By Phil Anastasia
Zach Jacobs said his game-winning goal in overtime was a "rush."
Some of his teammates on the Eastern boys' lacrosse team felt a sense of relief.
But Vikings coach Steve Picot saw his team's dramatic victory in another light: As a reward.
"We played eight games against teams in the Top 20 in the state," Picot said. "We played a lot of them close, had some little victories. We tried to build off that."
The Vikings' perserverance paid off in a playoff victory.
Jacobs' goal off a feed from Luke Brown just 35 seconds into overtime ended a taut battle in difficult conditions and sent the Vikings into the second round of the South Jersey Group 4 tournament.
Eastern (6-12), the No. 8 seed, will visit top-seeded Southern on Tuesday.
"It was a rush like nothing I've ever felt," said Jacobs, a sophomore attack who registered a hat trick.
Senior attack Collin Mitchell also scored three goals for Eastern. Mitchell's steal and break-away goal with two minutes, 28 seconds remmaining in regulation tied the game at 7-7.
"I found an extra gear," Mitchell said of his late heroics. "I knew I needed to make a play."
The Vikings' resilience was evident in a game that was played in challenging weather, from a heavy downpour in the first half to a steady rain to a wind-blown mist.
Ninth-seeded Freehold (8-6) held leads of 2-0, 3-1, 5-3 and 7-5.
Eastern's first and only lead came on Jacobs' game-winning goal.
"Coach said at the beginning of the season that the word to describe us would be 'relentlessness,'" said Brown, a senior midfielder who contributed four assists. "We don't give up no matter the score."
Picot believes his team was battle-tested by a demanding schedule. The Vikings' lost seven in a row in one stretch.
They also dropped a number of games by close scores such as 5-3 to Cherokee, 9-8 to Haddonfield, 10-8 to Washington Township and 11-7 to Clearview.
In their most recent game, Eastern dropped an 8-7 decision to Oakcrest in overtime.
"It's nice to be on the other side of that (same) score, especially in the playoffs," Mitchell said.
In overtime, Brown had possession near the top of the circle when he was checked by Freehold's long-pole defender. The ball came loose, creating a scramble.
Brown scooped up the ball and saw Jacobs' open on the door step. Brown fired a quick pass, and Jacobs buried his opportunity to pop the cork on the Vikings' celebration.
"We're still a young team but these guys fought hard against a ridiculous schedule," Picot said. "It's nice to see their hard work pay off."
Freehold 2 2 1 2 0 -- 7
Eastern 1 2 2 2 1 -- 8
Goals: F-John Poole 2, Brandon Nunez 2, Steve O'Brien, Mike Coppa, Matt Lach. E-Collin Mitchell 3, Zach Jacobs 3, Eric Sawyer, Eric Ellis.
Saves: F-Chris Favale 6. E-Jake Manelis 4.
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