Exclamation Point: Unstoppable offense sends No. 6 Point Boro to resounding win over No. 4 Rumson
POINT PLEASANT BOROUGH – When Rumson-Fair Haven traveled to Al Saner Field on Saturday afternoon it presented Point Boro with an opportunity the program has not experienced in over 20 years.
The visiting Bulldogs represent the gold standard of Shore Conference public-school football programs over the last 15 seasons. They’ve won seven NJSIAA sectional titles since 2010 and have reached nine consecutive sectional finals, including last season when they won the South Jersey Group 2 sectional crown and reached the inaugural Group 2 state championship game. The road to the Group 2 title in the South section goes through RFH until proven otherwise.
Point Boro entered Saturday’s nondivisional showdown between top-six teams in the Shore Conference flying high with an undefeated record and an offense that no opponent has been able to stop. This was an entirely different test, however. Rumson is a Shore juggernaut competing in the brutal American Division that includes three teams ranked among the top 10 in New Jersey. The Bulldogs and their defense under coordinator Jerry Schulte have made a living shutting down high-powered offenses in the biggest games.
So this was a chance for the Panthers to make a statement, or at least prove that they, too, are serious Group 2 state title contenders. Point Boro had a message to send all right, and it was delivered loud and clear with a dominant performance led by an unrelenting offense.
Senior quarterback Matt Oliphant completed 7 of 7 passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 145 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, while senior fullback Jake Croce ran for 202 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries as the Panthers, ranked No. 6 in the Shore Sports Network Shore 16, rolled up an astonishing 519 yards of total offense en route to a resounding 42-28 victory over No. 4 Rumson.
The Panthers marched right down the field on the game’s opening series and scored once more in the first quarter to build a two-touchdown lead. Rumson rallied to tie the score in the second quarter, but Point Boro put together a clutch scoring drive late in the first half, used some trickery to score again to open the third quarter, and kept its foot on the accelerator until the final seconds ran out to earn a massive mid-season victory.
“I think it’s the ultimate program win,” said Point Boro head coach Brian Staub. “It had that feel of a state semifinal/state championship game and that was our message, let’s have a championship approach in practice and a championship mindset the entire week.”
“I think it definitely made a statement in Group 2,” Oliphant said. “Our offense played great, our O-line played great against a very good Rumson D-line, and the defense covered up the pass.”
Oliphant ran for a 40-yard touchdown on the Panthers’ first possession, threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to junior slot back Colin Obser, tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Brayden Forfar, and connected with senior slot back Brian Simoes for a 61-yard touchdown. Croce had a 4-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and put the game away with a 65-yard touchdown burst in the fourth quarter. Nine of his 21 carries went for a first down.
“In all four years I’ve played this might be the biggest (regular season) win so far,” Croce said.
“It was the biggest game of the year so we knew we had to show up and ball out,” Simoes said.
Point Boro’s offensive line comprised of seniors Charles “Boom” Davison, Nick Vitale, and Zach Larr and juniors Tanner Hynes and Paul Hagenmeyer was exceptional against a formidable Rumson front that features standouts Cooper Bunnell and Reed Elsas and received a boost with the debut of 6-foot-3, 300-pound sophomore defensive tackle Jack Harris, who had to sit out the Bulldogs’ first four games after transferring from The Hun School. The Panthers ran for 363 yards on an average of 7.9 yards per carry and gained positive yardage on 50 of their 53 offensive plays.
“Our O-line is just a bunch of crazy dudes,” Oliphant said. “They’re fast and they just want to hit somebody. You have to give it to them. I felt really comfortable back there throwing the ball. All week they were grinding and they were ready. They balled out today.”
Defensively, the Panthers limited Rumson standout junior quarterback Owen O’Toole to 161 yards on 15 of 22 passing with three total touchdowns (one rushing) and one interception (Simoes). Point Boro took the big play out of Rumson’s arsenal with a two high safety look and a premium emphasis on keeping everything in front of them. Outside of a 39-yard touchdown catch by senior Nick Rigby in which two Point Boro defenders knocked into each other to spring Rigby loose, Point Boro did not allow a completion over 10 yards until Rumson’s final drive of the game.
