EAST RUTHERFORD – When Jackson McCarthy was enjoying his summer vacation this past August he could have never envisioned the position he’d be in just four months later.

The 6-foot-6 McCarthy is a basketball standout for the Bulldogs but had never played football before. In August, McCarthy got the itch for the gridiron and sent an email to Rumson-Fair Haven assistant coach Chris Quinn asking if he’d be able to come out for the team. The answer, of course, was yes.

It was a great decision for all.

With the game hanging in the balance Saturday afternoon, McCarthy turned a short pass into a 21-yard touchdown reception with 1:15 left in regulation to lift Rumson to a 26-18 victory over Woodrow Wilson in the NJSIAA South Group 3 Bowl Game at MetLife Stadium. His 18th and final catch of his first and only season of high school football made sure Rumson concluded the season with a win for the fifth time in the last six seasons.

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“In August I was just hoping I could get on the field and now to be at MetLife, it’s pretty special,” McCarthy said. “I don’t regret coming out at all.”

McCarthy’s touchdown and the 2-point conversion run by Alex Maldjian that followed gave Rumson (10-2) a 26-18 lead with 75 seconds left in regulation. The defense then stopped Woodrow Wilson on downs to secure the win in the first year of NJSIAA Bowl Games.

“I’m just proud of all these guys,” McCarthy said. “It’s been a long season and we’ve come a long way.”

Rumson’s game plan against the relentless aerial attack of Woodrow Wilson and record-breaking quarterback Nick Kargman mirrored the last game against the high-octane offense of Somerville in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional final. The Bulldogs fed running back Alex Maldjian early and often, and he along with the all-senior offensive line bulldozed their way up and down the field. Maldjian ran for 204 yards and a touchdown on 40 carries as Rumson controlled the clock and limited opportunities for a dangerous Tigers’ offense.

“We had the same game plan: the 10-yard war,” Maldjian said. “We knew if we won those 10 yards and converted those first downs eventually we’d be in the end zone.”

Kargman and the Wilson offense made their plays, however. Kargman threw for 297 yards and three touchdowns and in the process set the state single-season record for passing yards with 3,963. Senior wideouts Stanley King (8-86, 2 TDs) and Naiem Simmons (6-163, TD) also had big games, but the Rumson defense was able to come away with big plays in key situations. Senior linebacker Keegan Woods led the way with 11 tackles, and an interception and a forced fumble.

“People tend to panic against teams like that, but we just played our regular defense,” Woods said. “We’re comfortable against anyone.”

Rumson turned the ball over on downs on its first possession and Woodrow Wilson quickly found its way into the end zone to take an early lead. Kargman hit Simmons for 35 yards on the Tigers’ first offensive play to officially break the single-season passing record, and two plays later he found King in the corner of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown. The 2-point conversion run was short, leaving the Tigers with a 6-0 advantage.

Rumson answered immediately when Maldjian ripped off a 53-yard touchdown run to cap a 5-play, 71-yard scoring drive. The extra point was no good, however, so the scored remained tied, 6-6.

The initial fireworks did not manifest into any more first-half points thanks to Rumson’s defense. Woodrow Wilson worked its way to the Rumson 34-yard line on a 10-play drive that started at the Tigers’ 28-yard line, but on the 11th play Woods picked off Kargman’s pass over the middle to end the threat. It was Woods’ second interception of the season and the 17th thrown by Kargman.

“Before the game, I actually said  I was going to get a pick,” Woods said. “He’s a little careless with the ball sometimes so I just read his eyes and when I saw the receiving coming across the middle I just went up and got it.”

Rumson couldn’t do anything after the turnover and punted the ball away after a three-and-out. Woodrow Wilson quickly moved deep into Rumson territory on a 34-yard catch by Simmons and a 24-yard run by Muheem McCargo. A touchdown-saving tackle at the 5-yard by sophomore Drew Frankel loomed large because three plays later Woods would make another game-altering defensive play.

On third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Woods perfectly timed the snap and surged through the middle of the line where he met McCargo deep in the backfield. He stripped the ball loose as he brought McCargo down and Frankel pounced on it at the 8-yard line.

“I kind of messed up earlier on the drive so I just had to make it back up,” Woods said. “I stepped up and made a play.”

Rumson also caught a break at the end of the first half when Woodrow Wilson ran out of time at the Bulldogs 3-yard line. The Tigers had no timeouts left when Rumson punted the ball away with under a minute left, but a long punt return by Simmons to the 19-yard line set Wilson up to take the lead. Only a touchdown-saving tackle by Peter Crowley kept Simmons from getting into the end zone. On third-and-goal from the 3-yard line with 10 seconds left, the shotgun snap to Kargman was wide and fell to the turf. He fell on the ball to retain possession, but with no timeouts left the Tigers were unable to keep the clock from reaching zeroes.

