PISCATAWAY — Rumson-Fair Haven entered Saturday with a chance to make history, but Somerville turned the tables on the Bulldogs in the final minute to halt their championship streak at four.

A 3-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Jahlan Dabney with 53 seconds left in regulation capped an eight-play, 66-yard scoring drive that gave Somerville a 20-15 lead and delivered the Pioneers the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III championship on Saturday night at Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium.

The state title is the eighth sectional title for Somerville and its first since 1994. The Pioneers denied Rumson’s bid to win a fifth consecutive sectional championship and join Manasquan (1998-2002) as the only Shore Conference programs to win five straight state crowns.

“They were one play better than us, that’s what it comes down to,” said Rumson-Fair Haven head coach Jerry Schulte.

Trailing 14-8, Rumson put together an 11-play, 66-yard drive to take a 15-14 lead with 3:13 to play on a 14-yard touchdown run by senior running back Peter Lucas. The Bulldogs (10-2) converted two fourth downs on the drive with junior fullback Alex Maldjian running for seven yards on a fourth-and-1 form the Rumson 45, and senior quarterback Dan Harby connecting with Mike Martino for 14 yards on a fourth-and-9 from the  Somerville 47. A 12-yard catch by junior tight end Ian O’Connor and a heads-up scramble by Harby after a bad snap set up Lucas to score from 14 yards out.

For a program built on defense and with a sparkling postseason resume in that category, the Bulldogs seem poised to rein in their fifth state championship in a row. Somerville had a different idea.

The Pioneers (11-1) used two clutch plays to set up Dabney’s go-ahead touchdown run, the first being when Dabney made a great play to flip the ball to running back Robbie Fiorentino, who then broke a tackle for a 13-yard gain on third-and-7. Three plays later on third-and-10 from midfield, Dabney connected with a wide-open Joe Ciempola over the middle for a 45-yard gain down to the Rumson 5-yard line. Two carries later Dabney was in the end zone for the touchdown that would deliver Somerville its first state championship in 23 years.

“That was tough to see,” Schulte said. “It was a miscommunication (on the 45-yard pass), that’s all it was.”

“We’ve been either tied or behind in the second half seven times this year, so the kids have been there before,” said Somerville head coach Jeff Vanderbeek. “We did it against Summit, we did it against Monmouth and it was just a matter of time before we did it against Rumson.”

“Just to beat a team that’s going for five sectional championships in a row is great. They are renowned for their defense and renowned to stop people in the playoffs, so it’s great to be able to score on them and come out with the ‘W’.

Dabney threw for 211 yards and a touchdown on 14 of 22 passing and also ran for a team-high 84 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Ciempola led the Pioneers’ receiving corps with four receptions for 110 yards and Kyree Hinton had three catches for 45 yards and a touchdown.

Lucas, who entered the game with a school single-season record 2,110 yards rushing and 30 touchdowns, was hampered by an injured ankle and an active Somerville defensive front. Lucas was held to a season-low 82 yards on 24 carries. Maldjian ran for 50 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.

“You always want your players at 100 percent but sometimes you don’t have that,” Schulte said. “There are ways to overcome that and we didn’t do it.”

Typically a zone-read offense, Somerville changed it up with many more empty backfield sets than usual to throw off Rumson’s defense.

“Kudos to our offensive coordinator, Dallas Whitaker,” Vanderbeek said. “We did a fair amount of different things on offense and defense.”

Somerville was in position to score on the first drive after a 47-yard catch by Ciempola advanced the ball to the Rumson 14-yard line. The Bulldogs defense buckled down to force a fourth-and-6 where they stuffed Somerville for a 5-yard loss.

The Pioneers came back later in the first quarter to take an 8-0 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Dabney and a two-point conversion pass. Rumson answered late in the first half when Maldjian rumbled in from two yards out and Harby connected with O’Connor for the two-point conversion.

Somerville went back ahead in the third quarter when Dabney found a wide-open Hinton for a 38-yard touchdown to cap an eight-play, 90-yard drive.

Rumson’s senior class helped the program go 29-7 over the past three years with two sectional titles and three championship game appearances.

“We told them we’re proud of them and it was a great season,” Schulte said. “What the seniors did the past four years for us, it’s nothing to hang your head about. “We’re up there with some of the best teams int he Shore Conference.”

For Vanderbeek, the former owner of the New Jersey Devils, he can now add an NJSIAA sectional title to the Stanley Cup championships in his trophy case.

“They both feel really good but certainly when you’re dealing with kids who do this for the love of the game and are not getting paid for it, it’s pretty special.”


Box Score

Somerville 20, Rumson-Fair Haven 15

SomervilleRumson-Fair Haven
First downs1415
Passing yards21888


Somerville (11-1) 8 0 6 6 — 20

Rumson (10-2)    0 8 0 7 — 15


Scoring summary

S — Jahlan Dabney 1-yard run (Jahlan Dabney pass to Robbie Fiorentino

R — Alex Maldjian 2-yard run (Dan Harby pass to Ian O’Connor)

S — Kyree Hinton 38-yard pass from Jahlan Dabney (pass failed)

R — Peter Lucas 14-yard run (Quinn Doherty kick)

S — Jahlan Dabney 3-yard run (run failed)


Individual statistics

RUSHING — S: Jahlan Dabney 13-84, Duke McDuffie 4-15, Robbie Fiorentino 8-3, Kyree Hinton 1-2, team 2-(-7); R: Peter Lucas 24-82, Alex Maldjian 10-50, Dan Harby 7-14.

PASSING — S: Jahlan Dabney 14-22-0 211, Duke McDuffie 1-1-0 7; R: Dan Harby 10-23-0 88.

RECEIVING — S: Joe Ciempola 4-110, Kyree Hinton 3-45, Duke McDuffie 3-34, Robbie Fiorentino 4-22, Jahlan Dabney 1-7; R: Ian O’Connor 4-52, Mike Martino 3-37, P.J. Velcamp 1-1, Peter Lucas 1-(-2).


Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.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.


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