Holmdel – The Bulldogs gained some invaluable experience last Friday night in their 17-12 win over Holmdel to clinch no less than a tie for A Central Division Title playing the game without four starters including junior quarterback Danny Roberto.
Roberto was held out of the game due to a hamstring injury suffered during practice earlier in the week.
“We kept him out as a precautionary measure,” said RFH head coach Shane Fallon. “He’s a gamer, he wanted to play. It was my decision not his, and he was not happy about it. We expect him to play next week against Raritan.”
Sophomore Brian Dunphy stepped in for Roberto for his first varsity start and got the Bulldogs on the board in the first quarter with a touchdown pass to Michael Nociolo from the Holmdel 22.
Senior running back Connor Riley carried the offense with over 100 yards rushing in the first half and a 40-yard punt return for a touchdown to put the Bulldogs up 14-6 just before halftime. Riley had 32 carries for 175 yards in the game.
“We knew having our quarterback not in the lineup tonight that Riley was going to have to carry the bulk of the workload and he had a great game,” said Fallon.
Rumson added an 18-yard field goal from John Ryan with 1:30 left in the third quarter to cap the Bulldog scoring.
RFH had several opportunities inside the red zone to put the game away but were unable to capitalize and allowed Holmdel to keep it close through the final minute.
“You’ve got to credit Holmdel,” Fallon said. “Their kids made some nice plays.”
At the start of the second quarter with Rumson leading 7-0 and punting on a 4th and 14 from their own 41, Holmdel’s Tom Fazio charged through the line and blocked the punt. Rumson recovered the ball on its own 1-yard line and set Holmdel up for its first touchdown. Frank Condito ran the ball into the end zone on first and goal but Tim McDonnell’s point-after attempt was no good and Holmdel trailed by one.
After the kickoff, RFH started on its own 37 but Riley charged 57-yards on first down to get the ball inside the Holmdel 6-yard line. However, Holmdel held the line and took over on downs after RFH failed to score on 4th and goal.
“We knew they’d play hard,” Fallon said. “Offensively we struggled in the red zone. If we capitalized on some of those opportunities, it’s a different game.”
“We felt we had to win plays and set goals,” Holmdel head coach Frank Papalia said. “We were able to accomplish them and that’s what we take out of this.”
Holmdel held Rumson to a field goal late in the third after making another goal line stand keeping the Bulldogs out of the end zone on a first and goal from the 3-yard line.
Midway through the fourth quarter Holmdel cut the score to 17-12 after intercepting a Dunphy pass on 2nd and long. Robbie Cantelli ran the ball in from the 11-yard line for the score and also converted the PAT.
Holmdel had a chance to steal the game with less than a minute to go after forcing RFH to punt. Cantelli made a one-handed catch from quarterback Matt Muh to bring the ball across midfield to the Bulldog 42. After a loss of two Muh slipped in the backfield to set up a 3rd and 15 with time running out. Muh hit Cantelli again but the Hornets came up short of the first down as time expired.
“We knew that’s the best Group II team in the state maybe; the best coached team top to bottom,” Papalia said. “We had an opportunity a few times to win the game and just to say that makes you proud.”