Casey Larkin, Logan Peters and Stout Defense Help Wall Win Thriller over Rumson in Central Jersey Group 3 Final
WALL TOWNSHIP - In attempting to beat Rumson-Fair Haven for the second time this season and dethrone the defending state champions, Wall thought the one edge that could swing the title game showdown on Friday night would be hunting one-on-one match-ups in the passing game for playmaker Casey Larkin.
The junior running back usually does his damage on the ground, but he lined up in the slot and split wide and burned the Bulldogs as a receiver with three huge catches, two of them for touchdowns and another that all but iced the game.
"Casey's a special guy,'' junior quarterback Logan Peters said. "There's not many guys I think can stick with him in the state. He's just got a knack for making a big play."
His final catch was a 45-yard bomb from Peters on third down that went to Rumson's 10-yard line and helped drain the clock before the defense closed out a 14-13 thriller to dethrone the second-seeded Bulldogs as NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 3 champions. It capped a performance in which the defense limited Rumson (6-5) to 144 total yards.
It's the first state title for Wall since 2016 and the fifth overall in program history. The No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 is now 11-0 for the first time since 1983, when the Crimson Knights won their second straight state title.
After Wall plays rival Manasquan (3-5) on Thanksgiving next week, it will face the winner of Saturday's South Jersey Group 3 final between Somerville and Woodrow Wilson in an NJSIAA bowl game on the weekend of Dec. 6-7 at either MetLife Stadium or Rutgers University.
"It's surreal,'' Larkin said. "I had a feeling we were going to make a run this season, but it's just unbelievable now that it actually happened."
A missed extra point and 28-yard field goal ended up biting the Bulldogs, who were playing in their seventh straight state final and came up just short after having lost 14-3 to Wall during the regular season.
"At Rumson, we're a program, not just a team,'' said Bulldogs coach Jerry Schulte, who is a former head coach at Wall. "We don't quit. We'll fight with anybody to the end. I'm sure there were plays we probably didn't execute on, and one play makes a difference."
Larkin beat his man down the sideline in single coverage on the crucial 45-yard bomb, which came on third-and-8 with Wall trying to stave off the Bulldogs' comeback and burn the clock.
Wall only needed nine yards to move the chains, but when Peters had Larkin lined up wide and matched up one-on-one, he went for it all.
"I didn't call a play there, I called a player,'' Wall head coach Tony Grandinetti said about going to Larkin. "We scouted that. It's what we saw on film. We had an answer for that if they changed their coverage, but they didn't, and it worked out."
"We set him up backside because we felt he might have a one-on-one,'' Peters said. "I know in my mind if he's got a one-on-one, I'm gonna take that match-up every single time so I went right at it, and he made a crazy catch in the back corner. You can't ask for much more as a quarterback."
Wall had just 16 yards of total offense in the second half at that point and was holding on for dear life after the Bulldogs roared back from a 14-0 halftime deficit to cut it to a point. Rumson was looking like the dragonslayers who have beaten four undefeated teams in state finals since 2010 and nearly did it again.
"All week (in practice) coach put me on an island in trips (formation),'' said Larkin, who had only one catch for 15 yards in the regular-season win over Rumson. "Usually I'm in the slot. They just said burn 'em, and I knew Logan was gonna make the throw, and I just ran under it."
Even though Rumson's defense rose to the challenge and stopped Wall on fourth-and-goal from their own 14-yard line, the long completion to Larkin allowed the Crimson Knights to bleed the clock to where Rumson only had 1:15 remaining and 86 yards to go when it got the ball back.
Wall came up with a championship-clinching stop on fourth-and-10 at the Rumson 27 when Bulldogs senior quarterback Collin Coles, who led the comeback, fumbled the shotgun snap and was tackled behind the line.
"We just knew that we were gonna have to step up just like we have all year and come out on top,'' said Wall sophomore star linebacker Charlie Sasso.
The Crimson Knights dominated the first half to take a 14-0 lead thanks to a pair of touchdown catches by Larkin, who finished with 111 yards on his three receptions along with 38 yards rushing.
He caught a 25-yard fade in the back corner of the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 9:31 left in the second quarter to open the scoring.
Larkin then won another one-on-one match-up on a post route and Peters put it right on the money for a 41-yard scoring strike on third-and-11 to push the lead to 14-0 after sophomore Max Oakley's second extra point of the night with just 1:12 left in the half.
