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RUMSON - Trailing by a pair of touchdowns at halftime on the road against a defending state champion in a showdown of Top 10 teams on Thursday night, St. John Vianney was in a position it had not experienced in the type of spotlight it had never played under in this millennium.

"It was uncharted waters,'' said first-year Lancers coach Mark Ciccotelli. "Over there (at Rumson-Fair Haven), there's a lot of tradition. I've been at other places when you're in that situation and you know how to fight back, you know how to be resilient. Here we hadn't done that yet, so you don't know how they're going to react."

Not only did the Lancers, ranked No. 5 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, never get rattled in a position they had never faced, they took a huge step toward their first division title since 1982 when they ripped off 21 unanswered points in the second half to knock off No. 3 Rumson-Fair Haven 35-28 in a Class A Central thriller at Borden Stadium. Now in sole possession of first place in the division, St. John Vianney (4-0, 3-0) continued its best start since 1998 by rushing for 271 yards, including 198 when it outscored the Bulldogs 21-0 in the second half.

St. John Vianney junior quarterback Anthony Brown threw for one touchdown and ran for two more in a 35-28 win over Rumson-Fair Haven. (Photo by B51 Photography)

Junior quarterback Anthony Brown led the charge with 127 yards passing and a touchdown as well as 78 yards rushing and a pair of second-half touchdown runs to spearhead the comeback.

"True winners play from inside, and that's what we did today,'' Brown said. "This is a giant leap."

Junior Khalil Haskins scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown with a 47-yard run on a jet sweep with 7:56 left in the game for a 35-28 lead, and the Lancers' defense held on from there.

The Bulldogs (2-1, 2-1), who were missing Princeton-bound tailback Charlie Volker due to a high ankle sprain, drove down to St. John Vianney's 24-yard line in the waning seconds before sophomore defensive lineman Raphael Auguste sacked Rumson sophomore quarterback Mike O'Connor on fourth-and-7 to seal the win.

"They stepped up to the plate and did a great job,'' Ciccotelli said.

"We've been down before, and it's not hard to come back if we stay as a family, and that's what we did,'' Haskins said. "We played for each other."

St. John Vianney opened the game looking like it was going to run away with a victory, going right down the field on its first two possessions to take a quick 14-0 lead. The Lancers went 80 yards in eight plays to start the game, with Brown going 4-for-5 passing before junior running back Calvin Beaty plowed in from a yard out for the early 7-0 advantage. After the defense forced a three-and-out, they came right back with a six-play, 62-yard drive that ended with Brown hitting senior wideout Dan Calabro for a 14-yard touchdown with 4:33 left in the first quarter.

However, Rumson responded with 28 unanswered points behind an explosive first half by O'Connor, who rushed for 189 of his career-high 260 yards and three touchdowns before the break. He got things started with a 68-yard touchdown run to draw a roar from the home crowd and cut the lead to 14-7 with 3:06 left in the first quarter.

After senior safety Sam Eisenstadt broke up a pass on third down to kill a St. John Vianney drive early in the second quarter, O'Connor and sophomore Matt Vecchiarelli, who had a career-high 130 yards rushing, spearheaded a seven-play, 72-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard run by Eisenstadt to tie it at 14 with 7:59 left in the half.

The teams then traded turnovers, including an interception by St. John Vianney's Josh Taylor in the end zone, before O'Connor found the end zone two more times. Vecchiarelli ran off the left side for a 47-yard gain that set up O'Connor's 11-yard touchdown run for a 20-14 lead with 3:47 left in the half after the extra point was no good, and then O'Connor had one final burst before halftime. He took a quarterback draw up the middle and raced 74 yards to the house before hitting tight end Kenny Ferrare for a two-point conversion pass that made it 28-14 with only 24.1 seconds left in the half.

"We were there on those plays, but you can't whiff,'' Ciccotelli said. "When we have free hitters to the football, make the play."

"We were out of position a couple of times in the first half, which can't happen, and we just fixed that and were good to go,'' said Calabro, who also had a strong game at safety.

Despite the absence of Volker, Rumson had exploded for 285 yards rushing in the first half to put St. John Vianney in the biggest halftime hole it has faced this season.

Sophomore quarterback Mike O'Connor was sensational in defeat for Rumson-Fair Haven with a career-high 260 yards rushing and three touchdowns. (Photo by B51 Photography)

"We just knew that we couldn't panic at halftime,'' Calabro said. "They had a couple big plays in the first half, and we just knew we had to make some adjustments and come out fighting. Their quarterback was obviously killing us in the first half, so we had to key on him."

"All we had to do was wrap up, and once we started wrapping up, they couldn't go anywhere,'' said Brown, who also plays in the secondary.

