By Brian Deakyne
RUMSON — If anyone were going to do it, that person would be Jack Curran.
With the undefeated Bulldogs trailing, 4-1, to open the third quarter of the NJSIAA Group I state playoffs second round, Curran scored the goal that opened the floodgates for Rumson-Fair Haven.
Including Curran’s goal, the fourth-seeded Bulldogs outscored West Deptford, 10-1, in the second half, pulling away with an impressive 11-5 win at Borden Stadium over the 14th-seeded Eagles, who beat Red Bank Regional last Thursday in the first round.
“I think the guys on this team look for me to do that, and look for the captains to step up. We have a lot of seniors on this team that can do it, and today, it just so happened to be me,” the Villanova-bound Curran said. “They responded and we had a good second half and came out firing.”
Curran took the ball from behind the net, curled around front and beat Eagles goalie Brendan Gill short-side and high, ending a streak of more than 24 minutes without a goal.
It didn’t take long for the rest of the Bulldogs to follow suit.
Christopher Hubler, taking the ground ball off a faceoff and taking the ball on a fast break, scored 21 seconds after Curran, beating Gill low to draw the Bulldogs within a goal at 4-3.
Michael Clarke added a goal 19 seconds after Hubler’s, finding a loose ball in the crease and throwing it into the back of the net while being knocked to the ground. Michael Villane had brought the ball into the box, but he was checked near the slot and the loose ball found its way into Clarke’s stick.
From that point on, Rumson was in control and never looked back, adding two more goals in the third quarter and five in the fourth to pull away with the win.
“The first thing I said to them was, ‘Tomorrow is going to happen. So don’t worry about it, tomorrow is coming. It’s inevitable,'” Rumson-Fair Haven head coach Reid Jackson said of his halftime speech. “We were going to win or we were going to lose. We needed to relax, play our game. That was a very good team and very well-coached team, they came prepared.
“I didn’t feel like, matchup-to-matchup, that anybody could really beat us. We just needed to stick together. We didn’t change much, we just needed to settle it down.”
Chris Sutphen scored the go-ahead goal in the third quarter, man-up for RFH, taking the ball from behind the cage and beating Gill high, much like Curran did, after missing some time in the first half.
Clarke added his second goal of the quarter in the final minute of the third, taking a feed from Curran across the crease and slamming the left-handed shot into the net, putting the Bulldogs up, 6-4.
Rumson-Fair Haven kept the attack on in the fourth quarter, getting two more goals from Curran, including one eight seconds into the quarter and another one after winning a ground ball near midfield and running in alone on a fast break, finishing the play with a goal, going high on Gill.
Colin Shea added a fourth quarter goal for RFH, along with Ryan McCausland on the man-up, and Villane, who torched a goal to the corner of the net with just over two minutes left in the game.
“I think this shows a lot of character. We’re capable of coming back, we’re capable of not getting down on ourselves and getting to the next play,” Curran said.
Sutphen put the Bulldogs on the board first, working from behind the net and bouncing a shot past Gill with 8:04 to go in the first quarter, but Rumson wouldn’t score again for 24:07 when Curran got things started in the third quarter.
“I think the guys are anxious. Honestly, I saw it in warm-ups, I think we took them too lightly, even though we tried to avoid that. I keep telling them, you have to respect every team from here-on-out, it’s only going to get exponentially harder,” Jackson said.
“It definitely is [tough], [Gill] is very good, a lot of props to him,” Curran said. “I don’t think we necessarily played the smartest first half and we got off to a slow start, but we held our heads high and got after it in the second half, made smarter shots, made smarter passes and really got the offense going.”
Again, the attack line of Clarke-Curran-Sutphen accounted for the majority of the Bulldogs’ goals, banking 7 of the 11 goals on Tuesday.
“I thought they did a great job. They rode hard, they played tough up on the midfield line, and we started to compose it a little bit more, compared to jamming it in there,” Jackson said. “I was very, very pleased.”
Last week, the Bulldogs topped Jackson Memorial in the finals, 9-8, for their second straight Shore Conference Tournament title. RFH trailed heading into the fourth quarter, but they rallied to beat the Jaguars in the championship game for the second straight season.
“We trailed to Jackson so we proved that we can come back,” Curran said.