By Brian Deakyne
SUMMIT — The Bulldogs got everything they were looking for, it just came a half too late.
After trailing 8-2 at halftime at the hands of top-seeded Summit, fourth-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven rebounded strong in the second half, playing even with the defending group I champions.
Rumson-Fair Haven fell to the Hilltoppers, 13-7 in the the NJSIAA group I semi-finals last Saturday.
In the end, a daunting first half that witnessed Summit dominate possession cost Rumson at Investors Bank Field.
“When we got the ball, we panicked a little bit and threw the ball away,” Rumson-Fair Haven head coach Reid Jackson said.
Summit was led by the tag team of Nick Kilkowski and Austin Carbone, who together combined for 9 of Summit’s 13 goals.
RFH got goals from Michael Clarke in the first and second quarters for its two first half goals, but Clarke was able to work with linemates Jack Curran and Chris Sutphen and battle back for a strong second half.
“We did come out a lot better in the second half. We handled ourselves and said that it was a whole new game in the second half,” Clarke said. “They won the first half and we wanted to match them in the second.”
For Clarke, the game meant much more than just reaching the semi-finals.
“We came in here to win the game. We weren’t content with just getting here and making history,” he said. “We wanted to give them a fight and I think now they know that Rumson isn’t a joke coming from the Shore Conference.”
Chris Hubler and Curran posted early goals in the second half, cutting the Hilltoppers lead to 9-4, but it would be as close as they would get.
Curran finished with two goals, and Clarke finished with a team-high four goals for Rumson-Fair Haven.
“I’ve been waiting to play Summit for awhile. I played here as a freshman and we were content with not even making it to the quarterfinals,” Clarke said. “Coach Jackson keeps saying no fear. That game we were content with being there, this game we wanted to win. We knew we had a chance to win.”
“We don’t play teams like that all the time and I think we respected them too much,” Jackson said. “We were a little hesitant in the first half, and when you play a team like that, it’s about centimeters. You give them two, they’re going to take it and score.
“We played them even in the second half. I give the guys a lot of credit, the program took a big step forward. The guys never quit. Our mantra today was that we weren’t going to go away, and we didn’t.”
The loss is the lone of the season for the Bulldogs, who went 19-1, including winning the Shore Conference Tournament.
The Bulldogs went 365 days without a loss, last falling on May 26, 2011 to West Essex Regional in the quarterfinals of the group I state playoffs.
“It was fantastic,” Jackson said of the season. “It’s easy when you’re winning, but we did a lot of work. I’m proud of the seniors, I’m proud of the sophomores, I’m proud of everyone on the team. From the guys that didn’t play at all, to the guys that started. It was an all-in effort.”
“I know last year we made it to the quarterfinals and won the Shore Conference Tournament, but this team is just a family,” Clarke said. “This is just something special and hopefully we can repeat it next year.”