Shore Tops Rumson in Battle of State Finalists to Improve to 11-0
RUMSON -- Shore being a Class B Central and Group I juggernaut is nothing new, but the questions always seem to linger regarding just how good the Blue Devils are in a given year.
Heading into their Thanksgiving Day game against arch-rival Rumson-Fair Haven with 18 wins in a row, two straight division titles and an NJSIAA sectional title they are set to defend next weekend, it's pretty obvious the Blue Devils are one of the most consistently successful programs in New Jersey.
Yet, despite the accolades, it's been difficult for Shore to climb the rankings. Their schedule doesn't provide them with many opportunities to play a bigger, higher-ranked team. So when those chances come, the Blue Devils make sure to send a message.
With a stout defensive performance and a grinding rushing attack, Shore, ranked No. 7 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, bested sixth-ranked Rumson 20-13 in a Shore Conference nondivisional game on Thanksgiving morning. The win gave Shore the Devil-Dawg Trophy for the second straight season to improve to 11-0 and win their 19th consecutive game.
"This was huge," said junior linebacker Paul Christopher. "This game was to prove who we are."
Senior Doug Goldsmith ran for 104 yards and made double-digit tackles, recorded a sack and recovered a fumble to lead the way for Shore. Christopher returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown and senior running back Jack Britton ran for a 47-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter to all but seal the win.
"We feel we're a top-five team (in the Shore Conference) and we can hang with anybody," said Blue Devils head coach Mark Costantino. "We have a chip on our shoulder."
Rumson junior quarterback Mike O’Connor threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Elijah McAllister in the fourth quarter to pull the Bulldogs (9-2) to within 13-7, but Britton’s touchdown run put Shore back up by two scores. O’Connor connected with junior wide receiver Tyler Pierson on a 10-yard score with six seconds left, but Goldsmith recovered the onside kick for Shore.
O’Connor ran for a game-high 111 yards on 23 carries and also threw for 116 yards on 10 of 15 passing. Junior linebacker Mike Ruane had double-digit tackles and half a sack for the Bulldogs’ defense.
"Credit Shore and their coaching staff," said Rumson head coach Bryan Batchler. "We didn't bring our "A" game and they were the better team today. I'm proud of our team playing hard to the end, but against good teams you can't have almost 100 yards in penalties. We need to execute better."
Britton finished with 89 yards rushing for Shore, which ran for 200 yards as a team.
The Blue Devils can now set their sights on bring home the program's second consecutive and seventh NJSIAA sectional title overall when they play Palmyra on Saturday Dec. 5 for the Central Jersey Group I championship. Shore has finished undefeated twice in program history, going 8-0-1 under Dave Watcher in the program's second year in 1963, and finishing 11-0 under Nick Cammarano in 1981. No Blue Devils team has ever finished 12-0, but this year's squad will be favored to do just that.
First the Blue Devils had to get past a Bulldogs team that will also be playing for a sectional championship next weekend. Rumson will play Ridge Road rival Red Bank in the Central Jersey Group III championship as it aims to bring home a third straight state title.
It was a defensive battle from the start, as expected, with Shore holding the conference's No. 1 scoring defense and Rumson coming in at No. 3. The teams combined for just five first downs in the first half, and while Rumson held a 100-30 advantage in yards, neither team came very close to scoring. Rumson (9-2) had a productive drive at the end of the first quarter, but a sack by senior defensive end Erik Graham and a fumble that was recovered by Goldsmith on the next play short-circuited the possession.
A 17-yard run by O'Connor helped the Bulldogs get in position for Thomas Chapin to attempt a 43-yard field goal with a few seconds left in the half, but the kick was blocked by Graham to complete a scoreless half.
The game had the look and feel of being decided by one big play, and although more scoring followed, Goldsmith delivered the first strike for Shore with a 42-yard run that set up junior quarterback Matt Pennel for a 1-yard TD plunge on the Blue Devils' first possession of the third quarter.
