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PISCATAWAY -- In each of its last two wins -- victories that earned it a trip to the NJSIAA Group 2 championship game for the second straight year -- the Rumson-Fair Haven football team leaned on its defense to come through with little margin for error.

In Monday's Group 2 championship game against undefeated Westwood, Rumson's defense played a dominant 42 minutes and had 99 yards of cushion to protect a one-score lead and seal a first ever group championship.

On this night, it was Westwood's high-powered offense that came through with its back against the wall to deliver Rumson another crushing defeat in the Group 2 championship game.

Photo: Ray Rich Photography
Photo: Ray Rich Photography

Senior quarterback Robbie Carcich led a 99-yard, game-tying drive that evened the score with five seconds left in regulation, then threw what proved to be the winning touchdown pass in overtime to give Westwood a thrilling, 21-20 win over Rumson-Fair Haven.

"So close," Rumson coach Jeremy Schulte lamented after hugging more than a dozen of his players individually. "We said we can't let it come down to calls being made or not made. Some things didn't go our way and there were some plays we didn't make, but you've got to give credit to Westwood. There is a reason they are in this game and there is a reason they are undefeated."

Monday marked the second straight Group 2 final that the Bulldogs have lost, with Rumson losing last year's championship game to Caldwell, 18-14. Last year, Rumson's hopes were dashed on three pass breakups in the end zone on its final possession and on Monday, the Bulldogs found themselves on the other side of a similar scenario.

Defending its end zone with the game on the line suited Rumson well in each of its last two wins. The Bulldogs made a goal-line stand on fourth down in a 14-7 win over Haddonfield in the sectional final and Danny Cook hauled in a game-clinching interception in the end zone to cap a 35-28 win over Willingboro in the Group 2 semifinal last week.

Rumson-Fair Haven coach Jeremy Schulte reacts after his team's 21-20 loss to Westwood. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
Rumson-Fair Haven coach Jeremy Schulte reacts after his team's 21-20 loss to Westwood. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)

"The last two games, we were on the other end of it," Schulte said. "Sometimes the magic runs out. It's a shame, but it is what it is."

A 99-yard drive seemed out of the question for an offense facing Rumson's defensive unit on Friday. Westwood took the field trailing, 14-7, with 5:50 left in the fourth quarter and just 150 yards of offense to its credit against the Bulldogs defense.

Rumson nearly put the game away one play earlier. Sophomore Kellen Murray ran for 19 yards on fourth and 1 and then gained 12 yards to move the ball to the Westwood 7-yard line. The Cardinals’ defense rose up to produce a goal-line stand, however, stuffing Murray for a 1-yard gain on fourth and goal from the 2 with 5:50 to play.

"Going 99 yards at the end of the game to put it into overtime, that's tough," Schulte said. "We thought we were going to score. And we didn't. Sometimes it's the little plays that set up the big plays and they made more of those plays than we did and they deserved it."

Westwood does not have just any offense, however. After Carcich took a sack on the 1-yard line courtesy of Rumson sophomore defensive tackle Jack Harris, the Cardinals faced third and 10 from the 1-yard line and under five minutes to go.

The senior quarterback took the shotgun snap and dropped a perfect pass into the hands of Joe Klein up the left sideline for a 31-yard pass that saved the Cardinals' championship hopes.

Carcich then made multiple plays with his legs and converted another third down with a 13-yard pass to Sean Morrison. Carcich’s 12-yard run put the ball at the Rumson 4-yard line, and on second-and-goal from the 6, Carcich rolled to his right and hit Tom Bussanich for a touchdown near the sideline with five seconds on the clock.

Westwood lined up to go for the 2-point conversion and the lead, but a false start penalty pushed the try back and Cardinals head coach Bobby Guy instead sent out Morrison to attempt a game-tying extra point, which he converted to send the game to overtime.

Despite the deflating finish to regulation, Rumson still had a chance to win the game in overtime and rode senior running back Alastair Orr to a go-ahead score. Orr carried the ball four straight times down to the 2-yard line and senior Jackson Gallagher finished off the drive by taking a direct snap and plunging into the end zone.

Westwood made another game-altering play when Aidan Dugan broke through the line and blocked the extra point attempt, keeping the score at 20-14 with the Cardinals set to answer on offense.