Rumson stopped Woodrow Wilson on downs to begin the second half and then marched 57 yards to take a 12-6 lead. The Bulldogs used 10 straight running plays – nine by Maldjian – to get down to the 3-yard line and on 4th and goal, Coles tossed a touchdown pass to senior tight end Ian O’Connor.

From here, the scoring never stopped until the final possession. Woodrow Wilson answered with a quick 4-play, 61-yard drive to tie the score at 12. Simmons had a 29-yard catch and then a 32-yard touchdown reception, but the 2-point pass fell incomplete to keep the score tied.

Rumson’s response was a 12-play, 60-yard drive that was once again exclusively on the ground. It was a methodical march with a 9-yard run the longest gain, but it once again found the end zone when sophomore Johnny Volker took an end-around seven yards for a touchdown. The 2-point conversion pass was incomplete to leave the score 18-12 with 7:50 left in the game.

Woodrow Wilson then drove 80 yards in nine plays to tie the score at 18. Kargman converted a fourth-and-7 at the Rumson 48 with a 10-yard scramble and later hit Simmons for 27 yards down to the 4-yard line. After a false start penalty, Kargman floated a pass in the back-left corner of the end zone where King came down with a 9-yard touchdown reception.

The 5:27 left on the clock was plenty of time for Rumson to drive for the winning touchdown. Outside of Maldjian’s touchdown run it wasn’t a day of big gains for Rumson’s offense, but sophomore wide receiver Patrick Jamin made one of the biggest plays of the season when he hauled in a 29-yard pass on third-and-7 from the RFH 37-yard line. Coles had to scramble to his right and heaved a pass downfield where Jamin leaped to make the catch and move the ball to the Wilson 34-yard line.

After four straight runs by Maldjian put the ball at the 21-yard line on a second-and-9, Rumson went to a play they’ve run countless times. This time it had the best result ever.

“We run that play a lot and it’s usually just a possession play, 4-to-5 yards or so,” McCarthy said. “When I caught the ball and saw one guy to beat I got a little excited and tried to make a play.”

And make a play he did. McCarthy’s catch and run gave Rumson a 24-18 lead with 1:15 remaining, and Maldjian ran in the 2-point conversion to increase Rumson’s cushion to eight points. The defense then rose up for one final stand, stopping Woodrow Wilson on downs at the 48-yard line.

“It’s amazing,” Maldjian said. “I can’t dream of a better ending than to go out on top, especially against a team like that. It did not come easy, so that makes it all the much better.”

“Obviously it’s the first time of the new bowl games and from the start it was the goal to get to this game and win it, so it feels awesome,” Woods said.

Rumson’s senior class continued the program’s dynasty by winning two sectional titles in three seasons. The Bulldogs have won five sectional titles in the last six seasons and have reached the final all six years. Saturday’s win gave the class of 2019 a remarkable 9-1 postseason record.

“2019 is a special class and I think we’ll be remembered as one of the best, if not the best, to ever come through RFH,” Woods said.

“It’s crazy,” Maldjian said. “Just the opportunity to be in these situations, no other kids get that. I’ll be sitting at home thinking about that one day and say ‘Wow, that’s amazing’.”

 

Box Score

Rumson-Fair Haven 26, Woodrow Wilson 18

  Rumson-Fair Haven Woodrow Wilson
First downs 18 19
Rushes-yards 50-239 17-43
Passing 4-6-0 20-34-1
Passing yards 56 297
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 6-69 8-70

  

  1 2 3 4 F
Rumson-Fair Haven (10-2) 6 0 6 14 26
Woodrow Wilson (9-4) 6 0 6 6 18

 

Scoring summary

WW – Stanley King 14-yard pass from Nick Kargman (run failed)

RFH – Alex Maldjian 53-yard run (kick failed)

RFH – Ian O’Connor 3-yard pass from Collin Coles (pass failed)

WW – Naiem Simmons 32-yard pass from Nick Kargman (pass failed)

RFH – Johnny Volker 7-yard run (pass failed)

WW – Stanley King 9-yard pass from Nick Kargman (pass failed)

RFH – Jackson McCarthy 21-yard pass from Collin Coles (Alex Maldjian run)

 

Individual statistics

RUSHING – RFH: Alex Maldjian 40-204, Peter Crowley 7-28, Johnny Volker 2-18, Collin Coles 1-(-11); WW: Muheem McCargo 11-41, Nick Kargman 5-13, Naiem Simmons 1-(-5), Team 2-(-6).

PASSING – RFH: Collin Coles 4-6-0 56; WW: Nick Kargman 20-34-1 297.

RECEIVING – RFH: Patrick Jamin 1-29, Jackson McCarthy 1-21, Ian O’Connor 2-6; WW: Naim Simmons 6-163, Stanley King 8-86, Muheem McCargo 5-37, Fadil Diggs 1-12.

INTERCEPTIONS – RFH: Keegan Woods 1-0.

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.

 

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