The Bulldog Way: Rumson holds off Haddonfield with goal-line stand to win South Jersey Group 2 title
RUMSON -- With an NJSIAA state sectional title hanging in the balance, Rumson-Fair Haven's defense came through with a clutch play to clinch a championship.
Junior defensive back Jacob Tobias broke up a pass in the end zone on a 4th-and-goal from the 3-yard line with one minute left in regulation as the host Bulldogs held off Haddonfield, 14-7, to repeat as NJSIAA South Jersey Group II champions on Friday night at Borden Stadium.
The title is Rumson’s eighth in program history - all of which have come since 2010. The Bulldogs' eight sectional titles are tied with Toms River North for the third-most in Shore Conference history. It is also the first time the Bulldogs have won a sectional title on their home field. Rumson-Fair Haven will host Central Jersey Group II champions Willingboro, who defeated Point Boro 26-21, next Friday. Rumson-Fair Haven and Willingboro met in last season's Group II semifinals with the Bulldogs securing a 42-6 victory.
"I knew I was man-to-man with No. 35 and I saw a kid go out in motion," Tobias said. "I just made a play on the ball, saw the ref wave his arms, and that's it. Sectional champs."
Junior quarterback Owen O'Toole tossed a 12-yard touchdown pass on a screen to senior tight end Jackson Gallagher on fourth down to give Rumson a 7-0 lead with 4:53 left in the first quarter. Haddonfield responded on the next series to tie the score, 7-7, on a 1-yard QB sneak by Declan McCarthy. Rumson took the lead for good on a 2-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Kellen Murray with 1:39 left in the second quarter.
The teams went back and forth trading defensive stops in the second half until Haddonfield recovered an RFH fumble at their 30-yard line with 2:32 left. Haddonfield drove to the 5-yard line but a fourth-down pass on a quick out to the tight end was broken up by Tobias to force a turnover on downs and enable Rumson to execute the victory formation.
"It's definitely not easy and it's a testament to these kids," said Rumson-Fair Haven head coach Jeremy Schulte. "The work that they've put in all year long and some of these guys for the last three and four years, it's just incredible. It trickles down every single year. These guys know what the culture is here and what it takes to win these games, and it really showed today."
"I just love these boys," Gallagher said. "I just trust them so much. "Props to the offense and defense in this game. It's a matter of protecting the standard as we would say and it showed tonight.”
The Bulldogs have the pleasure of competing in The Shore Conference’s American Division, the strongest within the conference. As a Group II school competing against Group IV’s and V’s, the regular season becomes a dress rehearsal for their playoff dance. Their regular season record never got them down as they know everyone is 0-0 come playoff time.
"There were multiple times throughout the season where we could've faltered," Schulte said. "They're such a resilient bunch, so being in this spot right now isn't surprising. The biggest thing during that stretch of games earlier on was that we were still doing the little things right. We were staying right in these games and just knew it was a matter of time."
Rumson rode in on a four-game winning streak to the sectional finals against Haddonfield. After ending the regular season with a "prove-it" win over Marlboro and a strong victory over Wall, things were just getting started for the program.
As the state bracket came out, Rumson saw itself as the No. 1 seed in their group, a major benefit to quarreling within the American Division. The Bulldogs did what a top seed is supposed to do and handled Delaware Valley in the opening round, followed up by a strong 28-7 semifinal victory over Haddon Heights.
"I mean that's a really really strong football program over there," Schulte said. "We knew that we were going to need our best football to match theirs. When it comes down to these moments, every aspect of the game has to be in sync."
As Haddonfield won the toss and chose to defer, Rumson knew this was the perfect opportunity to showcase the prolific offense they've been touting over the backend of the season.
The first drive for Rumson proved to be a slog for the group, finding themselves picking up runs of consistent three to four yards on every play. As the drive continued to unfold, junior quarterback Owen O'Toole found himself having to persevere on multiple occasions.
"You know, having the offensive line that we do makes it so much easier whenever we find ourselves in uncomfortable situations," O'Toole said. "You just got to be able to deliver when it matters. You saw it tonight with the fourth downs. It's a matter of believing in not only yourself but the tools you have around you."
