Boys Lacrosse: Rumson-Fair Haven (NJ) Holds Off Wall to Secure South Group 2 Sectional Championship
RUMSON – The difference in championship games is often something intangible. Certainly there will notable moments on the field of play that determine the final outcome and individual heroes who deliver in the clutch, but the seeds that bloom into championships are planted long before when few are watching.
For Rumson-Fair Haven’s boys lacrosse team, a daunting schedule and the confidence that manifested from several early-season triumphs helped them get over the top on Monday afternoon to claim another championship.
Senior attackman Luke Devlin scored the go-ahead goal with 5:43 left in regulation and Rumson’s defense came through with one final stop in the closing seconds as the top-seeded and undefeated Bulldogs won an instant classic, 8-7, over Wall to secure the 2021 NJSIAA South Group 2 state sectional championship.
Back and forth the entire way, Rumson (20-0) finally pulled ahead for good on Devlin’s fourth goal of the game while the Bulldogs’ defense executed a halftime adjustment and senior goalie Ryan Croddick made six saves in the second half. It all added up to produce RFH’s fifth sectional title in program history and put them in the Group 2 state final against Summit at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday at A.L. Johnson High School in Clark.
“It just goes to show, about the competition we played in the beginning of the year,” Devlin said. “We kept our composure and didn’t let a lead on the other side prevent us from doing our thing.”
“At the end of the day I think it comes down to the schedule we play,” said Rumson head coach Marc Moreau. “If we don’t play that schedule we don’t win a game like this. That’s why they have the resiliency and the toughness.”
Rumson opened eyes on day 1 of the season with a win over state-ranked Chatham and has only increased its RPMs since. They own seven victories over teams ranked in NJ.com’s state top 20, including two over Wall. The expectation within the program is to be in position to win championships every season. So far, they’re 3-for-3 with division, conference and sectional crowns and they still have two more items on their to-do list.
The sectional title wasn’t the cakewalk some on the outside may have thought it would be, however. Wall (16-4) played the best game of the best season in program history and nearly shocked the state in its first sectional final appearance. Their offense, led by senior Logan Peters, junior Matt Dollive and sophomore John McCurry, scored timely goals. Wall’s defense was outstanding from start to finish and junior goalie Aiden Kessler delivered plenty of clutch saves. Rumson was just one goal better.
“I don’t think we played poorly today, I think Wall played great,” Moreau said. “We had no issue with the looks we were getting. We didn’t turn the corner on the offensive side like the defense did in the third quarter. It took us a while and I don’t know we really ever got going, but that’s more a credit to Wall than a knock on us.”
“I’ve played them a number of times throughout my years and Logan is a really good player, he’s going to do very good in college,” said Rumson senior midfielder Patrick Jamin. “He knows how to lead a team and you see he’s running everything on offense and also plays defense when he needs to. They’re a tough team. We just have that; we know how to come back so we turn on that mode and never let our heads get down.”
“It’s a conference team who we played in the Shore semifinals and it was a close game (10-6). We knew they were going to give us their best effort,” said Rumson senior defenseman Jack Joyce. “They said the semifinal game was their best game of the season and I think today was even better than that. They showed up and we have great games against them because they have top talent.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of us,” said Peters, the Rutgers-bound senior who finished the season with a program-record 140 points. “A lot of people were probably thinking the first time we came in here we surprised them, it was their prom night, but they beat us by more that time than they did today. We came in knowing they’re a hell of a team. They’re good all-around and they don’t make many mistakes, so we knew we couldn’t make many because they would capitalize. We came in and played hard. We know we have really good players who can match up and it just came down to a few plays and they got that last one.”
Wall struck first when Dollive passed across the box to junior Daniel Burns, who zipped a shot past Croddick for a 1-0 lead 3:05 into the game. Kessler made his third save of the quarter to end a strong possession with under a minute to play in the opening period and Wall held a 1-0 lead heading to the second frame.
Devlin dodged and scored to tie the score 1-1 but Wall took the lead right back when McCurry rolled back and scored at 7:53 of the second quarter. Jamin drove hard to his right and scored exactly one minute later to tie the score and Rumson took a 3-2 lead when Devlin converted a pass from junior attackman Christian Bockelmann at 6:26.
Wall would score the final two goals of the first half, however, to take a one-goal lead into the intermission. Peters worked hard from X to curl around topside and score to tie it 3-3 at 5:19 and Dollive beat his defender and then Croddick at 2:59 for a 4-3 Crimson Knights advantage.
