of shots were within six yards because we knew Halmi was going to make any save from further out,” Ornstein said. “We just had to keep shooting. He had a lot of saves and played amazing, but after a while it doesn’t matter how good you are, balls are going to start going in.”

Anthony Mauriello got the Cougars on the board first with a goal early in the first quarter, but Rossi answered at 4:48 to tie the score at one, which is where it remained at the end of the opening 12 minutes.

Colts Neck pulled ahead when Thijs Smit set up Bisignano 46 seconds into the second quarter. That was the last time the Cougars would lead in the game, however. The Rebels tied the score at two when Buannic curled around the net and fired a shot past Halmi at 9:59. The Rebels then took the lead for good when Rossi scored a man-up goal at 2:20 and Ornstein scored unassisted with two seconds left in the half.

“Coach always says the last two minutes of every quarter wins games and you could see that today,” Ornstein said. “We came out in the third quarter with the momentum.”

“That was huge for us,” Bonjavanni said. “We have a few kids that are used to having their hands free and getting highlight-reel goals, but sometimes you have to get those gritty goals. Those are the ones that if they start falling you get a little more confidence.”

Kenny scored the only two goals of the third quarter as the Rebels opened a 6-2 advantage. He struck off a pass from senior attackman J.T. Pojero at 9:26 and again off a feed from Buannic at 4:57.

All the while Howell’s defense was limiting Colts Neck on the few offensive possessions it had. Each time a Cougars attacker would get free another Rebels defender would slide over, knock the ball free and send it back across the midfield stripe.

“Anthony Pozsonyi, Frankie Lamela, Cam Perrotto, Colin Mastowski - they all work very hard out there,” Ornstein said. “We’re not afraid to shoot because we know we can get the ball back.”

“I’ve been around Howell lacrosse since I graduated in 2005 and this is the most athletic we’ve been back there,” Bonjavanni said.

Cruz pulled the Cougars to within three when he took a pass from John Schaefer and beat Colmorgan at 8:27, but Sherman’s unassisted strike at 7:01 gave the Rebels back their four-goal lead, which they held onto the rest of the way.

With double-digit seniors, this is a year Howell believes it can make a run at the Class A North division title and be a serious postseason contender. So far it has done all the right things.

“We’ve got 15 seniors and we’re confident in every single person on the team,” Ornstein said.

“It’s their show,” Bonjavanni said. “There are no big speeches from me before games. They are going to decide how this goes."


Box Score

No. 5 Howell 7, No. 8 Colts Neck 3

Howell (4-0, 1-0)        1 3 2 1 - 7

Colts Neck (0-2, 0-1) 1 1 0 1 - 3

GOALS - H: Jason Kenny 2, Nic Rossi 2, Mark Buannic, Zack Ornstein, Jake Sherman; CN: Julian Cruz, Anthony Mauriello, Chris Bisignano.

ASSISTS - H: Mark Buannic, J.T. Pojero; CN: John Schaefer 2, Thijs Smith

SAVES - H: Ian Colmorgan 8; CN: Andrew Halmi 19.

SHOTS: Howell 38-20.