The defense gained immediate confidence by forcing a three-and-out by Rumson to start the second half, and then Brown and the offense got back in the groove after struggling in the second quarter. St. John Vianney did not attempt a pass in the second half, turning to its size advantage up front on the offensive line to fuel the comeback. The Lancers became the first team besides No. 1 Red Bank Catholic to put 35 points on Rumson's defense since Cranford scored 41 in 2005.

"In the second half we said, 'Let's run the football a little bit behind the guys up front,''' Ciccotelli said.

A four-play, 54-yard drive, highlighted by a 25-yard rumble by Beaty, ended with a 9-yard scamper by Brown that cut the lead to 28-21 with 8:06 left in the third quarter. After the defense came up with another stop, the Lancers marched 82 yards in six plays, with the big play coming on a 29-yard run on a jet sweep by Haskins, before Brown broke off a 31-yard touchdown run to tie it at 28 with only 6.5 seconds left in the third quarter.

"(Brown) is like Johnny Manziel,'' Calabro said. "Coach 'Cicc' says it himself. He's a great athlete."

"Up top in the booth they saw how they were overplaying jets, overplaying my friend Khalil, and we just stuck it up the middle,'' Brown said.

Rumson drove to St. John Vianney's 31-yard line on its ensuing possession, but a hit for a four-yard loss on third down by Calabro and a tackle for a one-yard loss by Haskins on fourth down killed the drive. The Lancers then mounted their decisive drive, going 64 yards in only four plays, scoring when Haskins took a handoff from Brown and raced 47 yards around the right side to paydirt with 7:56 left in the game.

St. John Vianney junior Khalil Haskins ran for the game-winning, 47-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against Rumson. (Photo by B51 Photography)

"We ran the same plays we worked on at practice for these situations here, and coach called a great play,'' Haskins said. "Our running backs were doing a great job running up the middle and coach saw an opening to the sideline."

"It was actually a jet read, and I just knew he could get out there, so I just let it go,'' Brown said.

Rumson had one final chance to tie it and drove 57 yards on 14 plays before facing third-and-6 on St. John Vianney's 23-yard line. A crucial holding penalty had negated a first down inside the Lancers' 20-yard line, and they held on from there, sealing the win on Auguste's sack for the biggest regular-season victory by St. John Vianney since arguably the 1980s.

"We just didn't finish,'' said Rumson head coach Bryan Batchler. "We made some mistakes, but we had a chance there at the end and just didn't finish."

"It's a big step,'' Calabro said about the win. "That's a good football team over there, but we still have to take it one step at a time from here."

While Rumson took the loss, it showed that once it is back at full power, the defending Central Jersey Group II champions will be lethal with the running combination of Volker, one of the top running backs in the state, and a blossoming star in O'Connor.

As for St. John Vianney, it will be favored in the remainder of its games, so there is a strong possibility it will enter the Non-Public Group III playoffs at 8-0, hearkening back to its glory days in the early 1980s.

"We beat a good football team, a defending state champ with a lot of tradition,'' Ciccotelli said. "It's a great win, we enjoy it a little bit, and then we've got to move on."

Box score

St. John Vianney 35, Rumson-FH 28

.                                    S                     R

First downs                 17                    15

Rushes-yards          27-271              51-393

Passing                   10-17-0               3-5-1

Passing yards           127                     17

Fumbles-lost             1-1                      0-0

Penalties                    5-35                  4-30

SJ Vianney (4-0, 3-0)     14  0  14  7 - 35

Rumson-FH (2-1, 2-1)     7  21  0  0 - 28

Scoring summary

S: Beaty 1-yard run (Rice kick).

S: Calabro 14-yard pass from Brown (Rice kick).

R: O'Connor 68-yard run (Morales kick).

R: S. Eisenstadt 1-yard run (Morales kick).

R: O'Connor 11-yard run (kick failed).

R: O'Connor 74-yard run (Ferrare pass from O'Connor).

S: Brown 9-yard run (Rice kick).

S: Brown 31-yard run (Rice kick).

S: Haskins 47-yard run (Rice kick).

Individual statistics

Rushing - S: Mora 10-88, Brown 11-78, Beaty 4-29, Haskins 2-76. R: O'Connor 28-260, Vecchiarelli 18-130, Hull 1-3, Hess 1-2, S. Eisenstadt 3-(-2).

Passing - S: Brown 10-17-0 127. R: O'Connor 3-5-1 17.

Receiving - S: Taylor 5-54, Beaty 2-31, Mora 1-12, Calabro 2-30. R: McHeffey 2-10, Hull 1-7.

Interceptions - S: Taylor 1-0.