By Jim Hintelmann
PISCATAWAY – This time it was Matawan’s turn against Rumson-Fair Haven Regional in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II football playoffs.
A year ago Rumson, after losing a regular season game to the Huskies, stunned previously unbeaten Matawan, 13-7 to win its first ever NJSIAA CJ Group II football title in one of the biggest upsets in playoff history.
Saturday, the roles were reversed with Rumson, having beaten Matawan in a regular season game, going into the CJ II title game as a heavy favorite, especially since Matawan was minus four starters due to disciplinary reasons.
Matawan, though, shocked the Bulldogs, 3-0, to win the championship, and did it by beating Rumson at its own game: defense.
Matawan held Rumson to just 83 yards rushing while limiting quarterback Dan Roberto, hounded by a fierce Matawan pass rush, to just 13 completions in 27 attempts for 125 yards. The longest completion went for 21 yards.
“Matawan is a good football town and has a lot of pride,” said Rumson coach Shane Fallon. “Anytime that you steal one like we did last year, you know that they are going to come back.
“We didn’t take them lightly,” he said. “We wouldn’t have changed our game plan even if we had to play them again. We knew that it was going to be a defensive battle and Matawan just out-executed us and made enough plays to win. Things just didn’t go our way but you have to credit Matawan for that.”
The only scoring of the game came on Matawan’s first series of the game following the opening kickoff. The Huskies went 51 yards in 10 plays but were stopped at the Rumson 14 and had to settle for Mike Creamer’s 31-yard field goal. As it turned out, that was enough to win the game.
“That was the most stressful two weeks of my life,” said Matawan Joe Martucci, in talking about the suspensions. “What happened, happened, but the kids rallied around it and did an unbelievable job.
“We had a great week of practice,” he noted. “If anyone told me that we would win it, I would have lost my house, Rumson has a great football program, but we got some breaks and it was an unbelievable victory.
”Our game plan was to take away their passing,” he added. “We felt that we could control their running game and we wanted to run the clock.”
Rumson threatened just twice in the game, with its best opportunity coming in the second quarter when it reached the Matawan 6 helped by a 21-yard pass from Roberto to Jake Potter.
Rumson was faced with a fourth down and, given the choice of a short field goal or try for the touchdown, Fallon elected to go for the seven points, but Roberto was dropped for a 4-yard loss on a pass attempt.
“We’ve done that (ignoring the field goal) a lot of times on fourth down and executed,” said Fallon. “We haven’t attempted a lot of field goals this year. The (college) goal posts are a little narrower and, with the atmosphere here, we felt that we would go for the touchdown and maybe put a little more pressure on them.”
Rumson had one more chance and that came right before the end of the game when Roberto finally found his touch and completed three passes for 33 yards to help get the ball to the Matawan 21 with 1:47 left.
Roberto was dropped for an 8-yard loss, but Connor Riley gained 12 yards to the 17 leaving Rumson with another chance for a game tying field goal.
Volker was sent out to apparently try a 35-yard field goal but Roberto, the holder, passed instead to Potter, but the ball fell incomplete.
“That was slightly out of Volker’s range,” Fallon explained. “We knew after watching films that Matawan came hard off the corners and thought we could complete a pass, but it went incomplete. We worked on that play all season in practice.”
“Penalties also hurt us in the second half,” he said. “Any time we got something going, we would end up with a first and 15 or second and 25.”
Although losing, Rumson (10-2) still set a school record for wins and won the A Central Division championship.
It will be a bit of a rebuilding season next year for the Bulldogs, but the program has been established and the future looks bright.
“We lose 26 seniors, but I’m proud of them,” said Fallon. “They have nothing to be ashamed about. We’re getting better as a program and will bounce back.”