Boys Soccer – Golden Goal Gives Rumson First Ever NJSIAA Sectional Championship
RUMSON -- Rumson-Fair Haven boys soccer coach Jeff Soares described the relationship between his team and Shore Conference Class A Central division rival Holmdel as a big-brother-little-brother rivalry, with Rumson playing the role of little brother dating back to before Soares took over the program ahead of the 2019 season.
Fittingly enough, Soares's Bulldogs had to go through the big-brother Hornets to win their first ever NJSIAA sectional championship and, even more fittingly, it took an actual little brother to plunge the final dagger into the heart of Holmdel.
Junior Alec Pentikis dotted a pinpoint shot to the upper left corner of the goal from a tough angle on the right side in the 93rd minute and the Bulldogs pulled out a golden-goal, 2-1 win over the Hornets to capture their first Central Jersey Group II championship.
"The first two years I was here, they had us every time," Pentikis said of the Holmdel rivalry. "It's just great this year to be able to beat them twice and to beat them to finally win a championship."
"Since I got here, and really even before I got here, it's always felt like we're like Holmdel's little brother," Soares said. "We might have a good team but it just wasn't enough to beat Holmdel and this year, we made it a point to stop letting big brother push us around and try to go after them."
The goal was the team-leading 15th for Pentikis, who decided to play high school soccer at Rumson as a freshman in order to play with his older brother, senior Luke Pentikis. Alec led the team in goals as a freshman, scored seven during an injury-riddled 2020, and has been a constant at the top of the formation this season with his older brother sending balls through from the midfield.
"It's been a great experience, " Pentikis said. "It's probably one of the best soccer experiences of my life, playing with him, especially doing what we've done scoring all the goals we have and being able to have a moment like tonight."
On the deciding play of the game, Luke was not delivering the ball to his brother but rather trailing the play and watching in near disbelief as Alec ended the match and Rumson's long wait for a championship.
"It didn't feel real," Luke Pentikis said. "It still feels like a dream: first sectional title for RFH. There is no better feeling. It's my senior year and from where we started to where we are now, it's night and day."
After withstanding a Holmdel push early in the second overtime, the Bulldogs marched down field on a counter-attack, with freshman Ronan Hogg carrying the ball into space and sliding it toward Pentikis on the right side of the field.
Pentikis took the available space and swung a shot with slight arc to clear the reach of 6-foot-4 Holmdel goalkeeper Tommy Chyzowych. The ball avoided the outstretched arm of Chyzowych and hit just inside the top of the left post for the game-winning goal.
"Not much thought went into it," Alec Pentikis said. "My instincts just kind of took over. It was muscle memory, I guess. The first 20 seconds, I didn't even believe it. I looked away for a second and looked back and saw it in the back of the net. It was crazy."
Rumson had the game momentarily slip out of its grasp twice between the second half and the tail end of the first overtime. In the eighth minute of overtime, junior Antonio Santos played the ball diagonally toward the far right post and Alec Pentikis beat his man to set up a one-on-one opportunity against Chyzowych, who smothered the attempt and kept Holmdel alive for the time being.
Santos gave Rumson a 1-0 lead when he made a far post run and finished a low cross from Luke Pentikis in the 52nd minute. The two two teams were dead even in the first half, including on shots (4-4) and shots on goal (2-2) and it was Luke Pentikis who made the first game-changing play of the game, with Santos aiding him on the back-end.
"We worked a lot on playing low crosses along the six (yard-line) because we knew against a keeper that big and that athletic, our best bet was to keep the ball low," Luke Pentikis said. "So we just stressed working the outside, getting to the end-line, getting those low crosses across the six and making sure we had guys making that far-post run and Antonio Santos executed it perfectly. He is an amazing player and he made a huge play to get us that goal."
Luke Pentikis and Santos did not play a full game together until the Shore Conference Tournament opener vs. Ranney, with Santos starting the season out of action because of a sports hernia and Santos injuring his knee in late September.
"It wasn't a good feeling being out my senior year for an extended period of time," Luke Pentikis said. "Once I got back, I was back in time for all of the playoff games and this is really what we were playing for: the state championship. This was everything and to be standing here as a sectional championship still feels like a dream."
"It was hard, because I knew I didn't want the season to end there and I knew we had a lot more to get done with him, like winning this championship," Alec Pentikis said of his brother's injury. "It was great for him to be able to get back and be a part of this. That's all I wanted."
After striking first, the Bulldogs gave the lead away in the 61st, when a Rumson defender inadvertently headed a free kick by Holmdel senior Brendan Worobel over senior goalkeeper Aiden Colburn and to the end-line, where sophomore Frankie Brusco tapped it in for the equalizer.
Holmdel's near miss came in the 47th minute, when junior Max Woodward drove a 30-yard shot square off the crossbar.
For a stretch of nearly four minutes between the 72nd and 76th minutes, Holmdel put significant pressure on Rumson with a series of throw-ins and corner kicks, with Holmdel earning four of its five corners in the game during that stretch.
Senior Harrison Gibson and junior Reece Moroney keyed the Rumson defensive effort and the Bulldogs made the most of two chances to slip the ball past Chyzowych -- the Shore's most imposing goalkeeper.
"We noticed he likes to come off his line and be aggressive so we worked a lot on chipping, which still isn't easy to do against a keeper with a six-seven wingspan," Soares said. "He made some incredible saves and he is going to be a great keeper at the next level. We were fortunate to score two off him and it took two great goals to beat him."
Thursday's dramatic win ends a recent legacy of heartbreak for Rumson and caps a fast and near-flawless rebuilding job by Soares. The Bulldogs made it to the Central Group II final in both 2013 and 2016, but lost both times. In 2017, they lost a 2-1 heartbreaker to Monmouth Regional in the sectional semifinals, although a win would have met running up against a historically good Holmdel side in the championship game.
One year after the loss to Monmouth in the sectional semifinals, Rumson struggled its way to a 1-14-1 record.
Soares left his position as the top assistant for an Ocean Township team that won both the Shore Conference Tournament and the Group III title in 2018 in order to take on the challenge at Rumson. He inherited a young team led by Luke Pentikis, with Alec joining the mix as a freshman.
The Bulldogs posted winning seasons in each of the past two years, culminating with a 2021 campaign that includes an outright Class A Central championship and, now, the first sectional title in program history.
"I'm so proud of this group because these seniors and juniors were all here when I got here after they went 1-14," Soares said. "They really bought into the culture I was trying to build, the family concept, the dog mentality I wanted them to play with. They have all been on board from day one and even though it didn't happen for us that first year, we always felt like if we did the right things, we could get to this moment. Now, being here, it's just so emotional and so exciting to see the work these guys put in pay off."