Purple Reign: Rumson Stops Weequahic for CJ-II Title
UNION – In preparing to face undefeated Weequahic in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II final, Rumson-Fair Haven heard and read all about the Indians' staggering team statistics.
The numbers were certainly jarring. Weequahic entered its third straight state sectional final averaging 39 points per game while dominating even more on the defensive side of the ball, posting eight shutouts and allowing a miniscule 2.6 points per game behind tackling machine Sidney Gopre. Rumson has stars of its own and a rugged defense, though, and it turned in another brilliant championship performance to bring home its second state title.
A second-quarter touchdown on an 85-yard pass from Chase Caruso to Sam Shaud was all the offense Rumson would need thanks to a defense that held the explosive Indians to just one score in a 14-6 victory in the Central Jersey Group II title game on Saturday night at Kean University. An Indians team that posted point totals of 45, 55, 60 and 70 in games this season was held in check by a ferocious Bulldogs defense led by senior defensive end Donald Bedell and senior linebacker J.T. Jennings.
There was still plenty of work to do after Shaud's big touchdown catch, and Charlie Volker, the Shore Conference's leading rusher with over 2,100 yards, ground out 93 yards behind an offensive line that went toe-to-toe with a fast and physical Weequahic front seven. It all added up to give Rumson its second state title in four seasons and set a single-season program record for wins by finishing 11-1. It also avenged a loss to Weequahic in the first round of last year's playoffs.
“It was definitely inch by inch,” Volker said. “But we fought for it, and we earned it.”
“We knew it was going to be a great defensive struggle - they'd given up 29 points all year,” said Bulldogs head coach Bryan Batchler. “We saved our best game for last.”
Rumson never trailed against an undefeated Indians team that bludgeoned everyone in their path before running into Rumson on Saturday. For the second time in a state final, Rumson found a way to stymie a seemingly unstoppable offense. Defensive coordinator Jerry Schulte dialed up a perfect gameplan, just like he did when Rumson won its first title in 2010 by limiting an explosive Matawan team to seven points.
“We bounced our defensive ends out and played a more constrictive type of defense,” Jennings said. “They were great at getting up to the linebackers, so we were taught to fill the holes as quickly as possible and gang tackle on every play. We came with a great gameplan and executed it. I can't emphasize how much film we watched and how much work we put into this game.”
“Their speed was unbelievable,” Bedell said. “We knew we had to contain them and not let them get the corner. Our defensive coordinator drew it up perfectly.”
From the onset, Rumson wanted to show Weequahic it wasn't intimidated and wasn't going to back down. The Bulldogs delivered some crushing hits early in the game in forcing three straight three-and-outs, setting the tone for a defensive battle.
“We wanted to go out and show we meant business,” Bedell said. “We smacked them in the mouth on the first play, the last play and every play in between.”
Except for a 61-yard scoring drive to begin the third quarter, Rumson negated nearly everything Weequahic tried offensively. But an undefeated team with championship experience is never going to just roll over, and Rumson had to hang on for dear life when the Indians moved to the Bulldogs' 21-yard line in the game's final minute. Quarterback Kedar Clarke found Yusef Williams for gains of 27 and 34 yards on consecutive plays to get Weequahic within striking distance.
That's when Bedell, the Rutgers-bound defensive end, showed why he's one of the very best in the state at getting to the quarterback. He had three sacks on Weequahic's final possession, including two on the last three plays. On the final play of his career, Bedell whipped Clarke to the ground and counted down from five as the Bulldogs captured their second state title.
“It wasn't over at all and I needed to get to the quarterback,” Bedell said. “That's all I'm thinking there. Just get to the quarterback. Nothing else matters.”
A scoreless first quarter illustrated just how tough it was going to be for either team to get into the end zone. Rumson had just 20 yards and one first down. Weequahic gained nine yards with zero first downs. Someone was going to have to make a big play to crack the scoreboard.
With the ball at Rumson's 15-yard line, the Bulldogs called for one of the four passing plays they ran all game. Shaud was in single coverage on the left side of the formation, and Caruso sent a jump ball his way. Shaud leaped and snatched the ball out of the air, catching a carom and breaking away from the cornerback. With no safety help, Shaud had nothing but green in front of him. Gopre sped down the field and dove at Shaud's ankles, but he was able to high-step out of the attempted tackle and finish off an 85-yard touchdown for a 7-0 lead with 6:40 left in the first half.
