Impenetrable Wall: No. 9 Crimson Knights topple No. 2 RFH
WALL – Wall embarked on a 48-minute journey Friday night without leaving the confines of its home. The Crimson Knights traveled a road of introspection to the outer reaches of their football souls, stretched by a mighty and massive army from Rumson-Fair Haven with numbers noticeably greater than their own.
The trip revealed some of Wall’s finest qualities along the course. A defense fast, physical and relentless served as a less than gracious host, driven to make a point that its unforgiving style was on par with its more-publicized counterparts. The offense brushed off an early lapse, patient and steadfast to strike its desired rhythm, aided by senior punter Frankie Passantino who bought it time with punt after punt that left Rumson with unfavorable field position.
Yet, beyond its showing in all three phases of the game, Wall drew its greatest sense of pride from the ceaseless passion and energy it exerted over four quarters, put forth by a band of two-way grunts who, with their feet to fire, found out that both their mental toughness and intestinal fortitude share a common point - both are indefatigable.
Juniors Logan Peters and Casey Larkin infused second-half electricity into an offense seeking a spark while senior twins Dean and Will Terry, along with classmate Ian Ackerman and sophomores Colin Reilly and Charlie Sasso inspired their defensive cohorts to trust their talents and instincts in a show of resistance worthy of the highest accolades as No. 9 Wall outlasted No. 2 Rumson-Fair Haven, 14-3, for a victory that made it clear the Crimson Knights are a force to be reckoned with.
"It's the statement we wanted to make," said Wall coach Tony Grandinetti of his side's gritty showing. "This was a big-boy game. A lot of our guys do go both ways. It’s why we do the conditioning in the summertime and why they are challenged in the weight room. They faced adversity and dealt with it. The defense kept us in the game...I can’t say enough good things about the defense."
To say the start was not ideal for Wall (2-0) would be an understatement. On the first play of the opening series, Rumson junior defensive tackle Von Factor deflected a Peters pass that junior defensive tackle Jack Kelly managed to pull down amid congestion at the line of scrimmage to set the Bulldogs (1-1) up on the Knights' 16.
However, RFH had to settle for a 20-yard field goal by junior Drew Venancio, seizing a 3-0 lead with less than three minutes elapsed with Wall revealing the first hint that its stout presence would be a lasting one.
The kick was about all Wall was willing to concede. The Crimson Knights limited RFH to mere 130 yards of total offense, shutting down its vaunted ground attack to the tune of just 24 yards. By the same token, Rumson was equally stingy, surrendering just 51 yards to Wall over the first two quarters to carry its three-point edge into intermission.
"Our defense is the strongest point of our team," praised Grandinetti. "Tonight, we proved it."
The tides gradually shifted in the Knights' direction over the span of the second half. After the defense induced a three-and-out on Rumson's opening possession of the third, Wall's offense slipped into gear. Peters connected on three throws during an 11-play, 69-yard march, culminated with his rollout and flip to Sasso, who doubles at running back, for a four-yard TD that thrust the Crimson Knights in front, 7-3, with 4:12 left in the third.
"Going into halftime, we weren't angry. We weren't upset," Grandinetti said. "We knew we could get some plays on them. It was just about execution. Once we got that first drive in, we knew we could move the ball."
"That drive helped a lot for our confidence," admitted Peters, who carried 11 times for 92 yards. "We sprung a few plays and it kept carrying over."
Staked to a lead, Wall only intensified its work on the defensive side. It surrendered one first down over the balance of the contest, stifled Rumson for the duration of the second half, allowing a just seven yards total, and drove home the decisive nail when Peters punctuated an eight-play, 89-yard drive with a slick keep on an option-read and 24-yard dash into the end zone with 2:11 remaining in the fourth.
Maybe no sequence better exemplified the tenacity of Wall more so than one involving Larkin. One of numerous two-way assets who endlessly spilled his bucket on both sides, he stepped up from his cornerback post to deliver a jarring hit that broke up a pass midway through the fourth. In the process, Larkin tweaked his shoulder yet summoned the strength and courage to get back into the fray, rumbling for 46 of his 77 rushing yards in the second half, including 36 in the final scoring drive.
"They were aggressive and flying to the ball," Larkin noted of Rumson's defense. "So, cutting back runs was a way for us to find openings and that's what we did. That type of energy we showed in this game is what we do every day in practice. You have to practice that way in order to beat a great team like Rumson."
"Pretty much every guy goes two ways," Peters added of Wall's versatile contributors. "We know it's going to take a lot out of us, but it's a different mindset for us. It's wanting to be on the field at all times and show that knack for making a play."
Something, Wall did each and every time it needed one en route to pocketing a signature win.