He knew it was going to take time, but Rumson-Fair Have head coach Andy Eastwood believed from the beginning that his inexperienced yet talented team had the ability to accomplish great things.

His belief in his players paid dividends more than he could have ever imagined as Rumson made history by winning the NJSIAA Group I state championship to become the first Shore Conference team to take home a group championship.

“I couldn’t be any more proud of these guys,” said Eastwood, the 2015 Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year, after the Bulldogs’ historic 9-8 overtime victory over powerful Mountain Lakes in the Group I final. “My belief in them never wavered. We knew we could get through those tough patches in the beginning of the season. This is a bunch of talented guys with a tremendous amount of heart, and they’ve been working for this day for a long time.”

Rumson entered the season on the heels of winning its record fourth consecutive Shore Conference Tournament title and reaching the South Jersey Group I final for the second straight season, but also had to deal with losing a marquee senior class. Just six total seniors and a handful of starters were back for Rumson, but the expectations from outside and within didn’t change.

“Coach believed in us right from the beginning of the season and said we could get here,” said junior attackman Griffin Schultz.

It was a rocky start for Rumson as the Bulldogs began the season 0-4. The losses were all to top teams - Caldwell, Group II champion Summit, Tournament of Champions winner Bridgewater-Raritan, which finished as the No. 4 team in the nation, and Southern - but it still put Rumson in a spot it had never been in before.

The Bulldogs responded by winning four straight to even their record, including an 11-10 win over CBA where senior Lucas Seckler scored the game-winning goal with under minute left in regulation. Rumson started to build momentum from there, shaking off a loss to St. Augustine Prep, another top-10 team in the state, to win its next eight games and reach the Shore Conference Tournament championship game for the record sixth straight season.

It was in the SCT final, however, where the season hit another bump. The Bulldogs were defeated 16-6 by Southern, ending their reign atop the conference. But once again Eastwood and his players showed their resolve by going on a run for the ages in the state tournament.

It all began with a 14-1 win over Delran followed by a 10-1 win over Delaware Valley. Then the road became a lot tougher, but the as the games got bigger Rumson began to realize its potential. Bryan Hess scored the game-winning goal with just over 30 seconds left in a 6-5 win over Madison to put Rumson into the sectional final where they beat New Providence 12-8. That victory alone was good enough to give Rumson some vindication after hearing the rumblings the Bulldogs would go without a title in a “rebuilding year”.

Rumson then accomplished what no one thought possible at the beginning of the season, stunning two-time defending Group I champion Mountain Lakes 9-8 in overtime to make history as the first Shore Conference team to finally break through and win a group championship. It was sophomore Charlie Curran who scored the game-tying goal with 15 seconds left in regulation and won it with the goal in overtime.

In the truest sense of the phrase it was a team victory - a testament to the job Eastwood and Rumson’s coaches did in preparing them for that moment. Everyone made at least one major contribution, from Shultz’s hat trick to Seamus Walsh’s ground ball that drew the penalty that led to Curran’s tying goal. From Bryan Hess’s ground ball out of a scrum that preceded Curran’s championship-clinching goal, to Rumson’s defense getting big stop after big stop in the second half.

“You look at the graduation list from last year and I think a lot of people counted us out, but they didn’t know what was in the stable,” Eastwood said. “We got tremendous effort and desire from the senior group, and we were talented with the underclassmen. As the season went on they realized they could play with good players and good teams.”

“They just never quit,” Eastwood continued. “There was no quit in these guys, and that perseverance carried us a long way.”