"We like to run the ball, and they like to run the ball,'' Peters said. "We knew it was gonna be real physical. Their defense can stop the run, so we knew going in we were going to have to do some different things."
Meanwhile, Wall's defense held Rumson to just 40 total yards in the first half, including only 10 by leading rusher John Volker. The defense also made a stand after Wall got stopped on fourth-and-inches at its own 39 on the opening drive of the game, limiting the Bulldogs to a 28-yard field goal try that was wide right.
Rumson, which ran for just 61 yards on 41 attempts (1.49 ypc) in two games against Wall this season, all but abandoned the run in the second half to put the game in the hands of Coles.
The Bulldogs opened the third quarter by throwing the ball on seven straight plays as part of a 12-play, 66-yard scoring drive that ate up 6:39 and got them right back in the game. Coles went 7-for-8 for 58 yards and also converted a fourth down with an 8-yard run before senior running back Peter Crowley scored from a yard out to cut Wall's lead to 14-7.
"When it was halftime I said to the guys, they're not gonna roll over, they're gonna come out and make adjustments,'' Grandinetti said.
"The first game they tried to ground and pound it down our throats and we stopped it, so they tried to take a different approach with the quick (passing) game,'' Sasso said.
Rumson saw the success Lacey had against Wall with the short passing game in the semifinals last week and turned to it in the second half. Coles had 18 completions in the game, but only averaged 6 yards per completion. The Bulldogs also dropped four passes.
"We knew they were a tough run defense, but we thought we could throw on them and we did, but came up just short,'' Schulte said.
"Our base defense is Cover 2, so they saw that as a weakness against the quick routes and saw that Lacey was doing that to us,'' said Larkin, who also plays in the secondary. "We started manning up and adjusting to it."
The Bulldogs forced a three-and-out after their touchdown, and a shanked, two-yard punt gave them the ball right back at Wall's 30-yard line. Six plays later, Coles threw a clutch four-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-1 to his top target, junior wide receiver Patrick Jamin, to cut the lead to 14-13 with 24 seconds left in the third quarter.
However, the extra point attempt clanked off the right upright and proved to be costly for the defending champions.
Both defenses then came up with stops before Peters hit the 45-yard bomb to Larkin that will go down in Wall championship lore. Larkin also was able to make the play despite exiting the game earlier with cramping in his calves.
"I came out because I knew I was risking a fumble in case I get (a cramp) mid-run, so I came out and they were massaging my calves for that one play,'' he said.
A team that started the season in the SSN Top 10 and then opened eyes by ascending all the way to the No. 1 ranking remains the only unbeaten squad in the Shore Conference. The most unsettling thought for opponents is that the Crimson Knights return the bulk of their starting lineup next season, so this could be the start of a multi-year championship run.
"This is a total team,'' Grandinetti said. "We do have some good players, but we play for each other. It's a family."
The Crimson Knights have a shot to be the first Shore team to ever finish 13-0 now that the bowl games, which the NJSIAA created last year, give teams a chance to play a 13th game.
Grandinetti broke into a big grin when reminded of that fact.
"That's the plan,'' he said.
Wall 14, Rumson-FH 13
. W R
First downs 10 9
Rushes-yards 34-97 16-35
Passing 6-10-0 18-30-0
Passing yards 126 109
Fumbles-lost 3-0 1-0
Penalties 5-42 3-25
Rumson-FH (6-5) 0 0 13 0 - 13
Wall (11-0) 0 14 0 0 - 14
W: Larkin 25-yard pass from Peters (Oakley kick).
W: Larkin 41-yard pass from Peters (Oakley kick).
R: Crowley 1-yard run (Piperno kick).
R: Jamin 4-yard pass from Coles (kick failed).
Rushing - W: Peters 13-21, Dollive 2-12, Larkin 8-38, DeSarno 11-26. R: Volker 11-24, Crowley 3-5, Coles 5-6.
Passing - W: Peters 6-10-0 126. R: Coles 18-30-0 109.
Receiving - W: Larkin 3-111, Dollive 1-6, Setteducato 1-6, Rezk 1-3. R: Jamin 6-34, Schroeder 1-5, Livingston 3-17, Harmon 6-51, Volker 2-2.
Interceptions - None.