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RUMSON — Southern Regional senior Chris Smith was extraordinary in the face-off circle, but it was his play in a more familiar role that ultimately delivered the Rams one of the biggest wins in program history.

Smith picked up a ground ball, turned and fired a shot that bounced in for the go-ahead goal with 1:43 left in regulation to complete a furious comeback and lift Southern, ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, to a 16-14 Shore Conference nondivisional victory over No. 2 Rumson on Saturday at Borden Stadium.

Southern trailed 14-11 with 5:42 left in the game before scoring three times in a span of 1:42 to tie the score. Smith’s tally put the Rams up for good, and Dylan Jinks added an insurance goal with 1:07 to play to give the Rams a bit of redemption after falling to the Bulldogs in the Shore Conference Tournament final each of the last two seasons and four straight times overall.

“I’ve played four varsity years and this is by far the best feeling after a win I’ve ever had,” Smith said. “It beats championships, everything. It just feels so good to finally come out on top against them.”

“It’s an awesome feeling that for the first time in our careers we beat Rumson,” Jinks said. “We’re sky-high right now.”

The loss is the first against a Shore Conference opponent for Rumson since an 8-6 defeat to Jackson Memorial on April 8, 2013. Entering Saturday’s game, Rumson was 57-1 against Shore Conference competition since 2011. The Bulldogs were 0-3 before Saturday, albeit with losses to Caldwell, Summit and Bridgewater-Raritan

“We still felt like we were the underdog,” Southern head coach John Pampalone said. “I know they graduated people and what their record is, but they are also playing the best teams in the state, and (their record) is not evident of how good they are. They’re a powerhouse. We came in here with something to prove.”

Jinks finished with a team-high six goals and one assist, while Smith had a hat trick and two assists. Nick Simonelli, Will Johnson and Kyle Mulrane each scored twice and Shawn McManus had a goal and two assists.

Robbie Garavente led Rumson (0-4) with six goals, including all five of the Bulldogs' second-half points. Griffin Schultz had a hat trick and Bryan Hess scored twice.

Smith recorded 63 points as a junior, but entering this year had never been a face-off man. Last season the Rams had Billy Dowd on draws, and he won 75 percent of them en route to being selected as the SSN first team All-Shore specialist. How the Rams would fare on face-offs was a question mark coming into the season.

Southern senior Chris Smith had three goals and two assists while picking up 21 ground balls and going 19-for-21 on face-offs. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

Smith proved he is the man for the job with an incredible 19-for-21 performance that included a whopping 21 ground balls. He gave the Rams a consistent possession advantage throughout the game and also scored twice directly off draws, each time spurring a Southern scoring run.

“Chris Smith did an outstanding job,” Pampalone said. “He never faced-off going into this year and he worked all summer, fall and winter on his game. It’s a tremendous edge to have. That’s how games are swung. We were able to go on a long run to finish this game because he kept winning face-offs.”

“We have one of the best face-off guys in the Shore right now,” Jinks said. “He’s stepping up in a huge way.”

Saturday’s game was all about scoring runs for each team. Not once did the teams alternate goals, which made for some excellent drama.

The Bulldogs struck first when Schultz scored at 10:53 and pushed their lead to 2-0 on Hess’s goal at 6:22. The Rams fired back to take a lead on goals by Jinks, Simonelli and McManus in a span of just over three minutes, but Seamus Walsh netted the equalizer with 1:47 left in the first quarter, leading to a 3-3 tie after one.

Southern would go up 5-3 in the first two minutes of the second quarter. Smith won the opening draw and raced down the field to score just seven seconds in. At 10:04, Jinks found some room and unleashed a left-handed laser that beat Rumson goalie Kyle Knapp up high. The Bulldogs responded with goals by Schultz and Henry Sillen, the latter off a pass from Ryan Tuorto, to knot the score at five.

On the ensuring face-off, however, Smith won the draw clean and scored immediately to start a three-goal run for Southern. Smith’s goal came at 5:39, and another face-off win by him led to Simonelli setting up Mulrane on the crease at 5:24. Johnson’s goal off a rebound at 2:43 put the Rams up 8-5, and it looked like they were starting to take control.

