STAFFORD – With a familiar nemesis in town for a marquee early-season game, Southern head coach John Pampalone was eager to find out if his team was ready for the moment. It took longer than the allotted 48 minutes but in the end, he got the answer he hoped for.

Junior attackman Nick Fontana took a pass from fellow junior Aniello Russo and blasted it into the back of the net in the opening minute of overtime to send the Rams, ranked No. 4 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, to a thrilling 6-5 victory over No. 3 Rumson-Fair Haven on Monday afternoon. Rumson had erased a three-goal deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime, but a clutch face-off win by senior Anthony Firmani and a redemptive setup by Russo from the seat of his pants helped the Rams pick up a huge win to run their record to 4-0.

“There’s no better feeling in the world, that was amazing,” said Fontana, who scored a game-high three goals and netted his second game-winning overtime goal of the season. “We lost a lot of seniors last year so we know it’s a bit of a rebuilding year. This means a lot.”

“This shows the guts and the character of these kids,” Pampalone said. “Each team comes together at different times of the season. We’re new in a lot of spots and I knew we would keep fighting, and you hope your kids respond like this. This was this team’s first test to see what they’re about and they showed it today.”

Fontana’s three goals paced the Rams while Russo had two goals and one assist and sophomore midfielder Ben LoParo scored once. Luke Maul backstopped a tremendous defensive effort with 10 saves. Rowan Goldin scored twice and Patrick Jamin had a goal and three assists for Rumson, which fell to 1-5 on the season. Going by that record alone would do a disservice to both Southern’s win and Rumson’s schedule. The Bulldogs’ four losses prior to Monday’s game had come against the No. 2, No. 8, No. 11 and No. 14 teams in the state. Rumson also has a pedigree unmatched by any Shore Conference program.

“You can’t say enough about Rumson and where they’ve been in the Shore Conference for the last 15 years,” Pampalone said. “We’ve been fortunate to battle them a lot, especially on the big stage, and we’ve been able to get them a couple times. Today’s win – for an early-season, non(divisional) game – brought playoff intensity I thought.”

Southern gained possession in overtime after Firmani won the draw forward and was pushed down by a Rumson player, resulting in a loose ball push on the Bulldogs. Russo eventually got the ball in the alley and curled around the cage. As he was coming around the other side he slipped and fell, but as Rumson’s defense began to converge on him he found a wide-open Fontana, who was able to step into the shot and rip it past Rumson goalie Sean Bunnell.

“I thought he was losing the ball so I was getting ready to go over and help but he made a play and a half and got me the ball,” Fontana said. “The goalie was getting back into the net and I had to take advantage of that.”

Russo’s play to set up Fontana’s game-winner gave him redemption. It was his fourth-quarter unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that resulted in a two-minute, non-releasable penalty which Rumson scored twice on to tie the game at five.

“We talk all the time about having each other’s backs,” Pampalone said. “There’s going to be good times and there’s going to be bad times but everybody has to have everybody’s back. It was a tough call and something he’ll learn from but we were able to overcome it. We stuck with him and he was able to make a huge play at the end.”

A big factor in the game was Rumson losing standout defenseman Stephen Edler to an injury in the first half. Edler was assigned to Fontana, so missing him was a major blow to the Bulldogs.

LoParo’s goal off a pass from Ryan McWhorter 1:29 into the fourth quarter gave Southern a 5-2 lead and served as the Rams’ fourth straight goal. But just as it appeared Southern had all the momentum, Rumson answered just 11 seconds later when Alex Maldjian won the face-off and Goldin finished on the crease to make it 5-3.

With 6:56 left in regulation Russo’s infraction put Southern down a man for two minutes, and Rumson took advantage with a goal by Jamin at 6:34 and a goal by Rowan at 5:38 to tie the game, 5-5.

Southern’s resilience and timeliness were evident not only on Fontana’s game-winning goal. Rumson took a 1-0 lead in the first quarter when Jamin set up William Sullivan for a goal, but Southern tied it when Russo scored off a pass from Cade Johnson to beat the buzzer and tie the score, 1-1, heading to the second quarter. The Rams had more late-quarter heroics to end the first half, too. Jack Whitelaw’s goal exactly four minutes into the second quarter put Rumson up 2-1, however, Russo scored with 10 seconds left to tie the score and, after a face-off win by Firmani, Fontana scored on a long shot just inside the pipe with three seconds left to give the Rams a 3-2 halftime lead.

While Fontana’s overtime goal is the prevailing highlight, the backdrop all game was the play of Southern’s defense and Maul’s consistency in the cage. The Rams are employing a zone defense this season and the group has taken to the new set very quickly. They kept Rumson to the outside early and when the Bulldogs began to attack the center of the zone with quick passes they made sure to get their sticks into passing lanes to deflect passes and force turnovers. And when a shot did get through, Maul was there to make the important stops.

“Our defense is playing outstanding and has really been able to stabilize us and allow our younger offense to get their legs and figure things out,” Pampalone said. “We switched to a zone a little bit last year and played it about half the time, and this year this group has really taken to it. And for Luke to step in after a long run of good goaltenders we’ve had here – he didn’t really get any time last year but was able to win the job in the preseason – he has been outstanding.”

“Everyone played on top of their game and it was a huge win,” Maul said. “We came out with great intensity and we were able to get the win.”

Southern has little time to soak in the victory, however. The Rams will travel to Freehold Township to take on the sixth-ranked Patriots on Tuesday afternoon. Freehold Township’s holdovers from last year will certainly be out to exact some revenge after losing to Southern, 16-3, last season.

“I know they’re coming for us,” Fontana said. “We just beat Rumson and have confidence through the roof, but we can’t let that get in our way.”


Box Score

Southern 6, Rumson-Fair Haven 5 (OT)

Rumson (1-5) 1 1 0 3 0 – 5

Southern (4-0) 1 2 1 1 1 – 6

GOALS – RFH: Rowan Goldin 2, Jack Whitelaw, William Sullivan, Patrick Jamin; S: Nick Fontana 3, Aniello Russo 2, Ben LoParo.

ASSISTS – RFH: Patrick Jamin 3; S: Aniello Russo, Cade Johnson, Ryan McWhorter.

SAVES – RFH: Sean Bunnell 8; S: Luke Maul 10.

SHOTS: Rumson, 26-21.


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.


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