Micah Ford powers No. 1 Toms River North to resilient win over No. 3 Rumson-Fair Haven
RUMSON – The multitude of challenges opponents face when squaring off against Toms River North could not have been more evident than on Friday night at Borden Stadium.
With a Power 5 commit at quarterback, a massive and physical offensive line, a dynamic group of skill players, and a swarming defense, the margin for error is razor-thin against the reigning NJSIAA Group 5 champion. A team can be right there with the juggernaut Mariners until, in the blink of an eye, the game is suddenly out of reach. That was the case once again in Week 2.
Rumson-Fair Haven electrified the home crowd with a 92-yard touchdown on the first offensive play of the game but Toms River North, ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Shore 16, responded immediately to tie the score, build a 21-point lead, and brush off adversity to roll to a 42-21 Shore Conference American Division victory over the No. 3 Bulldogs.
Senior quarterback Micah Ford, a Stanford University recruit, turned in another incredible game with 237 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 24 carries, plus 159 yards and two touchdowns on 5 of 8 passing. Senior wideout Jeremiah Pruitt caught three passes for 97 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown, and junior wideout Camryn Thomas hauled in a 54-yard touchdown reception.
Rumson was up 7-0 just 20 seconds into the game when senior tight end Jackson Gallagher took a short pass, bullied his way through multiple would-be tacklers, and rumbled into the end zone for a 92-yard touchdown. Toms River North’s response was a seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive that tied the score on Pruitt’s long touchdown catch. The Mariners would score three more times in the first half, building a 28-7 lead that was cut to 28-13 just before halftime. Rumson took advantage of a turnover early in the third quarter to pull within 28-21, but Toms River North was unfazed and immediately countered with two second-half touchdowns to chalk up another marquee victory three weeks into the season.
Rumson pushed Toms River North with a versatile passing attack led by junior quarterback Owen O’Toole (15-for-30, 229 yards, 2 TDS, 1 INT) and the team’s usual grit and tenacity, but with Ford leading the way, Toms River North’s collective abilities were too much to overcome. The Mariners were their own worst enemy in many ways, amassing 10 penalties for 105 yards and losing a fumble early in the third quarter when they received the second-half kickoff leading 28-13. What the Mariners proved again is that they have the mental fortitude and confidence to shake off adversity and let their talent shine.
“We’re up three scores, they get the ball and have to go 90-something yards, we have them third-and-long, and I don’t know how many interference calls we got hit with and then we jump offsides at midfield two or three times. Then we just didn’t play defense inside the red zone,” said Toms River North head coach Dave Oizerowitz about Rumson’s touchdown drive late in the first half.
“We went in and we had a moment at halftime. We said, ‘Listen, what do we want to be? Is this the kind of team we are?’ Our guys got together and there was a lot of leadership in that locker room from the players. They want to win and be a championship club. Then we fumbled and I said to my brother we’re in a ballgame now, we don’t have control anymore. But from there, we stepped on them a little bit and put it away.”
“At halftime we had a really good talk and everybody was focused, locked in,” Pruitt said. “We knew what we had to do and we came out and got it done.”
Following the early fireworks of Gallagher’s long touchdown and Pruitt’s game-tying touchdown reception on third-and-18, Toms River North stopped Rumson on downs at the Mariners’ 27-yard line with 5:14 left in the first quarter. Five plays into the drive on third-and-6, Thomas was wide open down the visiting sideline and Ford found him for a 54-yard touchdown and a 14-7 Mariners lead.
Toms River North then forced a Rumson three-and-out and took over possession at its own 40-yard line with 1:32 left in the opening quarter. Two runs by Ford and a 27-yard run by senior running back Josh Moore on the final play of the quarter put the ball at the Bulldogs’ 18-yard line. On the first play of the second quarter, Ford found room behind the right side of the offensive line for an 18-yard touchdown run and a 21-7 Toms River North lead.
Rumson gained one first down on its next series via a 32-yard catch by senor wideout Nick Rigby but was forced to punt from midfield after the Mariners snuffed out a tight end screen on third-and-long. The punt was downed at the 12-yard line but the poor field position had no effect on Toms River North. On the second play, Ford utilized excellent downfield blocking and weaved his way through the Rumson defense for a sensational 81-yard touchdown run that gave the Mariners a 28-7 advantage with 8:17 left in the first half.
“They didn’t really wrap me so I bounced off some tackles and saw the outside and my guys leading me into the end zone,” Ford said. “I’m so proud of the offensive line. They really dug deep and played to the whistle.”