“We list keys to victory every week; three for offense, three for defense, and three for special teams, and key No. 1 on defense was to play from the top down,” Staub said. “We wanted to keep them in front and not give them the deep ball. Nick Rigby and No. 2 (Nick Thomas) are explosive wide receivers and O’Toole is even more impressive in person after watching him on film. Defensive coordinator Shane O’Connor did a great job and our kids executed.”
From the opening kickoff, Point Boro was ready for the moment and played like a team supremely confident in its preparation and ability. Oliphant ran for eight yards on his first carry, picked up 10 tough yards on a quarterback sneak on third-and-one from midfield, and then ripped off a 40-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers (5-0) a quick 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
“That was a big tone-setter for the offense,” Oliphant said. “Our mentality is ‘give us the ball back, we want to score’.”
After forcing Rumson to punt thanks to a pass breakup on third down by Simoes defending Rigby, Point Boro went back to work from its own 14-yard line. A tackle for loss by Rumson’s Caden Winters on first down was quickly erased when Croce gained 17 yards on second-and-long. After another 40-yard run by Oliphant down to the Rumson 30-yard line, the Panthers went to the air and Oliphant found Obser down the seam for a 26-yard touchdown pass and a 14-0 advantage.
Rumson answered with a with a 10-play, 78-yard drive to get on the board and trim Point Boro’s lead to 14-7 in the early stages of the second quarter. Point Boro nearly forced a three-and-out but a pass interference penalty on third-and-three from the 29-yard line gave the Bulldogs new life. Two more penalties aided Rumson on its trip to the end zone – an offsides call on a fourth-and-two from just shy of midfield and another pass interference penalty that advanced the ball to the Panthers’ 13-yard line. On third down, Rigby connected with Thomas for a 5-yard touchdown.
Point Boro was faced with a third-and-11 on its next series but an offsides penalty brough up a manageable third-and-six. Oliphant dropped back to pass and hit Obser over the middle, who absorbed a big hit while falling backward to secure a 10-yard catch for a first down. But on the next play, the ball squirted free at the mesh point and Elsas recovered for Rumson. The Bulldogs took advantage of the turnover when sophomore running back Kellen Murray broke loose for a 27-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 14 with 3:13 left in the first half.
Rumson had responded, but the Panthers were unfazed. They went back to work with just over three minutes remaining in the half and grabbed the lead right back with a clutch 80-yard drive. Oliphant and Croce combined to advance the ball to midfield over the next five plays before Oliphant flicked a pinpoint pass to Simoes for a 32-yard gain down to the Rumson 18-yard line. A roughing-the-passer penalty two plays later moved the ball to the RFH 8-yard line and on first-and-goal Oliphant rolled out and threw a pass toward the end zone that Forfar dived to corral for an 8-yard touchdown with eight seconds on the clock. Forfar then added the extra point to send Point Boro into halftime with a 21-14 lead.
“That was a championship drive,” Staub said. “We took it at the three-minute mark at our own 20 so we were taking our time, but once we got to midfield we said, all right, it’s time to score.”
“That was huge,” Oliphant said. “I told the boys let’s get a good drive going and get it done.”
Rumson was set to receive the kickoff to start the third quarter, but Point Boro had other ideas. Once the second half began, the Panthers went into their bag of tricks.
Forfar executed a perfect drag onside kick which he recovered immediately after it went the required 10 yards. On the first play after the sudden change, Point Boro came out in a muddle huddle, snapped the ball, and completed a six-yard pass from Oliphant to long snapper Jayson Bennett. Oliphant and Croce took turns carrying the ball from there until Croce finished off the 49-yard scoring march with a 4-yard touchdown run that extended the Panthers’ lead to 28-14.
“We said at the half that we’re not playing this game to keep it close, we’re playing to win,” Staub said. “We told the entire team we were going to do the drag onside and Brayden is a three-year starter with a ton of specialty kicks and he executed it to perfection.”
“That was a real momentum flip,” Oliphant said. “We have to give it up to our special teams coach Dr. J (Dave Johnson) for that.”
From 14-14 to 28-14 with Rumson running only one offensive play during that span, Point Boro was back in front for good. Rigby’s touchdown reception on the next series pulled Rumson within eight points at 28-20 after the extra point clanged off the left upright, but Rigby, who led the Shore in receptions and receiving yards last season, limped off the field following the score and did not return. Point Boro came right back with a three-play, 65-yard drive that ended with Simoes catching a pass over the middle, shaking a tackler, and racing to the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown and a 35-20 Point Boro lead.
