Shore Stuns Central Jersey Group III Finalist and Fifth-Ranked Rumson, 14-7, on Thanksgiving Eve
WEST LONG BRANCH — Following a loss to Asbury Park in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I semifinals that ended a two-year championship reign and a lackluster practice the following day, Shore head coach Mark Costantino worried his team had lost all its confidence.
“Last week took a lot out of all of us,” Costantino said. “(The Asbury Park game) was 19-19 and we gave it away. After Saturday’s practice I really didn’t know. I went home to my wife and said ‘I don’t know if they believe in themselves.' The whole message since then was you have to believe.”
Whatever morose feelings remained from being ousted from the playoffs were gone by game time on Wednesday night, and Shore responded with its biggest win of the season by stunning fifth-ranked and Central Jersey Group III finalist Rumson-Fair Haven, 14-7, in a nondivisional game at Feeney Field. A wild touchdown catch by junior wide receiver Nick Rew with 10 minutes to play put the Blue Devils (7-4) on top, and an interception by sophomore Jack McCrae with 2:34 left helped retain the Devil-Dawg Trophy for the second straight year.
“We told them they could beat this team and that it would be a great statement for our seniors and get our young guys propelled for next season,” Costantino said. “I’m really proud of (the seniors). They showed their leadership in the last few days of practice.”
“Beating Rumson is probably the biggest accomplishment of my high school career,” said senior Paul Christopher. "Unfortunately we didn’t make it to the state championship next week, but beating this team - what a great program they are - is just unbelievable.”
Senior running back Mark Russo had a seven-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to give Shore a 7-0 lead after a scoreless first half. Rumson (8-3) tied the score on a 1-yard touchdown run by sophomore fullback Alex Maldjian on the following drive, but Shore responded with a 70-yard scoring drive to take the lead for good. Pennell hit Christopher for a 48-yard gain to set up the go-ahead touchdown. On the touchdown catch by Rew, the ball was nearly intercepted by a Rumson defender before falling right into the lap of Rew, who was flat on his back in the end zone.
“Of course we want to be playing for a state championship, but we took this game as our state championship,” said senior quarterback Matt Pennell. “We played our most complete game of the season.”
Christopher entered the game with just three receptions for 115 yards and nearly equaled both totals with three catches for 71 yards. In addition to his 48-yard catch that led to the winning points, Christopher had two catches on third down to move the chains.
“It was my last game and I was just going out with no regrets,” Christopher said. “They couldn’t cover me.”
“We had worked on that play (tight end cross) all year,” Costantino said. “We knew it would be open, but this was the first game we actually completed it.”
Pennell finished with 99 yards on 6 of 9 passing, including going 5-for-5 for 88 yards in the second half. Pennell and Russo each ran for 30 yards to lead a ground attack that registered 111 yards against the Shore Conference’s No. 2 defense. Russo also had a big 14-yard catch on fourth-and-8 to set up his touchdown run.
Shore’s defense also held a Rumson team ranked No. 12 in the Shore in scoring at 27.8 points per game to just two trips to the end zone. Russo had a fumble recovery early in the second half in addition to McCrae’s interception in the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils forced a missed field goal in the first quarter and also stopped Rumson on downs twice. Junior Jason Van Brunt nearly sacked Rumson senior quarterback Jack Volker and forced an incomplete pass at the Shore 29-yard line with 6:26 to play.
The first half took just 36 minutes to complete and ended with neither team finding the end zone. Rumson had the missed field goal and a drive run out of steam at the Shore 32-yard line. Shore punted twice and had time run out after driving to the Rumson 26-yard line late in the half.
Russo’s fumble recovery near midfield led to an 11-play, 49-yard scoring drive for Shore early in the second half. Senior running back Josh Campi converted a fourth-and-1 with a 2-yard run and then caught a seven-yard pass to move the chains on third-and-2 at the Rumson 30-yard line. Russo’s catch on fourth down at the 21-yard line brought up first-and-goal from the 7-yard line, where he took an option pitch from Pennell and raced toward the pylon and scored with a dive for the goal line.
On the ensuing possession, a 21-yard run by Rumson senior running back Matt Vecchiarelli, who finished with a game-high 81 yards, moved the ball to the Shore 36-yard line. Volker, who started the second half after regular starter, senior Mike O’Connor, played the first half, then connected with senior Trevor Caruso for 17 yards on third-and-8. Three players later Maldjian plowed in from a yard out to even the score.
However, Shore needed just six plays to cover 70 yards to grab the lead back for good.
Rumson will try to join a select group and become the third Shore Conference program to win four straight NJSIAA state titles when it plays South Plainfield for the Central Jersey Group III title at 7 p.m. on Dec. 3 at Rutgers University. But on the eve of Thanksgiving, it was Shore’s night.
“At some points in the season you could see it wasn’t there for us, we didn’t have that ‘Shore edge,'” Pennell said. “But it was there tonight.”
Shore 14, No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven 7
Rumson-Fair Haven (8-3) 0 0 7 0 — 7
Shore Regional (7-4) 0 0 7 7 — 14
S — Mark Russo 7-yard run (Gil Goldsmith kick)
RFH — Alex Maldjian 1-yard run (Thomas Chapin kick)
S — Nick Rew 7-yard pass from Matt Pennell (Gil Goldsmith kick)
RUSHING — RFH: Matt Vecchiarelli 20-81, Alex Maldjian 6-24, Peter Lucas 3-20, Mike O’Connor 4(-6); S: Matt Pennell 11-30, Mark Russo 9-30, Quadir Lawson 10-26, Josh Campi 9-20, Jack Mccrae 1-5.
PASSING — RFH: Jack Volker 3-5-1 37, Mike O’Connor 3-8-0 32; S: Matt Pennell 6-9-0 99.
RECEIVING — RFH: Jack Oberle 3-24, Trevor Caruso 2-33, Tyler Pierson 1-12; S: Paul Christopher 3-71, Mark Russo 1-14, Josh Campi 1-7, Nick Rew 1-7.
INTERCEPTIONS — S: Jack Mccrae 1-0.
Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.