Rumson wouldn’t go away that easily, though. The Bulldogs scored four times in the final 2:08 of the second quarter to grab a 9-8 lead at halftime. Garavente fed Schultz for a goal to start the comeback, and Hess sank a goal at 1:49 to make it 8-7. Garavente set up Lucas Seckler with 37.2 seconds left to tie the score, then scored himself with just 2.1 seconds left.

The scoring pace slowed considerably in the third quarter, playing into Rumson’s style. Garavente scored unassisted at 7:55 and again at 5:44 to give the Bulldogs an 11-8 lead. Now it was Rumson that appeared to be ready to pull away.

“It almost seemed like we didn’t pay attention to the score,” Smith said. “We didn’t really look that we were down. We just kept grinding it out.”

Southern scored the next three goals to tie the score at 11 heading to the fourth quarter. Johnson took a pass from McManus and scored with 4:20 left before McManus assisted on Jinks’ goal at 3:05. Simonelli then put back a rebound at 2:56 for the tying goal.

Garavente continued to carry Rumson by scoring the next three goals to put the Bulldogs up 14-11. He scored unassisted at 8:44, off a pass from Walsh at 7:02 and again unassisted at 5:42. The tough scenario for Southern wasn’t that it was down by three, but that just under six minutes remained against a Rumson program that knows how to use the clock to its advantage. The Rams needed a goal quickly, and got one when Jinks scored at 4:17. It was Jinks’ fourth goal of the game, but he wasn’t done yet.

Southern senior Dylan Jinks, who scored a team-high six goals, dives while scoring the Rams' final goal in a 16-14 win over Rumson. (Photo by Ray Richardson).

“It’s hard to slow him down and when he starts feeling it he’s one of those players that’s going to find the back of the net,” Pampalone said.

Just 12 seconds later and again off a face-off win, Smith fed Mulrane to pull the Rams to within one. Smith kept the momentum going by winning yet another draw, and Jinks netted the equalizer by picking up a ground ball and scoring up high while just outside the crease.

“We had a nice little rotation going and their defense slid nicely,” Jinks said. “Chris Smith popped open on the wing and he went to shoot but dropped it out the back. I picked it up and hit it top corner.”

Smith’s eventual game-winning goal came off a mad scramble after both teams seemed to have secured possession. Once he picked up the ground ball, he was basically one-on-one with Knapp.

“The ball was loose and I got it, picked up my head and realized it was just me and the goalie,” Smith said. “I saw that bottom corner open and I let it rip.”

Southern was now up 15-14 with 1:43 left, the comeback now complete. Smith won the next face-off and Jinks put the finishing touches on the Rams’ monumental victory by cutting inside and scoring with 1:07 to go.

“This senior class has played together so long they are determined not to give in,” Pampalone said. “We were going to fight until the final horn sounds. I can’t say enough about them. They earned this today.”

“We have tough kids who are grinders,” he continued. “We knew we could come back, we just have to keep fighting and get one goal at a time. We may not win every game, but I know these kids will never quit on us.”

The challenge now is for Southern to keep the momentum going. Its biggest goals still lie ahead, namely becoming the first Ocean County team to win the Shore Conference Tournament. Saturday’s win was huge, no doubt, but there's a game in mid-May they want more.

“It was a big game and there’s no denying it,” Pampalone said. “If we reach our goals we’ll probably see them again, and it’s going to be another war.”

“I think we are gong to get back to practice, fix any mistakes we had and come back even better,” Smith said.

If that’s the case, Saturday’s win will be just the start of a historic season in Manahawkin.


Box Score

No. 1 Southern 16, No. 2 Rumson-Fair Haven 14

Southern (4-0) 3 5 3 5 - 16

Rumson (0-4)  3 6 2 3 - 14

GOALS - S: Dylan Jinks 6, Chris Smith 3, Kyle Mulrane 2, Nick Simonelli 2, Will Johnson 2, Shawn McManus.; R: Robbie Garavente 6, Griffin Schultz 3, Bryan Hess 2, Seamus Walsh, Lucas Seckler, Henry Sillen.

ASSISTS - S: Chris Smith 2, Shawn McManus 2, Nick Simonelli, Will Johnson; R: Robbie Garavente 2, Henry Sillen, Seamus Walsh, Ryan Tuorto.

SAVES - S: Brendan Lefanto 9; R: Kyle Knapp 8.

SHOTS: 40-40.