"It was a sweep that I strung out and cut up, and luckily every bock was there," Goldsmith said. "I just started running for the hills."
"We knew after that play we had the mojo and we couldn't let up," Goldsmith continued. "After we scored the defense stepped up big time. We gave up two late touchdowns but we played very well as a unit."
Shore's defense continued to stifle Rumson's rushing attack, and its offense started to find its groove by getting to the edge. After forcing Rumson three-and-out, Shore drove nine plays to set up George Notte for a 37-yard field goal attempt. The kick missed wide left, but the Blue Devils showed they could move the ball on Rumson while also chewing four minutes of clock.
Midway through the third quarter Christopher made the play of the game when he intercepted O'Connor's pass to the left flat and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown to put Shore up 13-0 with just 6:09 left in regulation.
"I saw one receiver out there and I was covering the flat, and when I got the pick my adrenaline was just rushing through my body," Christopher said. "I though Mike O'Connor was going to come and chuck me, but running into the end zone I was like, 'I can't believe that just happened'."
"In the first half we had him disguise it and not come, and Paul totally sold it," Costantino said. "He's a great athlete. We knew they would go to the quick stuff because we were coming off the edge hard in the first half."
Rumson would respond with a 12-play, 88-yard drive to get on the board and begin a wild final five minutes of the game. O'Connor had consecutive runs of 11 yards to start the drive, and later hit senior John Kingdon for 37 yards down to the Shore 18-yard line. A batted pass by Christopher and a sack for a 10-yard loss by Goldsmith brought up a bleak fourth-and-16 for Rumson, but O'Connor was able to find his biggest - literally - weapon in the passing game for a touchdown. His jump ball into the end zone was brought down by 6-foot-6 sophomore Elijah McAllister for a 24-yard touchdown, and Chapin's extra point made it 13-7 with 2:22 left.
The Blue Devils answered immediately, however, when Britton broke free for a 47-yard touchdown run to put Shore up 20-7 with 1:24 remaining. Again it was a play to the edge that went for big yardage.
"In the second half it was more misdirections, buck sweeps and counter criss-crosses," Costantino said. "(Rumson's defense) is so good, and their linebackers are so good. We couldn't power them like we normally do, so we had to establish some stuff on the flank."
O'Connor would lead Rumson into the end zone again with a quick seven-play, 60-yard drive that ended when he found 6-foot-4 junior Tyler Pierson for a 10-yard score. O'Connor had a 27-yard run to move the ball inside Shore's 15-yard line.
With just 6.7 seconds left Rumson needed a miracle to get into the end zone again, and when Goldsmith recovered the onside kick it was all over.
"Coming to Rumson and taking their house down (was great)," Goldsmith said. "We just came out and played very well today. This rivalry makes us practice and play that much harder."
No. 7 Shore 20, No. 6 Rumson-Fair Haven 13
Shore (11-0) 0 0 7 13 – 20
Rumson (9-3) 0 0 0 13 – 13
S – Matt Pennel 1-yard run (George Notte kick)
S – Paul Christopher 20-yard interception return (kick blocked)
R – Elijah McAllister 24-yard pass from Mike O'Connor (Thomas Chapin kick)
S – Jack Britton 47-yard run (George Notte kick)
R – Tyler Pierson 10-yard pass form Mike O'Connor (Thomas Chapin kick)
Rushing – S: Doug Goldsmith 19-104, Jack Britton 10-89, Alex Johnson 3-10, Matt Pennel 2-(-3); RFH: Mike O'Connor 23-111, Matt Veccharelli 10-26, Bryan Hess 6-21.
Passing – S: Matt Pennel 3-6-0 11; R: Mike O'Connor 11-16-1 120, John Kingdon 1-1-0 3.
Receiving – S: Jack Britton 2-4, Doug Goldsmith 1-7; RFH: Elijah McAllister 5-51, John Kingdon 2-47, Tyler Pierson 2-14, Matt Veccharelli 1-9, Bryan Hess 1-(-1).
Interceptions – S: Paul Christopher 1-20.