TINTON FALLS - On a playing surface that played more like an ice rink by the final minutes of Tuesday's rain-soaked, NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II semifinal, not only did Monmouth senior Joel Burgos not mind playing in the mud - he literally embraced it.

Burgos celebrated his record-breaking 30th goal of the season by sliding in the mud near the section of students along the sideline fence - the first of two second-half Monmouth goals that lifted the second-seeded Falcons over No. 3 Rumson-Fair Haven and into a sectional championship game for the first time since winning the Group III title in 1965.

"We were ready. We practiced on this field yesterday and it was raining, so we felt like we had a huge advantage, especially playing against a team that usually plays on turf,"  Burgos said. "That was a special goal for me and my team, not just to break the record, but to beat a great team and make it to the championship game for the first time in a long time."

With his 30th goal of his senior season, Burgos passes 2008 graduate Eric Mackin, who scored 29 goals during the fall of 2007. That was the last year Monmouth won a Shore Conference division championship, but the Falcons lost to Ocean in the sectional quarterfinals as the No. 2 seed in Central Jersey Group III that year.

Monmouth senior Joel Burgos. (Paula Lopez)
Monmouth senior Joel Burgos. (Paula Lopez)

"This program's been around since the middle of the 1900's and I've had two guys score 29 goals," 14-year Monmouth coach Darren Spadavecchia said. "It takes a special player to be able to score that many times against good competition. We don't play many easy games, and Joel has scored on pretty much everybody we've played this year. We've had a lot of guys improve, but he's taken us to another level."

According to Spadavecchia, Mackin was in attendance for Monmouth's 1-0 win over Spotswood on Friday, but Burgos did not score in the Falcons win. According to his coach, Burgos played through a minor illness last week, which followed up a stretch in which he missed time with a bruised thigh. Despite missing two weeks and a Shore Conference Tournament game, Burgos still finds himself among the Shore's leading scorers.

"I don't think you ever come into the season thinking you are going to break a record and score 30 goals, but I knew I had to be a leader and I was going to have to score a good amount to help the team," Burgos said. "I hit a rough patch with the injury, but the team really picked me up and played great. I'm just glad I can be here for them now."

While Burgos's record-setting tally opened the scoring in the 50th minute on Tuesday, it was a non-scoring play by the Falcons striker that proved to be the most significant moment of the game. After watching Burgos get behind the back line and zero in on a potential breakaway, Rumson-Fair Haven senior Pat Maisto grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him down from behind to prevent the chance in the 46th minute.

The foul drew a yellow-red card combination from the center official, which disqualified Maisto for the remainder of the game and left the Bulldogs to play with 10 men.

Less than four minutes later, Burgos and the Falcons capitalized on the one-man advantage. The play started when junior defender David Lopes stole the ball from Rumson senior Owen Greengrove after Greengrove slipped while attempting to turn the corner at the Monmouth endline.

Lopes knocked the ball forward to junior Brian Waltsak, who, in turn, slid it up toward Burgos. Burgos let the ball go through him, allowing junior Ryan Hoplock to chase it down on a diagonal run, and took off toward the right post while Hoplock worked on the left side of the field.

Hoplock played the ball back over to Waltsak in the middle of the field, who touched it along to Burgos, who found himself one-on-one with Rumson-Fair Haven goalkeeper Jack Harvey. Burgos drew Harvey out and smacked a shot past the keeper into the right side of the goal for the record-breaker and the first goal of the game at exactly 50 minutes into the match.

Rumson chose to take a man away from its defense after losing Maisto, so the Bulldogs attack did not suffer after the disqualification. If anything, it improved - Rumson conceded a 5-3 shot advantage to Monmouth during the first half and outshot the Falcons 8-7 in the second half while keeping most of the possession on the Monmouth side of midfield.

Despite the Bulldogs' improved threat, Monmouth created two more quality chances before Rumson could equalize and cashed in on the second of those opportunities.

Burgos earned a penalty kick in the 73rd minute to give Monmouth a chance to put the game away, but Waltsak fired the ensuing kick over the crossbar to keep Rumson alive. Following a Rumson free kick on the right side of the field, however, Lopes broke free for a one-man counter-attack that saw him beat two defenders and sprint at Harvey before poking the ball past him for the second Monmouth goal with 3:49 remaining. The goal was Lopes's first of the season.

The Bulldogs applied the most pressure they had all game over the final three-plus minutes and the frenzied effort to score resulted in an injury to Monmouth freshman goalkeeper Dominick Santaniello that forced him from the game for the final two minutes.

Reynaldo Moreno entered the game and saved the first shot Rumson put on him, but Bulldogs junior Cole Lee fired a shot past him with 23 seconds left to give his team a fighting chance. Monmouth, however, cleared the ball with seven seconds left to secure the win.

"I thought we did a pretty good job playing with the extra man," Spadavecchia said. "They really tried to put the pressure on and up until we lost our keeper, they didn't score. We also had a chance to end it with a (penalty kick), so we didn't help ourselves there. Credit Rumson for playing hard until the end and credit our guys for stepping up."

Prior to leaving the game following a collision, Santaniello kept Rumson off the board with five saves, including a leaping save to deny junior Jeremy Nives of his sixth goal of the tournament late in the first half.

Harvey also made an acrobatic save on a shot by senior Patrick Riordan in the 71st minute that kept the score 1-0 for the time being.

After holding serve at home over the first three rounds of the tournament, Monmouth will head to Holmdel to play the top-seeded Hornets in Friday's sectional final. Holmdel entered Tuesday having outscored its opponents 54-4 during a nine-game winning streak, but needed penalty kicks to advance past No. 12 Matawan following a 1-1 draw over 100 minutes.

Monmouth's first run to a sectional final in a half-century comes on the heels of a 5-15 season in 2016, during which Burgos was a capable scorer with 11 goals, but did not approach the kind of numbers he has this season. With Burgos reaching another level, juniors like Waltsak, Lopes, Hoplock and Chris Anfuso emerging as capable starters, and the addition of Santaniello in goal, the Falcons transformed from a B North bottom feeder into a postseason force.

"After watching how we played in the loss to Ocean at the end of that Shore Conference Tournament run, I thought we looked like a team that could make this run," Spadavecchia said. "I thought we played really well that game and a couple of fixable mistakes cost us the game. I told the guys that's a game we should have won if not for a few mistakes and if you can win a game like that on the road, you can be a dangerous team."

Prior to reaching the sectional final, Monmouth won two Shore Conference Tournament road games as a No. 20 seed and lost to SCT runner-up Ocean in a wild, 4-3, game. That SCT run included wins over perennial SCT contenders and Group IV programs Toms River North and Freehold Township. With Tuesday's win, Monmouth is now 5-1 in its six postseason games - including a 4-1 mark in matches decided by one goal.

"We aren't backing down from anybody," Burgos said. "When we first saw the bracket, we knew if we could get to the championship game, it was probably going to be against Holmdel. We know they are really talented and we expect a very challenging game, but we're not going to shy away from the challenge. We want to win a championship and we'll go anywhere and play anybody."


Box Score

Monmouth 2, Rumson-Fair Haven 1

Rumson-FH (13-7-2)011
Monmouth (15-9)022

Goals (Assists): (RFH) Cole Lee 80'; (M) Joel Burgos (Brian Waltsak) 50', David Lopes 77'
Shots: Monmouth, 12-11
Saves: (RFH) Jack Harvey 3; (M) Dominick Santaniello 5, Reynaldo Moreno 1


More From Shore Sports Network