Boys Soccer – Howell Scraps Its Way Past Rumson, Into First Shore Conference Semifinal Since 2010
FARMINGDALE -- The Howell boys soccer team has yet to score a goal in 200 minutes of soccer in the Shore Conference Tournament and during points of its SCT quarterfinal match against Rumson-Fair Haven Monday, it looked like the visitors were just a matter of time from scoring the goal that would bounce Howell -- the No. 2 seed in the field -- from the tournament.
Rebels coach Rich Yuro, who has overseen the program for more than three decades and guided it to its lone SCT championship in 2007, has learned about his team over the past two years that it is willing to forego style points and chase the result.
Over the last season-and-a-half, even without scoring goals, Howell is getting results.
For the second straight round of the 2022 Shore Conference Tournament, Howell played 100 scoreless minutes and survived a round of penalty kicks, this time downing No. 7 Rumson-Fair Haven, 5-3, on penalties to advance to the SCT semifinals for the first time since 2010.
"The team all agreed at the beginning of the game, at halftime and at the beginning of both overtimes that we were not losing this game, no matter what it took," Eckelman said. "In the end, we didn't lose the game. So, it's just continue on the streak; win the semifinals and the finals."
"It's about the results," Yuro said. "They (Rumson) were tough. Anytime you try to get momentum, they would set you 40 yards back. We thought there would be a lot more possession, but it became a game where you just crack it down the field and let the forwards go to work. These are the kinds of games you get in the tournaments because teams just don't want to make a mistake and that's what we keep telling our guys. Don't worry about making it look pretty, just get the result."
Senior R.J. Eckelman converted the last of five consecutive conversions during the shootout and while he did not have to actually save a shot during the shootout, senior goalkeeper Charlie Scanlon's presence loomed large after another sparkling performance between the pipes.
Together, Eckelman and Scanlon led a defensive effort that kept a hungry, energetic Rumson side off the scoreboard for 100 minutes despite some quality work in the final third by the Bulldogs' standout trio of Alec Pentikis, Ronan Hogg and Antonio Santos, as well as junior Liam Barnett and senior Jacob Brown.
"They had really good strikers and we knew that going in," Eckelman said. "We all know that one us gets beat, drop back to the middle and the other defenders will have our back."
While Howell's top scorers were kept off the board during regulation, they stepped up and delivered during the shootout. Senior J.P. Candela, sophomore John Fiorillo, senior Nick Spisak and sophomore Nick Turturro all cashed in on their penalty shots to set up Eckelman's finish.
"It's just your bread and butter," Eckelman said of Howell's approach. "We all went to the same spot we've been going to. I didn't have to shoot against Manasquan, so there was no film on me."
A miss off the crossbar by Rumson was the lone failed conversion in the round of penalties, but Scanlon made his presence known with his play in regulation. He made a huge, leaping save in the 67th minute on a 35-yard missile off the right foot of junior Barnett, which came after controlling the box and minimizing the lanes Rumson's attackers had to target.
On the other side, junior Cole Herman picked up the shutout for Rumson and did his part -- along with senior Reece Moroney and the defense -- to keep the Rebels off the board. Howell's chances were more limited than Rumson's were, but Yuro and his team were content to play the percentages with a more defensive tactic against Rumson's dangerous front seven.
"Every time we step on the field, we're confident we're not going to let up any goals," Eckelman said. "We haven't yet in regular time, so we're just trying to keep doing that."
With Monday's shootout victory, Howell still has yet to score a goal in the run of play during the Shore Conference Tournament. The Rebels also played a 0-0 match with Manasquan in Friday's round of 16 before advancing on penalties and are now halfway to winning the program's second ever SCT championship despite the scoring drought.
"Goals are tough to come by, especially in tournament time," Yuro said. "Trying to play good soccer kind of goes by the wayside in favor of let's not make mistakes. Sometimes you end up with soccer tennis, which doesn't always lead to goals."
Yuro has seen talented teams falter in postseason penalty-kick rounds during his tenure, as well as in games in which his team has dominated possession but gave up the key goal. His teams from 2006 through 2011 were some of the Shore's most talented and capable sides, but fell victim to close losses in both the Shore Conference Tournament and NJSIAA Tournament against more opportunistic sides -- the exception coming during the run to the 2007 Shore Conference Tournament championship.
Last year, however, the Rebels began to shift that narrative with a run to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV championship game -- one that included a scoreless draw at Princeton that ended with Howell advancing on penalties. Eckelman, Spisak and Scanlon were three key players on that team as well and there has been undeniable carryover from last year's postseason success into this season's 10-2-2 start that includes two more shootout wins.
The Rebels will try to keep their winning ways going on Thursday in the SCT semifinals at Memorial Field in Neptune, where they will take on No. 3 Holmdel with a spot in Saturday's championship game on the line.
"It's a great group of kids," Eckelman said. "Everyone loves each other and I think it can be even better than last year's team. I think we can make it to the finals of this (the SCT), I think we can make it to the finals in states and win that."