Central Jersey Group 3 Championship Preview: Rumson vs. Somerville
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP 3 FINAL
WHO: 2-Rumson-Fair Haven (8-2) at 1-Somerville (11-0)
WHEN: Sunday, Nov. 18, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Brooks Field at Somerville High School, 222 Davenport Street, Somerville, NJ
RUMSON’S ROAD TO THE FINAL: Defeated Ocean, 28-7, in the quarterfinals; defeated Red Bank, 14-9, in the semifinals.
SOMERVILLE’S ROAD TO THE FINAL: Defeated Raritan, 35-14, in the quarterfinals; defeated Holmdel, 31-20, in the semifinals.
RUMSON’S BEST WIN: 13-0 over Central Jersey Group 4 finalist Brick on Oct. 5.
SOMERVILLE’S BEST WIN: 42-31 over North 2, Group 3 finalist Rahway on Sept. 7.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: Rumson is making its sixth straight appearance in a sectional final and had won four titles in a row before falling to Somerville, 20-15, in last season’s championship game…The Bulldogs are 23-12 overall in 17 postseason appearances since 1974…RFH has won five sectional titles overall and reached the championship game nine times…Somerville’s championship last season ended a 23-year title drought…The Pioneers are 26-15 all-time in the playoffs with 23 appearances, reaching a sectional final 13 times and owning eight NJSIAA sectional titles.
RUMSON STAT LEADERS
-Alex Maldjian, Sr., RB: 126 carries for 1,201 yards and 19 touchdowns.
-Collin Coles, Jr., QB: 86-for-154, 1,106 yards, 11 TDs, 10 INTs.
-Ian O’Connor, Sr., WR/TE: 33 rec. for 400 yards and 5 TDs.
-Jackson McCarthy, Sr., WR: 16 rec. for 255 yard and 1 TD.
-Keegan Woods, Sr., LB: 154 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 INT.
-Christian Lanzalotto, Sr., LB: 108 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INTs, 3 fumble recoveries.
-Henry Sullivan, Sr., DL: 79 tackles, 4 sacks.
-Isaac Vernon, Sr., DL: 65 tackles, 4 sacks.
-Gordon Forsyth, Jr., DE: 50 tackles, 4 sacks.
-Ryan Ruane, So., S: 52 tackles, 3 INTs.
SOMERVILLE STAT LEADERS
-Jalahn Dabney, Sr., QB: 98-for-146, 1,594 yards, 23 TDs, 2 INTs; 165 carries, 1,580 yards, 27 TDs.
-Robbie Fiorentino, Sr., RB: 93 carries for 682 yards and 6 TDs; 30 rec. for 309 yards and 3 TDs
-Duke McDuffie, Sr., WR: 28 rec. for 468 yards and 6 TDs; 49 carries for 376 yards and 5 TDs; 39 tackles, 1 sack, 5 INTs.
-Kyree Hinton, Jr., WR: 12 rec. for 319 yards and 5 TDs.
-Ethan Hilliman, Jr., WR: 7 rec. for 254 yards and 5 TDs.
-A.J. Pena, So., OLB: 59 tackles, 2 sacks.
-Quron Smith, Sr., DE: 23 tackles, 4 sacks.
-Da’Shaun Smith, Sr., DB: 3 INTs.
-Bobby Wortman, Sr., K: 40-for-42 on extra points; 4-for-5 on field goals with a long of 30 yards.
The sectional final matchup that many predicted before the season started has indeed come to fruition as Rumson-Fair Haven and Somerville will match up again for the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 3 championship.
The teams will meet for the third straight postseason on Sunday afternoon in a rubber match that will feature an explosive offense against a ferocious defense. In 2016, Rumson held down a high-powered Pioneers offense, 21-13, in the Central Jersey Group 3 semifinals on their way to winning a fourth straight sectional crown. Somerville turned the tables on the Bulldogs last season with a 20-15 victory in the sectional final that denied Rumson a fifth consecutive state crown.
Rumson’s defense is among the best in the Shore Conference allowing just 8.5 points per game with one shutout. In a 14-9 semifinals win over Red Bank, the Bulldogs held a big-play Bucs offense to just 99 yards. Senior linebacker Keegan Woods is second in the Shore in tackles with 154 and also has four sacks. Alongside him is another of the Shore’s best linebackers, senior Christian Lanzalotto, who owns 108 tackles and two interceptions. Those two team with an imposing defensive line for form the core of Rumson’s defense. Senior Henry Sullivan (79 tackles, 4 sacks) lead an imposing group in the trenches that includes Gordon Forsyth, Joe Afflitto, Von Factor and Isaac Vernon.
Rumson’s defense will have to play its best game of the season to beat a Somerville team that averages 463 yards and 45.6 points per game. The Pioneers have scored 50 points in six of their 11 games this season. A major reason for the ridiculous offensive numbers in their Air Raid offense is senior quarterback Jalahn Dabney, who is a leading candidate for state Offensive Player of the Year. Dabney has over 3,000 yards of offense and 50 touchdowns on his own with 1,594 yards passing and 23 touchdowns plus 1,580 yards rushing and 27 TDs.
Somerville returned most of its team from last season and has plenty of weapons around Dabney. Senior running back Robbie Fiorentino was a 1,000-yard rusher as a junior and has 682 yards and six touchdowns this season, plus 30 catches for 309 yards and three scores. Senior wideout Duke McDuffie has a team-high 468 yards receiving and six touchdowns on 28 catches and is also a playmaker in the running game with 376 yards and five touchdowns. Juniors Ethan Hilliman and Kyree Hinton each have five touchdown catches and average over 25 yards per reception. Dabney has thrown touchdown passes to seven different receivers this season.
Dabney’s health is a major question mark heading into the game, however. He played with an ankle injury during the Pioneers’ 31-20 win over Holmdel in the semifinals, according to Simeon Pincus of the Bridgewater Courier News, rushing for just 19 yards on seven carries. McDuffie picked up the slack with 151 yards and two touchdowns out of Wildcat formations and also had 132 yards receiving. Somerville has a bunch of playmakers, but if Dabney’s injury continues to limit his mobility and forces him to mostly throw from the pocket it’s obviously a big boost for Rumson.
Rumson has been dealing with an injury to its most important offensive player, as well, but it appears senior running back Alex Maldjian is ready to go. Maldjian suffered an ankle injury in the first half of a loss to Middletown South on Oct. 26 and did not play in a 28-7 win over Ocean in the quarterfinals. He ran for 117 yards in the win over Red Bank but was limited in the second half because of what he said was bruised ribs. Maldjian said his ankle is very close to 100 percent, which is huge news for Rumson.
Maldjian has rushed for 1,201 yards and 19 touchdowns on an average of 9.5 yards per carry this season and Rumson’s offense isn’t the same without him. The recipe for success against Somerville is to keep the Pioneers’ offense glued to the bench, and that starts with Maldjian and a standout offensive line comprised of left tackle Ryan McCann, left guard Evan Davis, center Tim Kelly, right guard Ethan Ardolino and right tackle Spencer Short. Junior quarterback Collin Coles is going to have to make some key throws, as well. Rumson will have a size advantage on the outside with 6-foot-4 senior tight end Ian O’Connor and 6-foot-5 senior wideout Jackson McCarthy and Coles will surely be looking their way if he needs to move the chains on third down.
Prediction: Rumson, 31-28.
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.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.