“We like to say we have the dog in us,” Pruitt said. “We know that the person in front of us, we’re going to push them back and beat them.
It looked like things had gone from bad to worse for Rumson when its kick returner inadvertently touched his knee to the ground when fielding the ensuing kickoff, planting the Bulldogs at their own 5-yard line. The combination of clutch throws by O’Toole and three penalties for a total of 25 yards on North helped the Bulldogs push across midfield and into Mariners’ territory. A 23-yard run by sophomore running back Kellen Murray moved the ball to the TRN 16-yard line and two plays later his 10-yard reception made it first-and-goal at the 6-yard line. On second down, Murray burst up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown run. The extra point clanged off the left post to leave the score at 28-13 heading to halftime.
Toms River North was still in control, especially considering it was set to receive the second-half kickoff and had scored on its first four possessions of the first half. That changed when Ford coughed up a rare fumble and senior defensive back DJ Devine pounced on it for Rumson at the TRN 22-yard line. An 11-yard catch by Rigby made it first-and-goal at the 9-yard line and on third down O’Toole went through his progressions before firing a 9-yard scoring strike to senior wideout Matteo Gangemi. O’Toole then found Rigby for the 2-point conversion pass to cut Toms River North’s lead to 28-21.
The Mariners’ ability to punch back defined their victory and their second possession of the second half illustrated that perfectly. Starting from their own 42-yard line thanks to a 36-yard kick return by junior Mordecai Ford, Toms River North ran the ball nine straight times and re-established a two-score lead on Micah Ford’s 9-yard touchdown run. The extra point was not attempted after issues on the hold.
Down 34-21, Rumson could advance the ball only 24 yards from its own 20-yard line and was forced to punt it back to the Mariners with 3:11 left in the third quarter. The Mariners put the finishing touches on their second state-ranked win in three weeks by authoring an 11-play, 71-yard scoring drive that culminated with Ford scoring on a 4-yard run for his fourth rushing touchdown of the night.
A leaping interception by senior cornerback Tareq Council on the next series punctuated a victory that showcased Toms River North’s combination of talent, drive, and resilience.
“We’ve been in situations like that before and I’m just happy my guys kept their composure and realized how much time was left so we could stay locked in,” Ford said.
“Our guys just want to win,” Oizerowitz said. “They’re unselfish, they play for each other, and they want to play in and win big games. I think that’s what makes this group unique.”
No. 1 Toms River North 42, No. 3 Rumson-Fair Haven 21
|Toms River North||Rumson-Fair Haven|
|TR North (3-0, 1-0)||14||14||6||7||42|
|Rumson (2-1, 1-1)||7||6||8||0||21|
RFH – Jackson Gallagher 92-yard pass from Owen O’Toole (Ryan Child kick)
TRN – Jeremiah Pruitt 63-yard pass from Micah Ford (Yianni Papanikolas kick)
TRN – Camryn Thomas 54-yard pass from Micah Ford (Yianni Papanikolas kick)
TRN – Micah Ford 18-yard run (Yianni Papanikolas kick)
TRN – Micah Ford 81-yard run (Yianni Papanikolas kick)
RFH – Kellen Murray 6-yard run (kick failed)
RFH – Matteo Gangemi 9-yard pass from Owen O’Toole (Owen O’Toole pass to Nick Rigby)
TRN – Micah Ford 9-yard run (Yianni Papanikolas kick)
TRN – Micah Ford 4-yard run (Yianni Papanikolas kick)
RUSHING – TRN: Micah Ford 24-237, Josh Moore 11-62, Jeremiah Pruitt 1-9, Mordecai Ford 2-7, Nasir Jackson 1-5, TJ Valerio 3-(-3); RFH: Kellen Murray 5-43, Owen O’Toole 4-11, Alastair Orr 6-18, Griffin Kolb 4-1.
PASSING – TRN: Micah Ford 5-8-0, 159; RFH: Owen O’Toole 15-30-1, 229.
RECEIVING – TRN: Jeremiah Pruitt 3-97, Camryn Thomas 1-54, Josh Moore 1-8; RFH: Jackson Gallagher 3-95, Nick Rigby 5-74, Jordan Angstreich 3-31, Kellen Murray 1-10, Matteo Gangemi 1-9, Nick Thomas 1-10, Griffin Kolb 1-0.
INTERCEPTIONS – TRN: Tareq Council 1-0.