Early in the third quarter, Jamin found his way inside and scored his second of the game to forge a 4-4 tie. Wall got the next two to pull ahead, 6-4, which was the only two-goal lead for either team in the game. Peters worked from X, dodged and darted toward the crease where he finished just before absorbing a big check to give Wall a 5-4 edge. Wall then took advantage of a transition opportunity when Daniel Brice raced into the box and fed Burns on the crease for a 6-4 lead.
Rumson was down by two midway through the third quarter against an opponent they figured would bring their ‘A’ game and was certainly doing so. But there was never any panic from the Bulldogs.
“I knew we had another run or two in us,” Jamin said. “It all started with a stop from Croddick that got us going, we got a couple goals and went to the zone on D to slow them down.”
Jamin began Rumson’s mini-rally with his third of the game to make it 6-5 with 4:04 left in the third quarter. Then with 18.7 seconds left in the third, Devlin executed a perfect turnaround shot from the right side with a goal that skipped into the lower-left corner of the net, tying the score 6-6.
Just 45 seconds into the fourth quarter, junior midfielder Tommy French ripped a shot top shelf to give Rumson a 7-6 lead. Back came Wall at the 6:14 mark when McCurry took a pass from Peters and blasted a shot past Croddick to tie the game 7-7. But just 31 seconds later, Devlin gave Rumson the lead for good with another clutch goal among the career-high 55 he has scored this season.
“(The defenseman) was playing out on me a little bit so I decided to take him,” Devlin said. “Once he lunged at me I knew I had him on the inside and I just decided to let one rip and it ended up going in.”
“He’s done it all year for us,” Moreau said of Devlin. “He’s, if not the toughest, one of the toughest kids on the team both physically and mentally. He’s scored a ton of big goals for us this year and he scores the tough goals.”
Croddick then made a huge save with 3:07 left to preserve the lead. Rumson had possession from that point until just under a minute left when Wall’s defense was able to force a turnover. Wall nearly turned the ball over on a dropped pass but Peters collected a ground ball and the top of the box before being harassed by Rumson sophomore defenseman Matthew Bockelmann. Peters passed to McCurry on the left side and he tried to drive in for a shot, but Jamin and sophomore defenseman Beau Kemler combined to disrupt his shot and force it wide. The Knights had one final try with six seconds on the clock. Burns picked up the ball at X on the restart and tried to find room out front for a shot, but Joyce stuck to him like glue and forced the shot wide as the buzzer sounded and Rumson stormed the field to celebrate its latest championship.
“Once they missed the shot with six seconds left, I’m covering the X and I’m just thinking as long as I have a stick on his hand he can’t get a shot or a pass off,” Joyce said. “Being sticky is something we talk about so just staying sticky with him and making sure as he was driving up I was hanging on. This is what we play for, tight games at the end. That was championship defense right there.”
“I was just praying for a save or a missed shot,” said Devlin, who could only watch helplessly at the opposite end of the field. “Just going to back football, they beat us twice and took a state title away from us. I just wanted to win this one so bad.”
Rumson’s switch to a zone defense in the second half paid dividends as Wall scored just two settled-possession goals over the final two quarters.
“Coach Danyluk and coach Quinn made a great adjustment at halftime going to the zone,” Moreau said. “We don’t play a lot of zone and I thought the kids wanted to do it and were engaged and locked in and really executed it well.”
Now, it’s on to Summit. The Hilltoppers are New Jersey lacrosse royalty and, along with Rumson and Don Bosco Prep, are one of three undefeated teams in New Jersey. Summit has had Rumson’s number in the postseason, too, with wins in the 2012 Group 1 semifinals and the 2018 Group 2 championship game along with a few other regular-season matchups. But this Rumson team has a different aura surrounding it. They can play with and defeat any team in New Jersey and that has been their mindset since early in the season.
“Coach Moreau is a veteran coach and knows how to win on this level,” Devlin said. “We just listen to what he says and we keep pushing forward. We don’t look at the press, the stats, or even our record. We just keep moving forward to the next game and that’s what we’re going to do for Wednesday.”
“It’s definitely a special team and a special group of seniors,” Jamin said. “We’re going to be happy about this win but we definitely have bigger goals. We’ll take a few pictures with this plaque, but then it’s on to Summit.”
GOALS – W: Logan Peters 2, John McCurry 2, Daniel Burns 2, Matt Dollive; RFH: Luke Devlin 4, Patrick Jamin 3, Tommy French.
ASSISTS – W: Matt Dollive 2, Logan Peters, Ryan Brice; RFH: Christian Bockelmann.
SAVES – W: Aiden Kessler 10; RFH: Ryan Croddick 11.
SHOTS: Rumson, 37-24
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