“When I went up and got the ball I saw the guy come from the side so I juked right and I was gone,” Simoes said.
Simoes picked off O’Toole on the next series and the Panthers took over at their own 44-yard line. Point Boro was eventually stopped on downs at the Rumson 32-yard line but the Panthers’ defense returned the favor when senior linebacker Devin Sachkowsky sprinted up to drop O’Toole for a short gain on fourth-and-three from the Point Boro 39-yard line.
A penalty after the play pushed Point Boro back 15 yards to its own 24-yard line, but that did little to slow down the Panthers’ unstoppable attack. Oliphant picked up a first down with a five-yard run and on the next play Croce exploded up the middle and outran the Rumson defense for a 65-yard touchdown run and a commanding 42-20 advantage.
Rumson opened up its offense on its next series as O’Toole hit Thomas for 20 yards on first down and three plays later found senior running back Alastair Orr for 32 yards. A personal foul penalty put the ball at the 7-yard line where O’Toole scrambled for a touchdown on second-and-goal. He then tossed the 2-point conversion pass to Matteo Gangemi to provide the final scoring margin.
Point Boro could have added another touchdown but took a knee at Rumson’s 9-yard line in the final minute after Croce and Oliphant combined to move the ball there from their own 46-yard.
“The key we were thinking about all week was just to finish the game (strong),” Croce said. “They’re the type of team that can come back and win the game so the fact that we were able to keep the pedal down and keep going, I’m so proud of this team. It was a good way to finish against a really good Rumson team.”
Heading into the week, Point Boro was No. 1 in the South Group 2 United Power Rankings and Rumson was No. 2. The Panthers’ advantage will grow after the head-to-head victory, which will have significant postseason implications if Point Boro can handle its business across its final three regular-season games. There’s a good chance these two teams meet again, and if that does happen Point Boro may have just ensured that round two will once again be at Al Saner Field.
“I feel like we will see them again at some point,” Croce said. “They’re a really good team, a top Group 2 team in the state. I have a feeling we’re going to see them again and it’s going to be a really good game.”
Saturday’s victory was exceptional, and while the Panthers were quick to commend their performance against one of the state’s best, they were just as quick to point out there is still more work to be done.
“We had an unbelievable mindset and practices all week and now we’re going to take that and apply it every single week,” Staub said. “The message to the team is that this is a great Week 5 win but at the same time it’s a regular-season win. We just want to keep grinding and getting better and better.”
No. 6 Point Boro 42, No. 4 Rumson-Fair Haven 28
|Rumson-Fair Haven||Point Boro|
|Point Boro (5-0)||14||7||14||7||42|
PB – Matt Oliphant 40-yard run (Brayden Forfar kick)
PB – Colin Obser 26-yard pass from Matt Oliphant (Brayden Forfar kick)
RFH – Nick Thomas 5-yard pass from Owen O’Toole (Ryan Child kick)
RFH – Kellen Murray 27-yard run (Carson Memmott kick)
PB – Brayden Forfar 8-yard pass from Matt Oliphant (Brayden Forfar kick)
PB – Jake Croce 4-yard run (Brayden Forfar kick)
RFH – Nick Rigby 39-yard pass from Owen O’Toole (kick failed)
PB – Brian Simoes 61-yard pass from Matt Oliphant (Brayden Forfar kick)
PB – Jake Croce 65-yard run (Brayden Forfar kick)
RFH – Owen O’Toole 7-yard run (Owen O’Toole pass to Matteo Gangemi)
RUSHING – RFH: Kellen Murray 12-86, Alastair Orr 7-29, Owen O’Toole 4-17, Cooper Bunnell 2-3, Griffin Kolb 1-0; PB: Jake Croce 21-202, Matt Oliphant 18-145, Jake Clayton 5-15, Brian Simoes 2-1.
PASSING – RFH: Owen O’Toole 15-22-1, 160; PB: Matt Oliphant 7-7-0, 156.
RECEIVING – RFH: Nick Rigby 5-65, Nick Thomas 4-36, Alastair Orr 1-32, Jordan Angstreich 3-21, Jackson Gallagher 1-4, Matteo Gangemi 1-2; PB: Brian Simoes 2-93, Colin Obser 2-36, Jayson Bennett 2-19, Brayden Forfar 1-8.
INTERCEPTIONS – PB: Brian Simoes 1-10.