By Ryan Fennell
Rumson – The Rumson-Fair Haven Bulldogs demonstrated why and how they earned the top seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II playoff bracket when they defeated eighth-seeded Rahway, 29-0, last Friday night at Borden Stadium.
The Bulldogs’ first-round effort displayed the caliber of play required to win a state championship, as the team did last year, by executing on both sides of the ball.
“I thought we were balanced today,” said head coach Shane Fallon. “We were able to run the ball and throw the ball…defensively we did a great job.”
Running back Connor Riley had 13 carries for 104 yards while quarterback Danny Roberto went 11 for 13 passing for 153-yards in the game. Roberto connected five times with wide receiver Blake Potter for 129 yards.
Although they only held a 6-0 lead at the half, the Bulldogs’ offense was able to move the ball up and down the field, but failed to convert any of its chances in the first quarter.
Midway through the second quarter RFH started to find the holes in the Rahway defense and scored on a 2-yard carry by fullback Jack Miles after driving 70-yards in six plays. Michael Volker’s point-after try was no good.
Rumson threatened again after forcing Rahway to punt, but running back Connor Walsh was stripped, and Rahway recovered at its own 10-yard line.
The Indians drove down field and were threatening to score just before the half, but Dan Babiak broke up a pass from Rahway QB Hakeem Kornegay in the back of the endzone as time expired.
“All year we’ve struggled in the first half,” said Fallon who noted that starting left tackle Matt Jewett was unavailable (but would start this Friday) and junior Joe Flippo made the start in his place. “He (Flippo) did a great job today in his first varsity start in a big playoff game.”
“We’ve been in this position before going into halftime,” Fallon added. “Our kids are a mature group and have played in a lot of big games. They don’t panic.”
Fallon said he and his coaching staff have been asked repeatedly what they say to the kids in the locker room at halftime to make the adjustments on the field in the second, but Fallon said it’s never anything special.
“We usually just calm them down, tell them to stick together, and believe in the game plan. It’s a credit to our kids. They come out and they play hard.”
It didn’t take long for the Bulldogs to capitalize on opportunities in the second half.
On Rahway’s first possession and facing a 2nd and 11, Miles, in at defensive end, came up with a huge 9-yard sack to push the Indians back to their own 14. After a short gain, Rahway was forced to punt on 4th and 14 but a bad snap sailed into the endzone and the Rumson pressure forced Rahway to kick the ball out of bounds for the safety and RFH led, 8-0.
On the kickoff, Jack Eisenstadt got the ball on a short, line-drive kick and returned the ball 16 yards to the Rahway 32. On the next play Riley carried the ball 27 yards to the five-yard line. Riley got the ball on first and goal and scampered in for the score just under three minutes into the second half of play.
Volker’s PAT was good and the Bulldogs took a 15-0 lead.
Rumson quickly went up 22-0 after Rahway fumbled the ball on its own 23-yard line on its next possession and J.T. Jennings recovered for Rumson.
Roberto hit Michael Nociolo for a 12-yard gain and Riley carried it down to the 1 before Rumson decided to hand the ball off to senior lineman Michael Alonzo who barreled in for the touchdown.
But, Alonzo wasn’t finished.
On its next possession, Rahway was creeping into Rumson territory when Alonzo rushed in on Kornegay and forced a fumble that Rumson recovered.
Walsh was given the ball on the ensuing Bulldog drive and took the ball 42-yards to the Rahway 5-yard line and later into the endzone to put the game out of reach for the Indians at 29-0.
“This is a big win for us,” Fallon said. “They’re (Rahway) not a typical eight-seed. They have a lot of tradition and are a good football team, so we weren’t exactly thrilled when they got the eight-seed.”
Rumson will host fifth-seeded Delaware Valley this Friday night in the semifinals of the Central Jersey Group II playoffs. The winner of that game will go on to play the winner of the Matawan (6) – Manasquan (2) semifinal matchup also scheduled for Friday night.