RUMSON – The Battle of Ridge Road once again went the way of Rumson-Fair Haven, and this time the payoff was a trip to a sectional final for the sixth straight season.

Senior quarterback Collin Coles threw a pair of touchdown passes and Rumson’s defense allowed under 100 yards of offense as the second-seeded Bulldogs defeated rival Red Bank, 14-9, in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 3 playoffs on Saturday night at Borden Stadium.

Coles’ 8-yard touchdown pass to Jackson McCarthy with 9:34 left in regulation gave Rumson (8-2) a two-touchdown lead and allowed the Bulldogs to absorb a late flurry by the Bucs (7-2). Rumson will now play at top-seeded and undefeated Somerville in the sectional final at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 16.

Rumson-Fair Haven’s defense was tremendous against an explosive Bucs team, holding Red Bank to 99 yards of offense, including just 50 yards rushing on 27 carries. Red Bank junior Makai Mickens entered the game with 1,140 yards and seven touchdowns but mustered just 26 yards on 16 carries. Speedster Nigel Mitchell had just eight yards on eight touches between rushing and receiving.

“If we stop Makai and Nigel their offense is shut down, so we keyed on those two guys and tried to erase the big plays,” said senior linebacker Keegan Woods. “We played a really good game.”

Despite the 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, Rumson had to hang on to prevent what would have been a stunning comeback by Red Bank. Immediately after Coles’ touchdown pass to McCarthy, Red Bank drove 64 yards in nine plays to cut the deficit in half. The drive stalled at the Rumson 46-yard line, but the Bucs executed a fake punt on 4th and 14 when sophomore Nick Ferrogine connected with senior tight end Gavin Mahoney for 28 yards. Following a 21-yard catch by senior wideout Luke Jurek, Mickens scored from five yards out to make it 14-7 with 6:45 to play.

A penalty on the ensuing kickoff forced Rumson to start its drive from the 14-yard line, and Red Bank’s defense came up with a three-down stop to force a punt. Ferrogine knifed through the protection and blocked the punt, and it bounced out of the end zone for a safety to make it 14-9 with 4:34 left in the game.

Rumson’s defense rose up with a clutch series to make sure Red Bank’s offense didn’t find the end zone again. Woods and senior defensive lineman Kenny Rainey combined for a tackle for loss on second down and Isaac Vernon and Joe Afflitto combined for a sack on third down to force a fourth and 20. On fourth down, Von Factor jumped to deflect the pass at the line of scrimmage to turn the ball over on downs.

The work of Rumson’s defense wasn’t done yet. The Bulldogs were trying to run out the clock and went to the air on third-and-7 with a quick screen to tight end Ian O’Connor. The ball took a strange bounce high in the air and Red Bank’s Robbie DeMarco came out of a scrum with an interception at the Rumson 45-yard line.

Any Rumson faithful holding their breath were able to quickly exhale as Woods intercepted a pass on the next play to clinch the game.

“It was obviously a passing situation and they had trips to the left side so I was dropping toward that,” Woods said.

“They had some incredible stops,” said senior running back Alex Maldjian. “They held it together the whole game and didn’t let up a touchdown to the fourth quarter. We have that trust in them where if we mess up we know we’re not out of it. Keegan getting the game-winning interception was fitting because the defense really won this game today.”

Maldjian ran for 113 yards on 17 carries but didn’t play much in the second half, carrying the ball just six times. He most of a Week 8 loss to Middletown South with an ankle injury and didn’t play at all in a first-round playoff win over Ocean. He returned on Saturday with his ankle just about at 100 percent but suffered a rib injury that limited him after the second quarter.

“I just knew if we lost today I’d go home and would never be able to step on this field as an RFH football player, and that really means something to me,” Maldjian said. “I feel like all of us guys have been working toward this since we stepped in the door here. Regardless of the pain I was dealing with I just had to tough it out and do what the team needed.”

Maldjian helped set up Rumson’s first touchdown when he broke a 29-yard run into Red Bank territory. He then had an eight-yard gain for a first down at the 20-yard line, and on the next play Coles rolled out and found Crowley, who turned it up field for the touchdown.

Rumson will play for its fifth sectional title in six seasons next Friday and will do so against a familiar foe. Somerville defeated Rumson in last season’s sectional final to deny the Bulldogs a fifth straight championship.

“We’re ready for them,” Woods said. “After last year, that definitely stings, so hopefully we get revenge.”

“You couldn’t have a better story, honestly,” Maldjian said. “We get to go for redemption. They’re a great team, obviously, so we have to bring our all and get the job done.”


Box Score

Rumson-Fair Haven 14, Red Bank 9 

 Red BankRumson-Fair Haven
First downs515
Passing yards4997


Red Bank (7-2)00099
Rumson (8-2)070714


Scoring summary

RFH – Peter Crowley 20-yard pass from Collin Coles (Collin Coles kick)

RFH – Jackson McCarthy 8-yard pass from Collin Coles (Collin Coles kick)

RBR – Makai Mickens 5-yard run (Chris Maida kick)

RBR – Safety, Nick Ferrogine blocked punt out of the end zone


Individual statistics

RUSHING – RBR: Makai Mickens 16-26, Nick Ferrogine 2-17, Nigel Mitchell 7-15, Jack Chamberlain 2-(-8); RFH: Alex Maldjian 17-113, Peter Crowley 12-33, Tommy Solano 4-2, Collin Coles 2-(-2).

PASSING – RBR: Jack Chamberlain 4-13-1 21, Nick Ferrogine 1-1-0 28; RFH: Collin Coles 13-22-2 97.

RECEIVING – RBR: Gavin Mahoney 1-28, Luke Jurek 2-25, Jack Niesz 1-3, Nigel Mitchell 1-(-7); RFH: Ian O’Connor 6-32, Peter Crowley 2-29, Jackson McCarthy 2-16, Andrew Lawless 1-11, Tommy Solano 1-6, Patrick Jamin 1-3.

INTERCEPTIONS – RBR: Makai Mickens 1-4, Robbie DeMarco 1-0; RFH: Keegan Woods 1-0.


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.


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