“We had to take a shot,” Batchler said. “They're that good that you don't know how many chances you're going to get. Sam Shaud had a great cover kid on him that he beat and then he high-stepped away from Gopre, which was huge, because if he gets tackled there, they're the kind of team where you don't know if you can get in from there.”
“That was the turning point of the game,” Jennings said. “As soon as we created doubt it changed the game. I don't think we were a huge underdog, but a lot of people thought Weequahic had it. They've made three straight state finals and have one of the best defenses in the state. Sam Shaud made a great play and that really set the tone.”
The score remained 7-0 through halftime, although Rumson had a few shots to extend the lead before the break. A fumble recovery that gave Rumson the ball inside the Weequahic 30 went for naught when the Bulldogs fumbled back to the Indians just a few plays later. Late in the first half, an interception by Sam Eisenstadt put Rumson at the Weequahic 21 with 2:23 left until halftime. Fullback Dylan Zohn barely converted a fourth-and-one from the 12-yard line to keep the drive alive, and on second down with 10 seconds left, Caruso appeared to find senior tight end Kevin Clayton for a nine-yard touchdown.
The play was called back, however, because of an ineligible-man-downfield penalty. With just two seconds left, Rumson had to attempt a 31-yard field goal, but Connor Kelly's kick missed wide to keep it 7-0 at the half.
“That one touchdown that got called back was kind of demoralizing, but we had to keep our heads up and keep going,” Jennings said.
“We knew if we were able to get those chances in the first half they'd be there in the second half,” Volker said. “But we had to take advantage of them.”
Weequahic began the third quarter with a 12-play scoring drive that eclipsed its total output from the first half. An 18-yard run by Alkadair Ports moved the ball inside the Rumson 10 before Clarke squeezed in from the one-yard line. The extra point was no good, though, so Rumson still led 7-6 with 5:30 remaining in the period.
Rumson continued to stick with its gameplan and win the field position battle, and that led to Volker's fourth-quarter touchdown that extended the Bulldogs' lead. Weequahic had to punt from its own 12 with 5:55 left, and up until that point the Indians had been great on punts in getting some friendly rolls to pin Rumson back. But this time, pressure off the edge from senior linebacker Avery Mellinger forced the Weequahic punter to hook his kick out of bounds at the 20 for an eight-yard punt.
This time, Rumson didn't let an opportunity slip away. Volker took six straight carries and bulldozed his way in from three yards out to push Rumson's lead to 14-6 with 2:08 to play, sealing the Bulldogs' second state championship.
“Words can't describe how it feels,” Bedell said. “It's unbelievable. It's really that good.”
Rumson finished with its best record ever at 11-1 with its lone loss coming to Red Bank Catholic during Thanksgiving week. A 45-0 loss to the Caseys, the No. 1 team in the Shore Conference and a top-10 team in the state, could have been demoralizing, but Rumson used that game to prepare for Weequahic.
“RBC obviously beat up on us pretty well, but you take away a lot from getting your butt whipped a little bit,” Jennings said. “We learned something from the RBC game that we didn't learn up to that point, and that is you have to keep attacking. We had to keep coming at them all game, and it paid off at the end.”
“It was a reality check that we weren't invincible,” Bedell said. “RBC tossed us around a bit and that made us work even harder to get ready for (Saturday) and get it done.”
Rumson's big guns came to play on Saturday night, both on the field and on the sidelines. It was a brilliantly executed game from the coaches to the players against a dominant opponent. Rumson has built a legacy over the past four years. It's a program that has played its best in its most important games. After all, that's what elite teams do.
NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II Final
(1) Rumson 14, (2) Weequahic 6
Weequahic (11-1) 0 0 6 0 – 6
Rumson (11-1) 0 7 0 7 – 14
R – Chase Caruso 85-yard pass to Sam Shaud (Connor Kelly kick)
W – Kedar Clarke 1-yard run (kick failed)
R – Charlie Volker 3-yard run (Connor Kelly kick)
Rushing – W: Sidney Gopre 9-29, Alkadair Ports 5-26, Kedar Clarke 12-8, Baron Wright 3-7, Al-Raekwon Zigler-Woodson 3-7; R: Charlie Volker 31-93, Dylan Zohn 3-10, Sam Shaud 1-(-3), Chase Caruso 2-(-12).
Passing – W: Kedar Clarke 4-10-1 84; R: Chase Caruso 3-4-0 104
Receiving – W: Yusef Williams 2-61, Al-Raekwon Zigler-Woodson 1-20, Baron Wright 1-3.
Interceptions – R: Kevin Clayton 1-15.