Rumson-Fair Haven Shuts Out Rival Red Bank to Win Third Straight State Title
PISCATAWAY — History was going to be made one way or the other in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III championship game, and with another magnificent defensive performance Rumson-Fair Haven cemented its legacy in the annals of the Shore Conference’s dynasties.
The Bulldogs blanked rival Red Bank 21-0 on Saturday night at Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium in the biggest edition of The Battle of Ridge Road. After winning two straight Group II sectional titles, Rumson conquered a new bracket to become just the fifth Shore Conference program to win three consecutive state championships.
“We knew we were chasing it,” said Rumson head coach Bryan Batchler. “We wanted to make history, and it says a lot about our coaches, players and our community.”
“When I first started playing as a sophomore in coach Batchler’s first year he came into the locker room and told us championship or bust,” said senior linebacker Max Pfrang. “We’ve been playing like that ever since. Our goal every year is to go 1-0 in the opener and 1-0 in December, and we did that again this year.”
Junior running back Bryan Hess ran for 71 yards and two touchdowns and junior quarterback Mike O’Connor ran for a game-high 87 yards with a score. The Bulldogs ran for 242 yards as a team, and that combined with a shutdown defense was once again a winning combination for Rumson.
Defensive coordinator Jerry Schulte came up with another great gameplan to stifle a dangerous Red Bank offense that features dynamic playmaker Sadiq Palmer, a Syracuse recruit. The Bucs managed just 114 yards of offense and eight first downs, and were held under 100 yards rushing. Rumson also forced a pair of turnovers on fumble recoveries by Griffin Schultz and Noah Stoudenmire and sacked Red Bank quarterback Jack Navitsky three times.
Rumson’s defensive performances in title games have become legendary. The Bulldogs have registered nine straight shutout quarters, which includes a 21-0 shutout of Delaware Valley in last season’s Central Jersey Group II final. The defense has allowed just nine points in those five games, with seven more coming on a punt return touchdown.
“Coach Schulte does a great job, he draws up the best gameplans for us and he knows we’re going to execute,” said standout junior linebacker Mike Ruane.
“We play a very simple defense, you just have to be a smart player and get after it and be coachable,” Pfrang said. “Coach Schulte makes the best ing-game adjustments, and we just run out there and have fun.”
“Just put Jerry Schulte in the Hall of Fame now,” Batchler said.
In winning their third title in a row to enter the record book, Rumson also denied Red Bank a shot at history. The Bucs were 11-0 entering the game and looking for their first title and undefeated season since 1975. Red Bank still turned in a season for the ages, winning its first division title since 1977 and reaching its first state final since 2003.
“They had a great season and we knew they would be confident coming in,” Ruane said. “They have some big players who have had big games, but we knew if we stopped the big plays they couldn’t drive on us. We got the lead early and kept pounding on them.”
Experience was a major factor for Rumson. The Bulldogs looked like a team that had been there before, while Red Bank took some time to settle down and find its bearings. By the time that happened, however, Rumson had grabbled a 14-0 first-quarter lead.
“We know playing in championship games whoever can come out and set the tone is going to win, and thats what we tried to do,” Pfrang said. “Our offense did a great job putting us up 14-0 and our defense getting that goal line stop was huge.”
Red Bank’s best scoring chance came in the third quarter with Rumson holding a 21-0 lead. A 34-yard run by Palmer put the Bucs at the Rumson 31, and Palmer then brought down a 21-yard pass to make it first-and-goal at the 10. Rumson forced fourth down, however, and junior defensive lineman Liam Adams stuffed Palmer for no gain at the three-yard line to keep the shutout intact.
Rumson also stopped Red Bank on downs on the game’s opening series after the Bucs moved to the Bulldogs’ 47-yard line. Alim Godsey got the carry on fourth-and-three, but senior defensive lineman Ian Clarke stopped him after one yard to turn the ball over.
The Bulldogs used that momentum to score the only touchdown they would need on a four-play, 54-yard drive. After Ruane powered forward for a first down on third-and-two, Hess broke free up the middle for a 40-yard touchdown.
The lead grew to 14-0 after Schultz recovered a fumble by Godsey at Rumson’s 27-yard line. Junior running back Matt Veccharelli ran for 20 yards on first down, and five plays later O’Connor hit senior John Kingdon for 36 yards down to the Red Bank three-yard line. Hess’ two-yard touchdown run capped the eight-play, 73-yard drive.
Stoudenmire’s fumble recovery after Red Bank botched the snap on a punt gave Rumson the ball at the Bucs’ 18-yard line midway through the third quarter. The Bulldogs capitalized when O’Connor scrambled for a 17-yard touchdown for an unsurmountable 21-0 advantage.
After years of knocking on the door trying to win their first sectional title, Rumson reached five sectional finals and won four titles in the last five seasons. The Bulldogs are officially a dynasty. Batchler is also the only coach in Shore Conference history to win state titles in each of his first three seasons as head coach since the NJSIAA playoffs began in 1974.
“One of the things I learned from (former Rumson head coach and current Holmdel athletic director) Shane (Fallon) was that it’s always we, not me,” Batchler said. “This is about the kids.”
“We played a full team game, and our coaches did an unbelievable job. We duplicated last year’s performance against a better team, no disrespect to Delaware Valley. We won the Battle of Ridge Road, and that’s five in a row for us.”
“It’s awesome,” Ruane said. “We knew they weren’t better than us, and we showed why we’re the better team on Ridge Road.”
Batchler may be a math teacher, but he can certainly appreciate history.
“When I got the job I said we wanted to build a dynasty and leave a legacy,” he said. “I think we’re doing pretty well.”
Rumson-Fair Haven 21, Red Bank 0
Red Bank (11-1) 0 0 0 0 – 0
Rumson (10-2) 14 0 7 0 – 21
Bryan Hess 40-yard run (Thomas Chapin kick)
Bryan Hess 2-yard run (Thomas Chapin kick)
Mike O'Connor 17-yard run (Thomas Chapin kick)
Rushing – RBR: Alim Godsey 14-71, Sadiq Palmer 11-66, Team 1-(-13), Jack Navitsky 7-(-41); RFH: Mike O'Connor 15-87, Bryan Hess 16-71, Matt Veccharelli 12-65, Mike Ruane 4-16.
Passing – RBR: Jack Navitsky 4-11-0 31; Alim Godsey 0-1-0 0; RFH: Mike O'Connor 2-3-0 37.
Receiving – RBR: Sadiq Palmer 2-19, Brian Fagan 1-12, Alim Godsey 1-0; RFH: John Kingdon 1-36, Matt Veccharelli 1-1.