Dahmiere Willis, Defense Lead No. 8 Long Branch Past No. 7 Rumson
LONG BRANCH - Long Branch's Dan George has coached several Shore Conference greats at running back during his long career, and the performance of his latest star on Friday night had him mentioning senior Dahmiere Willis in the same breath as one of the all-time greats.
Willis posted his fourth straight 200-yard rushing effort with 245 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries to go over the 1,000-yard mark for the season and help the No. 8 Green Wave knock off No. 7 Rumson-Fair Haven, 19-7, in a nondivisional game at Bresett Stadium for their fourth straight win. Willis now has a Shore Conference-high 1,143 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns in five games in his first and only season as the feature tailback in the Green Wave's multiple-I rushing attack.
His vision and cutback ability remind George of a star he coached who went on to play for Penn State in the late 1990s after a legendary career at Red Bank Regional.
"I put him in the same sentence as an Eric McCoo,'' said George, who is a former assistant at Red Bank. "Eric had that ridiculous track speed, but Dahmiere brings the same thing with his vision and his pad level. We miss this block or that block and sometimes it doesn't matter. Those are the things the great ones can do."
Willis was half of the equation on Friday night as the Green Wave defense was also stellar, holding Rumson to 86 total yards one week after the Bulldogs (2-2) rolled up 393 on the ground in a 35-28 loss to St. John Vianney. For the second straight game, Rumson was without star tailback Charlie Volker, a Princeton recruit who was out with a high ankle sprain. Still, sophomore quarterback Mike O'Connor was coming off a 260-yard explosion against St. John Vianney, and Long Branch (4-1) held him to minus-9 yards on 14 attempts.
"Outside contain was the key,'' said senior linebacker Hunter Baillie, who had a pair of sacks. "We wanted to make him cut back inside to our D-line and our inside linebackers."
"I was spying him most of the time, and our whole defense stopped him,'' said linebacker Brandon Lane, who had three hits for a loss.
After Willis lost a fumble on the opening possession of the game, the defense picked him up by stuffing O'Connor on fourth-and-1 from Long Branch's 45-yard line to set up the first scoring drive of the game. The Green Wave went 55 yards in eight plays, with Willis capping the march with a 14-yard touchdown run to make it 6-0 after the extra point was no good with 3:44 left in the first quarter.
The defense came up with another stop and then Willis dazzled the crowd with a 29-yard run and then a sensational 44-yard run in which he broke multiple tackles and cut all the way back across the field. He eventually capped the six-play, 80-yard drive with a 7-yard scoring run that made it 12-0 after another missed extra point with 10:41 left in the half.
A sack by senior defensive end John Mimes on third down killed Rumson's ensuing drive before Long Branch went three-and-out. Willis, who also returns kicks and is a three-year starter in the secondary, got the ball right back with an interception that he returned to Rumson's 13-yard line. However, the Bulldogs made a stand at their own 2-yard line in the final seconds to keep the Long Branch lead at 12-0 going into halftime. Willis single-handedly outgained Rumson 152-35 in the first half.
"I felt it in warm-ups,'' Willis said. "I was very explosive and moving really good, plus my offensive line has been great. They get it done for me."
"It's a beautiful thing,'' Lane said. "He's getting us points on the board, and we're shutting people down."
After a scoreless third quarter, Rumson fought its way back into the game when its defense pinned Long Branch, forcing the Green Wave to punt from their own end zone to give the Bulldogs the ball at the 32-yard line. O'Connor ran for a nine-yard gain on fourth-and-5 from the 27 to keep the drive alive and then hit senior wideout Murray McHeffey with an 18-yard rainbow in the back of the end zone to cut the lead to 12-7 with 11:04 left in the game.
Willis had been held to eight yards in the second half up to that point, but the Green Wave turned to him in crunch time and he delivered once again. Long Branch answered Rumson's touchdown with a definitive seven-play, 62-yard drive that Willis polished off with a 28-yard touchdown run for a 19-7 lead with 7:52 left in the game.
"That makes me work harder,'' Willis said. "I know they're keying on me, so I just want to go the extra mile."
"It felt like we had all the momentum (after the McHeffey touchdown),'' Rumson coach Bryan Batchler said. "But they're good up front, and they have a very good back behind them, which is a great combination."
The defense took it from there, as Lane sacked O'Connor for a nine-yard loss to kill Rumson's next drive and then sacked him again inside three minutes on Rumson's last real chance to make it interesting.
"We knew it was going to be a struggle coming in,'' Batchler said. "We knew they were better than (St. John) Vianney defensively. They really try to take away the run."
The victory was crucial for Long Branch as it jockeys for a high seed in Central Jersey Group III. The Green Wave were second in power points in the bracket coming into this weekend.
"This game was a double-edged sword because you're supposed to beat them because their stud's out, but they're a heck of a team that was one or two plays away from beating Vianney, so it's still a tough game,'' George said. "So if you lose, you screwed up, but if you win, you're supposed to beat them. This was a huge power-point game for us."
While Willis will look to continue his rampage, which included a 307-yard rushing effort against Colts Neck in Week Four, Batchler said Volker will return to the lineup from his injury when the Bulldogs travel to Manasquan next week.
Long Branch 19, Rumson-FH 7
. L R
First downs 16 8
Rushes-yards 47-268 31-37
Passing 1-4-0 5-10-1
Passing yards 10 49
Penalties 8-70 4-28
Fumbles-lost 2-2 0-0
Rumson-FH (2-2) 0 0 0 7 - 7
Long Branch (4-1) 6 6 0 7 - 19
L: Willis 14-yard run (kick failed).
L: Willis 7-yard run (kick failed).
R: McHeffey 18-yard pass from O'Connor (Morales kick).
L: Willis 28-yard run (Mota kick).
Rushing - L: Willis 36-245, Mackason 5-19, Rodriguez 4-(-6), Cannon 2-10. R: O'Connor 14-(-9), Vecchiarelli 17-46.
Passing - L: Rodriguez 1-4-0 10. R: O'Connor 5-10-1 49.
Receiving - L: Washington 1-10. R: Hull 1-11, McHeffey 1-18, Ferrare 1-16, Kingdon 1-2, Moore 1-2.
Interceptions - L: Willis 1-30.