Get our free mobile app

OCEAN TWP. - Prior to Wednesday night, the last time the Rumson-Fair Haven boys soccer team was on the pitch for game action, the Bulldogs watched their All-Shore midfielder leave with a potential season-ending leg injury on the way to a loss to a team with a losing record.

On Wednesday night at Ocean, Rumson -- the No. 5 team in the latest Shore Sports Network Top 10 -- faced a two-goal halftime deficit against the No. 8 Spartans with senior Luke Pentikis unavailable to help bail them out.

Facing a potentially season-crippling set of circumstances, Rumson rose up and drew closer to capturing its first division championship in six years.

Pentikis's younger brother, junior Alec Pentikis, ignited the second-half comeback with Rumson's first goal and junior Antonio Santos buried the game-winner in the 69th minute as the Bulldogs rallied from a two-score hole at the half to upend Ocean, 3-2.

Rumson senior Mike Calabrese and Ocean senior Aidan Tisoney chase a loose ball. (Photo by Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

"We have played three overtime games and Saturday was the first time we have trailed all year and we told the guys that those experiences are going to help us," Rumson-Fair Haven coach Jeff Soares said. "They're used to playing in these close games."

With the first four minutes of play Wednesday, Rumson found itself trailing to an Ocean side trying to keep its faint hopes for a Shore Conference Class A Central division title alive. Spartans senior Aidan Tisony shook loose for a goal 3:36 into the match and by the 27th minute, Ocean had a 2-0 lead after Tisony connected with classmate Michael Reid on a cross that Reid finished at the near left post.

During the 27 minutes in which Ocean built its 2-0 lead, Rumson hardly sniffed the Spartans goal but that began to change over the final 10 minutes of the first half, if only subtly.

Then came the halftime speech.

"Aiden Colburn is a great goalie and an even better teammate and he stood up and really got us going at halftime," Santos said of Rumson's senior goalkeeper. "The message was just keep your head up and play for each other."

On top of the emotion, Rumson also got tactical with a formation change to counter an unexpected formation to start the game from Ocean, which itself was short a pair of starters in junior defender Daniel Abrams and junior forward Archeley Eugene.

"We have watched them a couple times this year and they threw out a formation that I haven't seen them play," said Soares, who played and coached in the Ocean program prior to accepting the head coaching job at Rumson. "I told these guys at the beginning of the year that they have to be ready to switch up the formation at halftime and do it successfully and they did it tonight."

Motivated by Colburn and armed with a more appropriate strategy, Rumson wasted little time closing the gap. Pentikis tracked a ball played through by junior forward Jacob Brown and finished inside the near left post to cut the Ocean lead to 2-1 in the 45th minute.

"Something I learned from (former Ocean coach Tom) Reilly is the all-important third goal," Soares said. "When it's 2-0, whoever gets that third goal has all the momentum. We have been on the other end when we have been up 2-0 and when you give up the next one, it totally changed the momentum."

Rumson junior Alec Pentikis on the attack. (Photo by Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

Pentikis, playing in his third season as a starter and coming off an injury-marred sophomore campaign in 2020, has now scored a goal in six straight games and is up to eight for the season.

"The kid is dynamite," Soares said. "Our game plan was always brother (Luke) played to brother (Alec) and now his brother is out and we were still able to generate something in the middle. It's going to be a little more possession style, which is fun to watch, but I'm just glad we have him up top."

Less than four minutes later, Rumson got its equalizer. Brown again put himself in the middle of the action when he flicked a free kick from Santos toward the front of the goal, where senior Mike Calabrese won the battle for position and poked the ball in for the game-tying score in the 49th minute.

"Any deflection, I'm always there, trying to cause chaos," Calabrese said.

With Luke Pentikis out, Soares expects his team will play a more possession-oriented style and that showed over the course of the second half - including on the final goal. Santos received the ball off a series of passes, pressed up into open space and ripped a shot that was blocked by a Ocean defender.

The ball, however, rolled right back to Santos and the junior unleashed a low, laser-like strike that tucked into the lower left corner of the goal.

The goal was the first of the season for Santos, who missed his team's first six games while recovering from sports hernia surgery. He returned to the field for Saturday's 2-1 loss at Middletown North, which was the same game in which Luke Pentikis sustained his injury. While Rumson will miss out on playing with both Santos and Luke Pentikis until late October at the earliest and perhaps altogether, Santos's comeback at least gives Rumson a de facto replacement for its All-Shore midfielder after Luke Pentikis helped lead the Bulldogs to a 4-0-2 start.

"Luke is, no question, the best player on the field," Santos said. "Being out for a while, it means a lot to come back and show the guys that I'm here and show (Soares) that he doesn't have much to worry about."

In addition to Santos now being settled back in and Alec Pentikis locked into a scoring tear, Rumson has gotten quality play out of its defense after having to replace its entire 2020 unit in front of Colburn.

Rumson-Fair Haven senior goalkeeper Aiden Colburn grabs the loose ball in the box. (Photo by Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

"I have known these guys for a bunch of years and we're just having a bunch of fun," said Calabrese, who plays on the outside of the defense.

That back line held of nicely after a shaky first half, limiting Ocean's looks and forcing the Spartans into lower-percentage shots. Ocean made a push to tie the game over the final 10 minutes, but the Bulldogs did not allow a dangerous shot during that stretch.

Colburn did have to make his fair share of saves, including a diving stop to his left on a low, 30-yard free kick from Ocean senior Brian Miranda with the game still tied, 2-2.

With Wednesday's win, Rumson is one win away from wrapping up the Class A Central title, a feat the Bulldogs have not accomplished since 2015. The division schedule wraps up for Rumson on Oct. 5 with a home game vs. Raritan.

"They know that this Shore Conference is wide open," Soares said of his players. "There might be two or three teams at the top right now, but anyone can go down at anytime. Being part of Ocean for 10 years, we have gone on crazy runs and we have been upset, you now anybody can go down. I just want our guys to come to play every single game and to know they can been on either side of it."

Ocean senior Aidan Tisony. (Photo by Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Ocean senior Michael Reid. (Photo by Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)