TOMS RIVER - With his team trailing by a goal against rival Toms River South Thursday night, Toms River North boys soccer coach Joe Mahon told his players that if they could find a way to score one goal, the game would open up for them.

That task has been easier said than done for Mahon's squad, which entered Thursday having dropped six straight against the two-time defending Class A South champions. Fortunately for Mahon, he had a pair of sophomores who were not caught up in that losing streak and found a way to score a goal.

The sophomore duo of Riley DeFeis and Nico Garcia combined for both Toms River North goals in the second half and the Mariners rallied to beat Toms River South, 2-1, denying the Indians the Class A South title for at least one more day. Toms River South needed a win or a tie to clinch the Class A South title on Thursday night.

"We are confident no matter who we play, but it was important to win this game and prove to ourselves and to everyone that we could come to their field and win," Garcia said. "South has been the better team for most of the year and if we are going to make a run, we had to show we could beat them."

Toms River North sophomore Riley DeFeis (right) battles Toms River South junior Dustin Urbaczek (left) for the ball. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Toms River North trailed its crosstown rival 1-0 heading into the second half, just as the Mariners did for nearly the entire 80 minutes of the first meeting between the two teams earlier this season. In that 1-0 Toms River South win, the Indians scored 1:24 into the match and held the lead the rest of the way.

For the first 47 minutes Thursday, it appeared Toms River North might suffer the same fate. To that point, the Mariners had attempted just one shot and conceded the majority of possession to Toms River South.

"I just thought, with the way they defend, if we could just find a way to get one, that would change the game for us," Mahon said. "They are so tough in the back and when they have a lead, they don't give you much. I really thought getting that first goal brought them out of their defensive mode and forced them to play and that gave us a chance to attack them on the outside with some speed, which is what Nico did on his goal."

The game turned, however, in the 48th minute. Garcia beat his man up the left side and fired a shot past goalkeeper Dom Pizzi. Indians senior defender Ben Brown covered the goal line and cleared the ball away. Mariners junior Jack Butz gathered the ball and fired it back toward the goal and, once again, Brown knocked it away. Garcia one timed the rebound from the left side of the six-yard box to the far right post, where DeFeis camped out and one-timed the ball into the net for the equalizer.

From that point forward, Toms River South lost its edge in play and eventually conceded the lead on the scoreboard. Garcia took the ball from DeFeis in the 60th minute and outran the right side of the Mariner defense on the left flank. This time, it only took one shot to get the ball in the net, as Garcia chipped the ball over the oncoming Pizzi and into the far right side netting.

"On a play like that, we always practice getting the ball to the far post so someone can run on to it," Garcia said. "That's all I was trying to do once (the keeper) came out. He deflected it, so I think that might have helped it go in."

Toms River South keeper Dom Pizzi goes up over Toms River North's Mitch Reed. (Photo by Matt Manley)

Toms River South created one dangerous chance the rest of the way, which reached its climax with the ball on the left foot of junior Isaiah Dominguez on the left side of the 18-yard box. Dominguez fired a low shot toward the near post, but Mariners keeper Kevin Ryan had the near side of the net covered and made the save.

The Indians jumped in front 22 minutes into the match thanks to a handball inside the box that prompted a penalty kick. Sophomore Clem Slavick finished to the lower left to give Toms River South the lead and the Indians finished off a dominant first half with a comfortable 6-1 margin in shots, including 4-0 in attempts on frame.

The offense from the sophomore duo was a welcome site for the Mariners, who relied almost exclusively on senior Mitch Reed to generate anything resembling an attack in the first meeting between the teams. While Reed remained a primary target, DeFeis provided needed touch in the midfield and Garcia was a threat on the outside with his speed.

"We have a pretty talented sophomore group and those guys are at or near the top," Mahon said. "They don't have the size that you typically need in a game like this, but they have some speed and their skills are advanced. It's just a matter of them adjusting to the physicality of a game like this. In a couple of years, they will be used to that, plus they will be able to play. We don't play all that much soccer with this group, but by the time these sophomores are seniors, I think we'll actually be able to possess."

The win not only delayed a third straight Class A South division title celebration for Toms River South, but it gave Toms River North a chance to deny the Indians the title altogether. Toms River South still controls its own destiny with respect to the A South title, but it must defeat Southern on Saturday morning to clinch the outright crown. Should Toms River South tie the Rams and Toms River North win its final two games against Brick Memorial and Toms River East, then the two teams would share the title as co-champions.

Toms River North can still win the title outright if Southern defeats Toms River South and Toms River North wins its last two games.