Wildcard Wednesday: Breaking Down The Central Jersey Group II Final
Rumson-Fair Haven (10-1) vs. Matawan (8-3), 7 p.m. Saturday at Rutgers Stadium
Key players: Jack Eisenstadt (Sr., DT/TE/FB); Connor Riley (Sr., RB, 921 yds, 13 TD); Danny Roberto (Jr., QB, 1,178 yds, 8 TDs); Blake Potter (Sr., WR, 29-541, 4 TD), Jake Clapp (Sr. DE/TE); Mike Morralle (Sr., WR/DB); Jack Miles (Sr., DE/FB); Mike Alonzo (Sr., DT); Travis Clark (Jr., LB), Connor Walsh (Jr., RB/DB); Matt Jewett (Sr., OL), Brian Truex (Sr., LB); Dan Babiak (Sr., DB).
Rumson offense: The Bulldogs put up 21 points in a 21-9 victory over Matawan in their regular-season meeting, and that was against a Huskies’ defense that was at full strength. Now they will be facing a unit missing four starters because of suspensions for a violation of team rules, and Matawan just gave up 35 points to a St. John Vianney team that Rumson beat 37-0.
The immediate key for Rumson is health, as Riley did not play in a loss to Red Bank Catholic on Friday because of a shoulder injury and Walsh, the other top running back, played mainly at safety on defense. Potter also was hobbled with an ankle injury, and senior wideout Nico Giaimo left the RBC game early with a calf injury. If that group is in much better shape, that clearly bodes well for Rumson, which is one of the more balanced offensive teams in the Shore Conference.
Riley can get the hard yards up the middle and bounce it outside, and Walsh is similar in that regard. Roberto is particularly dangerous on sprint outs and has a 67 percent completion percentage this season, so he is very accurate. In addition to Potter and Giaimo, he has a deep receiving corps that also includes John Ryan and Mike Nociolo, and Clapp is also a threat as a tight end despite being known better for being an outstanding defensive end.
As far as mixing things up from the first match-up with Matawan, Rumson will probably do what most teams do the second time around – mix up formations and just try to give the Huskies a look they haven’t seen much this season.
Considering two of Matawan’s missing starters are on the defensive line, Rumson has an opportunity to try to establish the running game early to set up the play-action pass. St. John Vianney quarterback Anthony Carlucci had a strong day throwing the ball against the Huskies on Saturday, so if Roberto has time because Matawan has to worry about the running game, Rumson is in a good spot. Rumson can also take its best lineman, Jewett, and try to use him to slow down Matawan’s top defensive lineman, senior Devon Rice.
Rumson defense: The Bulldogs will look to come out with a lot more intensity after being muscled up front by a strong Red Bank Catholic team. Eisenstadt, one of the top defensive players in the Shore Conference, sat out the second half of the RBC loss with a shoulder injury but should be ready to go in this one. He is part of one of the top defensive lines in the conference with Alonzo at the other tackle spot and Miles and Clapp at defensive end. They have the ability to shut down the run and get after the passer.
Their work up front will be crucial because the key to Matawan’s success in the playoffs has been the power running game behind senior tailback Larry Alston III. Alston had just been switched to tailback from wide receiver after a season-ending injury to starter Cassius Williams a week before the Rumson game, so he is now much more comfortable in that spot than the first time the two teams met.
The linebackers flow to the ball well and tackle well, which is very important against Alston, who gets a lot of yards after contact. Rumson wants to force Matawan to be one dimensional and have to throw the ball consistently with sophomore quarterback Kashaun Barnes. The bottom line is that if Rumson’s front seven does the job against Alston, it will be awfully tough for Matawan to find a way to win. Rumson’s defensive backs, particularly Morralle, also tackle well, which is important because Matawan likes to run toss plays with Alston on the perimeter to get him matched up against smaller players.
Key players: Larry Alston III (Sr., RB/S, 841 yds, 11 rushing TD, 4 receiving TD, 6 INT); Kashaun Barnes (So., QB, 600 yds, 5 TD); Devon Rice (Sr., DT, 70 tackles); Glenn Cross (Jr., LB, 66 tackles); Solomon Simpkins (Sr., WR/DB, 50 tackles); Anthony Quaglieri (Sr., FB); Shawn Johnson (Jr., WR).
Matawan offense: The Huskies’ attack relies primarily on Alston being able to pound teams with his 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame. He has rushed for 350 yards in two state playoff games and is a great blend of speed and power. They can run power with him as well as toss to the edge because of his ability to beat defenses to the sidelines with his speed. He has to have a big game for Matawan to have a shot.
The Huskies are down one of their top offensive linemen because of the suspensions, which especially hurts because of the strength of Rumson’s senior-laden defensive line. It has forced Matawan to shuffle in players who are inexperienced or not in full game shape, so they will have to find a way to compensate.
Barnes is going to have to make some third-down throws to keep the chains moving. It helps that he is a mobile quarterback against a Rumson unit that mounts a lot of pressure just with its front four. He will have to throw on the run and get the ball to Alston, Johnson, Simpkins, Quaglieri or senior wideout Justin Bartlett. Quaglieri is a key receiver out of the backfield who did not play against St. John Vianney because of a concussion suffered in the previous game.
Matawan defense: This is a fast and aggressive unit, but definitely depleted with four key starters out as a result of the suspensions. Not only that, but the starters are from all three levels of the defense – defensive line, linebackers, secondary. The back-ups will have to find a way to get a stalemate up front at the line of scrimmage and slow Rumson’s running game to a crawl. If Rumson is allowed to be balanced and not one-dimensional, Matawan is in a lot of trouble.
The Huskies also will have to read their keys as Rumson almost certainly will change up some looks from their first meeting rather than do the exact same thing. They want to get Roberto into obvious passing downs so that they can at least try to send some pressure from different angles. If Rumson is in second-and-4 all day, it keeps the defense on its heels by giving Rumson the option to pound it with Riley and Walsh or roll out Roberto and throw deep. Depth is also a concern, as Rumson will try to wear Matawan down because the Huskies are already starting some normal back-ups and are down to third-stringers as replacements in some spots.
Extra tidbits: This is a rematch of last year’s CJ II final in which Rumson stunned previously unbeaten Matawan 13-7 after losing 48-21 to the Huskies in the regular season…This will be the 100th career win for Rumson coach Shane Fallon or the 197th career win for Matawan coach Joe Martucci…The last time Rumson played in a state final at Rutgers, it lost 20-14 to Carteret in 2007…Matawan is playing in a school-record third straight state final…Rumson is trying to win consecutive titles for the first time after winning its first state title last year…This is Larry Alston’s one and only year playing for Matawan. He grew up in Matawan, moved to Georgia for the first two years of high school to live with his mother, and then returned to Matawan late last fall and missed the football season…A Shore Conference team will have won the Central Jersey Group II title in 12 of the last 15 years…Matawan can tie for third all-time in Shore Conference history by winning its sixth overall title, which would be tied with Keyport and Brick behind Manasquan (11) and Middletown South (9). Asbury Park could also get its sixth title overall if it beats Florence in the Central Jersey Group I final.