A drive that ran over seven minutes off the clock to begin the game also saw Rumson convert three fourth downs. O'Toole was able to use the offensive line to pull off Rumson's version of the "tush push" for a first down. A handoff to senior running back Alastair Orr saw the Bulldogs convert a second fourth down before the decisive play of the drive.
O'Toole utilized senior tight end Jackson Gallagher and hit him with the perfect screen pass on fourth and three and Gallagher did the rest by weaving through the Haddonfield defense and trucking a defender at the goal line for a 12-yard touchdown and a 7-0 RFH lead.
Haddonfield proved that it wouldn't go away easily and brought out its offense to make a statement of its own. A little over three minutes is all Haddonfield needed to move down the field as quarterback Declan McCarthy scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak to tie the score 7-7 late in the first quarter.
As the Bulldogs did on their first offensive possession of the game, they knew one of the keys to success would be taking as much time off the clock as possible.
Play after play continued to be a battle, gaining yards of three and four. O'Toole found his man Gallagher once again on a huge third and five to keep the drive alive from inside their own territory.
Schulte continued to pull the trigger by going for it on fourth downs and O'Toole found a different option, finding senior Nick Rigby for a completion and another first down.
Rumson took over with 1:39 left in the first quarter and ended the drive with 1:39 left in the half. Once again, on fourth down, Rumson prevailed. On fourth and goal from the 1-yard line, O'Toole handed the ball off to sophomore Kellen Murray and he got into the endzone to give Rumson a 14-7 halftime lead.
The stout defense of Rumson continued to be on full display after allowing only one touchdown in the first half. After Haddonfield was able to muster across one first down on their opening drive, the Bulldogs forced a punt, getting the ball back after just two and a half minutes.
While the Bulldogs were unable to put any points back on the board, they were able to continue the trend of running as much time off the clock as possible, draining another seven minutes.
As the third quarter came to an end, the Bulldogs saw Haddonfield starting to gain some momentum getting to their own 40-yard line, as a drive looked to be brewing. The Bulldogs were able to force a punt with 11 minutes left in the game and looked to be in full control.
After O'Toole hit Rigby for a 30-yard reception, the Bulldogs were forced to punt and handed the ball back over the Haddonfield.
McCarthy continued to deliver with effective screen passes and Haddonfield was in business. As the red zone got closer and closer, Rumson's defense continued to get stronger and stronger. McCarthy found himself dealing with a fourth down and decided to go for the end zone with his pass attempt. McCarthy unleashed a pass to the end zone and just missed his target, turning the ball over on downs.
As less than three minutes remained in the game, Rumson knew that all they had to do was protect the football and pick up a few first downs for the win. On the first handoff of their next offensive drive, Alastair Orr burst up the hole for 12 yards but lost the football. As the dogpile ensued, Haddonfield recovered and had one last chance with two and a half minutes remaining.
Starting at Rumson's 30, McCarthy got off back-to-back screen passes which got Haddonfield inside the 10-yard line with 90 seconds left.
After no gains on first or second down, McCarthy found his tight end senior Patrick Ryan wide open, but Ryan ended up slipping at the 3-yard line to bring up fourth and goal.
Both Haddonfield and Rumson called timeouts to try and set up the perfect play in the biggest moment of the game. The season came down to nine feet. One more stop was all Rumson needed to secure the sectional title.
McCarthy dropped back and fired a bullet into the end zone, but the pass was knocked away by Tobias, saving the day for Rumson-Fair Haven.
After Haddonfield used the remainder of its timeouts, Orr ripped off a seven-yard run up the gut and got the last first down needed for Rumson. The celebration was on and for the second consecutive year, the Bulldogs were sectional champions.
"First time in our program that we were able to make history happen at Rumson," Schulte said. "It never gets old winning state championships, but to do it on home turf makes it all that more special."
For O'Toole, it wasn't just about winning a sectional title, but it was about who he was able to accomplish it with.
"All season long, these guys are just constant fighters," O'Toole said. "We never looked at our record because we knew how good we were. We knew that every hurdle was just another opportunity to grow and make ourselves better. I'm so proud of my guys and when you're able to do it with a group you've been with for so long, it makes it even better."
RFH – Jackson Gallagher 12-yard pass from Owen O'Toole (Ryan Child kick)
Haddonfield – Declan McCarthy 1-yard run (Blaise Coley kick)
RFH – Kellen Murray 1-yard run (Ryan Child kick)