Football: O’Connor Shines in Debut as No. 3 Rumson Stops Matawan in A Central
ABERDEEN — Entering its first game of the year off the dreaded Week One bye and traveling to face a Matawan team desperately trying to avoid an 0-2 start, Rumson-Fair Haven knew it didn’t have time to ease into the season.
A quick defensive stop put the Bulldogs in good position early, and it wasn’t before long they found out a lot about their sophomore quarterback.
With returning 2,000-yard rusher Charlie Volker back as the workhorse of Rumson’s offense, the question was who would step forward and give the Bulldogs another threat to be accounted for. Emerging in that role on Friday night was first-year starting quarterback Michael O’Connor. The sophomore ran for a game-high 110 yards on just 11 carries, and had a long completion to set up another score in No. 3 Rumson’s 31-10 victory over Matawan in a Shore Conference Class A Central game.
The Bulldogs coaching staff put the ball in his hands right away, calling a counter naked boot on their first offensive play. He avoided a tackle in the backfield and ran for 19 yards. On the next play he connected with senior wide receiver Murray McHeffey for a 32-yard gain down to Matawan’s 10-yard line. Four plays later, Volker scored on fourth down, and Rumson was on its way to a convincing and important divisional victory to open its season.
“The first play we figured everyone is keying on Charlie so we ran a counter boot naked, and said let’s get the kid something,” said Bulldogs head coach Bryan Batchler. “My (offensive coordinator) and I agreed if we got a first down we’d take a shot, and Mikey made a great throw, and it was a great catch. We got some momentum there.”
“The first drive was very important in setting the tone,” O’Connor said. “We knew we had to come out strong against a tough team and we did that.”
O’Connor gave Rumson (1-0, 1-0) another weapon out of the backfield, as he gashed the Huskies (0-2, 0-2) for runs of 19, 15 and 60 yards among his 11 carries. His 60-yard touchdown run in the third quarter came on a third-and-5, and gave Rumson a commanding 21-3 lead.
“It’s really great he came out and had a big game, but we knew he could do it,” said junior Butchy Clark. “He showed it all preseason and it was no surprise to us.”
Volker, the reigning Shore Sports Network Offensive Player of the Year after running for over 2,000 yards in leading Rumson to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II title last season, finished with 104 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. He scored on a one-yard run on fourth down and later added a 34-yard score - both in the first quarter - before sitting most of the second half for precautionary measures after getting tangled up on a run.
Rumson’s defense picked up right where it left off last season by holding a dangerous group of Matawan playmakers in check. Devon Spann led the Huskies with 93 yards rushing on 14 carries, 35 of which came on the final drive of the game, but Matawan finished with just 83 net yards on the ground. Rumson also forced two turnovers, including a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter by sophomore Michael Murdock.
“Our coaches had us watching a lot of film and we put in some checks, so we basically knew what they were going to do,” Clark said. “We kept switching formations and fronts to keep them confused.”
After Rumson’s six-play, 62-yard scoring drive early in the first quarter, the Bulldogs played the field position game before getting the ball at the Matawan 36 after a short punt. On third down, Volker took the handoff and had nothing but open real estate off left tackle, and he walked in untouched for a 34-yard touchdown to give Rumson a 14-0 lead on the final play of the quarter.
The Huskies finally got untracked offensively on the ensuing possession to get on the scoreboard. Freshman quarterback George Pearson made two key throws on third downs, first on a 16-yard completion to Justin Ferrara on third-and-3, and then with a 22-yard pass to Ferrara on third-and-10 at the Rumson 47. That led to Adam Elliot’s 29-yard field goal to cut Rumson’s lead to 14-3.
It would stay like that until halftime thanks to a fumble recovery by senior lineman Dan Corredor late in the half. Volker was stripped by linebacker Isaiah Phillips on a third-and-8 from the Matawan 14-yard line with 30 seconds left.
Matawan’s defense clamped down significantly in the second half, but with Rumson’s defense equalling the task, the Bulldogs needed just one more big play to put the game out of reach. Midway through the third quarter on a third-and-5, O’Connor ran a quarterback keeper to the right side and was able to turn the corner for the first down. Instead of continuing toward the boundary and picking up maybe a handful of extra yards, O’Connor cut the play back inside and found some room while picking up a few blocks in the secondary. He cut all the way back across the field on a 60-yard touchdown run that put Rumson up 21-3 with 6:09 left in the third quarter.
“I just saw a lane and I took it,” O’Connor said.
A strip-sack by Clark and a fumble recovery by senior Ben Eisenstadt gave Rumson the ball back at Matawan’s 25-yard line, but the Huskies defense held to force senior Tim Morales to attempt a 40-yard field goal, which missed wide. No matter, because two plays later Murdock stepped in front of a Pearson pass and returned it 25 yards for the score, putting Rumson up 28-3 with 2:26 left in the third quarter.
Morales would add a 32-yard field goal after Rumson was set up with a short field at the Matawan 20 when the Huskies couldn’t convert on fourth down. Matawan put together a nice final drive to get into the end zone on Shawn Ramcheran’s 9-yard run with 1:15 left in the game. Spann had runs of 16, 12 and 7 on the drive to set up the score.
It was too late for a comeback, however. Rumson started fast and controlled nearly every facet of the game.
“It was a great group effort,” Batchler said. “The kids did a tremendous job.”
No. 3 Rumson-Fair Haven 31, Matawan 10
Rumson (1-0, 1-0) 14 0 14 3 – 31
Matawan (0-2, 0-2) 0 3 0 7 – 10
R – Volker 1-yard run (Morales kick)
R – Volker 34-yard run (Morales kick)
M – Elliot 29-yard field goal
R – O'Connor 60-yard run (Morales kick)
R – Murdock 25-yard interception return (Morales kick)
R – Morales 32-yard field goal
M – Ramcheran 9-yard run (Elliot kick)
Rushing – R: Michael O'Connor 11-110, Charlie Volker 23-104, Seamus Walsh 3-1, Jack Moore 1-1; M: Devon Spann 14-93, Shawn Ramcheran 2-13, James Pierce 5-1, Kyle Midtlyng 1-0, Aliem Shaw 1-(-1), George Pearson 6-(-23).
Passing – R: Michael O'Connor 1-5-0 32; M: George Pearson 8-16-1 80, James Pierce 5-5-0 33.
Receiving – R: Murray McHeffey 1-32; M: DeJohn Rogers 5-44, Justin Ferrara 3-42, Shawn Ramcheran 3-15, Devon Spann 1-6, Matt Liebowitz 1-5.
Interceptions – R: Michael Murdock 1-25.