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MARLBORO - A year ago, Jackson Memorial felt like a team primed to win an elusive NJSIAA sectional championship, only to lose a heartbreaking South Jersey Group IV semifinal at home to a less-experienced team that caught fire at the right time.

This year, the Jaguars are hoping to be that team short on experience but long on momentum, and after a dramatic finish on Saturday, Jackson Memorial will have a chance to pay back the team that ended its season in 2019.

Junior Steve Bado put away the golden goal in the 88th minute Saturday at the Marlboro Municipal Complex and the Jaguars - the No. 9 seed in the Central East Group IV South section - knocked off No. 8 Marlboro, 2-1, for their sixth straight win in a row following a 0-6-1 start to 2020.

"I knew when the ball popped out, it was going to be in the back of the net," Bado said. "I just wanted to win so bad. We have been the underdog all year, so it felt good."

The overtime win gives Jackson Memorial a third crack at Toms River North - the No. 1 seed in the section, the co-winner of Class A South this season and the reining South Jersey Group IV champions after winning the section as a No. 16 seed in 2019.

With the clock ticking under three minutes to play in the first overtime period, Bado ran down a ball on the right side and crossed it to the near post. Senior Bugra Celik got there too late to finish the goal but in time enough to draw out goalkeeper Nick Tango and prevent the Marlboro junior from securing the ball. The rebound went right back to Bado, who slammed the ball into the exposed net for the winner.

"My teammates have been telling me all year, 'You're the fastest kid on the field, run through the ball,'" Bado said. "I ran through the ball, so my center midfielder (Celik), got the ball across, followed the play and got the goal.

Jackson Memorial jumped on top with a goal by freshman Peyton Collimore in the 43rd minute - Collimore's second goal during Jackson's six-game streak. Senior Zack Rogacki passed Collimore the ball and the freshman chipped the ball over Tango and in for the game's first goal.

Marlboro came back six minutes later with an equalizer from Griffen Wolfe off a pass from senior Eric Tsirkin. Jackson Memorial's defense withstood a flurry of chances by the Mustangs through the end of regulation and cashed in on its best scoring chance in overtime, with Bado finishing his team-leading ninth goal.

"We have been focusing on Marlboro all week," Bado said. "Their record doesn't really show it, but they are a very good team. They played a lot of close games against very good teams. We just wanted to win bad and we came here and put it all on the field. We have a lot of seniors who don't want to stop playing."

Toms River North is coming off an overtime loss and a draw vs. Southern this past week and prior to those results, Jackson Memorial played the Mariners closer than any other team in Class A South. During the second week of the season, Toms River North beat Jackson Memorial, 2-1, in Jackson and 2-0 in Toms River.

Last year, Toms River North stunned the fourth-seeded Jaguars in the South Jersey Group IV semifinals, with current Mariners junior Ali Baish scoring the game-winning goal in the 79th minute to cap the third of Toms River North's four road upsets during its championship run.

"Last year, we had a great senior bunch and a lot of the guys we have now were on jayvee," Bado said. "We thought we would have a pretty good shot this year before COVID and everything else. We just keep going and know we have a chance to prove we can play with anyone."

While Toms River North returned eight starters from last year's team, Jackson Memorial brought back only two - Bado and junior goalkeeper Charlie Harrison. The inexperience around the field, as well as injuries in the middle of the season, contributed to an 0-6-1 start that Jackson Memorial finally halted with a win over Toms River East.

Just when the Jaguars were finally starting to feel good about themselves after their first win of the season, they were shut down for two weeks as part of the school district's COVID-19 protocol. Jackson Memorial's two scheduled games against Central Regional - which finished the season 0-9-3 - were canceled, taking two winnable games off Jackson Memorial's schedule.

When the Jaguars came back, they rattled off four straight wins heading into the state tournament, sweeping two-game weeks against Toms River South and Brick - both of which won their first-round games on Saturday.

"It's hard playing two of the best teams in the Shore to start the season, start 0-4, with no preseason," Bado said. "We just had to keep going. We knew we had a pretty decent team. We just had to leave it all on the field."


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