Football – Central Jersey Group III Championship Preview: Rumson vs. Somerville
CENTRAL JERSEY GROUP III FINAL
WHO: 1-Rumson-Fair Haven (10-1) vs. 2-Somerville (10-1)
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 2, 7 p.m.
WHERE: High Point Solutions Stadium at Rutgers University
RUMSON ROAD TO THE FINAL: Defeated Lawrence, 35-6, in the quarterfinals; defeated Wall, 28-13, in the semifinals.
SOMERVILLE ROAD TO THE FINAL: Defeated Ewing, 51-12, in the quarterfinals; Defeated Monmouth, 33-24, in the semifinals.
RUMSON'S BEST WIN: 48-25 over Monmouth on Oct. 27.
SOMERVILLE'S BEST WIN: 34-20 over Voorhees on Sept. 22.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: Rumson is 21-11 in 16 playoff appearances all-time...The Bulldogs have won five sectional titles in eight appearances, including four in a row with two coming in Central Jersey Group II and the last two coming in Central Jersey Group III...Somerville is 23-15 all-time in 22 playoff berths with seven sectional titles in 12 trips to the championship game. Somerville's last state title came in 1994 and its last state finals appearance was in 2000.
History will be on the line in the Central Jersey Group III final as Rumson tries to become just the second Shore Conference program to win five consecutive NJSIAA sectional championships.
Rumson is the two-time defending champion in the bracket after winning consecutive titles in Central Jersey Group II in 2013 and 2014. A win over Somerville at Rutgers will match the five straight state titles won by Manasquan from 1998-2002. The Bulldogs enter their fifth straight state final after a 28-13 win over Wall in the semifinals.
Defense has been the calling card for Rumson throughout its incredible playoff run and this season has been no different as the Bulldogs have a top-10 defense in the Shore. Rumson’s offense, however, is No. 3 in the Shore at 37.5 points per game with one of the state’s best running backs leading the way. Senior Peter Lucas has been incredible in his first and only year as the Bulldogs’ starting running back with a school-record 2,110 yards rushing and 30 touchdowns on an average of 10.8 yards per carry. He is New Jersey’s third-leading rusher behind two other Shore Conference standouts, Manalapan’s Naim Mayfield and Freehold’s Ashante Worthy.
Lucas and junior fullback Alex Maldjian (555 yards and nine touchdowns) have paced the offense behind an offensive line that has been among the Shore’s best this season. The ground game is Rumson’s bread and butter, but senior quarterback Dan Harby has proven he can make plays when needed. He’s thrown for 1,060 yards and nine touchdowns with just three interceptions and a 62 percent completion rate. Junior tight end Ian O’Connor is far and away Rumson’s No. 1 receiver with 30 catches for 432 yards and four touchdowns.
Getting back to Rumson’s defense, the Bulldogs have been phenomenal in the playoffs with defensive coordinator and now head coach Jerry Schulte. In 21 playoff games since 2010, Rumson has allowed a paltry 8.1 points per game. Teams don’t have that kind of success without it being a group effort and that is once again the case this season. Junior linebacker Keegan Woods leads the team with Shore Conference-best 143 tackles plus four sacks while fellow junior linebacker Christian Lanzalotto has 90 tackles and a team-leading two interceptions. Defensive lineman Henry Sullivan has 92 tackles and seven sacks and senior defensive end Elijah McAllister has been a difference-maker in returning from an injury with 59 tackles and seven sacks.
In the kicking game, Jimmy Hempstead has converted 27 of 28 extra points.
Rumson’s opponent, Somerville, has been hoping for a rematch since the Bulldogs shut down their high-powered offense and handed the Pioneers their only loss of the season in last year’s semifinals. Somerville punched its ticket to the championship game by scoring 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to rally past Monmouth Regional for a 33-24 win.
Somerville enters averaging 45.1 points per game with an offense that spreads it around effectively. Jalahn Dabney has 895 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns along with 547 yards passing and 10 touchdowns. Quarterback Ryan Kovacs has thrown for 1,164 yards and 12 touchdowns with just two interceptions and Robbie Fiorentino is the leading rusher with 970 yards and eight touchdowns. Duke McDuffie adds 351 yards and eight touchdowns rushing.
Joe Ciempola is the Pioneers’ leading receiver by yards with 335 to go along with five touchdowns, while Fiorentino has a team-leading 28 catches. McDuffie has 26 catches for 318 yards and three scores and Da’Shaun Smith has four touchdown catches.
Somerville also has a very capable kicker with Bobby Wortman hitting seven of 11 field goals.
Somerville’s defense has allowed 20.6 points per game but has been bailed out by its offense five of the six times it has allowed over 20 points. What the Pioneers do well is get to the quarterback and turn the ball over. Ryan Hrabinski has 10 sacks and also leads the team with 58 tackles. Quron Smith has seven sacks and Hamza Akel adds five sacks. Marcus Burnside has a team-high five interceptions, McDuffie has four picks and Ciempola and Tyjir Williams have three interceptions each.
Somerville’s offense is more dynamic than Rumson’s but both have units that average over five touchdowns per game. Rumson’s defense is the difference, and if the Bulldogs play like they have over the past 21 postseason games they will be in a great position to bring home a fifth straight state title. Also, no team has slowed down Lucas this season and Somerville’s defense is not a feared unit. The best defense Rumson played all season was St. John Vianney’s and Lucas ran for over 200 yards against the Lancers in a 31-28 overtime loss, the only defeat of the season for the Bulldogs.
Prediction: Rumson, 28-14
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.