Overtime featured two more clutch third-down conversions by Carcich and the Cardinals. On third and nine, Carcich found Bussanich for a 10-yard gain down to reset the downs on the 4-yard line.

Rumson's defense threw Westwood backwards on each of the next two plays with a tackle-for-loss by Austin Kiernan on an end-around and by chasing Carchich out of bounds for an eight-yard loss.

Once again, however, Carcich came through on third down, firing a pass over the middle to Bussanich for a 14-yard touchdown and a tie game.

Sean Morrison followed with a successful kick on the extra point attempt and Westwood celebrated its first group championship.

While a special teams play significantly damaged its chances in overtime, Rumson got off to a great start thanks to a special teams play right out of the gate. Junior defensive back Cole Pangborn forced a fumble on the opening kickoff and sophomore linebacker Toby Najenson recovered at the Westwood 31-yard line.

The Bulldogs then marched to the end zone on eight straight running plays with senior running back Alastair Orr scoring on a 2-yard run for a 7-0 lead. Orr ran for 27 of the 31 yards on the drive and converted two third downs.

Westwood drove to the Rumson 20-yard line late in the first quarter but the Bulldogs came up with a turnover on downs when Carcich’s pass to the right sideline was caught out of bounds. Senior defensive lineman Cooper Bunnell applied pressure up the middle and forced Carcich to scramble and throw on the run.

Westwood senior quarterback Robbie Carcich throws a pass out of his own end zone. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)
Westwood senior quarterback Robbie Carcich throws a pass out of his own end zone. (Photo: Ray Rich Photography)

The teams traded punts until Westwood put together a seven-play, 58-yard scoring drive to tie the score 7-7 late in the first half. Carcich made a nice play to scramble and connect with Bussanich for 13 yards on second and 11, and a roughing-the-passer penalty on Rumson two plays later moved the ball to the Rumson 18-yard line. Dugan finished off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run and Sean Morrison added the extra point to tie the score.

Rumson was able to drive to Westwood’s 15-yard line in the final seconds of the first half, but a pass to the end zone by junior quarterback Owen O’Toole could not be corralled by senior wideout Sean Trinder. The senior receiver fully extended to make the catch but could not secure it completely after hitting the ground hard.

In the third quarter, a tackle for an 8-yard loss by Harris forced Westwood to punt from its own inside its own 15-yard line and set up Rumson’s second scoring drive. Starting at the Westwood 44-yard line, Rumson inserted Gallagher at quarterback and he took a direct snap and rumbled 15 yards on first down. Gallagher then gained seven yards on the next play and three plays later Rumson was at the 9-yard line facing fourth and one.

Orr took the handoff and barely gained the first down by a matter of inches, which wasn’t confirmed until the officials measured and then talked it over. On the next play, O’Toole threw a pass to the end zone that appeared to be intended for Gallagher but sailed over his head to sophomore tight end Jack Gyimesi, who was there to snag it out of the air for a touchdown and a 14-7 Rumson lead. The go-ahead touchdown was just Gyimesi’s second catch of the season.

Harris was Rumson's star on defense with five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. Kiernan racked up 7 1/2 tackles, including three for a loss, while Wesley Kennedy collected eight tackles with one for a loss. Jacob Tobias also notched a sack to go with five tackles.

"He is an animal," Schulte said of Harris. "He is only a sophomore, he is a great kid, he just does everything we ask him to do and he never wants to come off the field."

Rumson's offense amassed 197 yards on the ground, led by Orr with 96 yards on 28 carries and Murray with 74 on 12 rushes. O'Toole was 12-for-22 with 128 yards and touchdown. Gallagher led all Rumson receivers with 62 receiving yards on five catches.

Carcich led Westwood through the air and on the ground, throwing for 145 yards and two touchdowns on 16-for-20 passing while rushing for 77 yards on 22 attempts. Bussanich was Westwood's standout receiver with 72 yards on seven receptions.

"Our guys played their asses off the entire game," Schulte said. "I'm so proud of them, they left everything out there. We were 2-4 at one point this year. I'm not happy just to get here, we weren't happy to just be here last year. It just sucks. It's a tough loss, but like I tell these guys all the time, it's what you do in the face of adversity that matters."

Box Score

Westwood 21, Rumson-Fair Haven 20

First Downs1817
Passing Yards128145


Rumson-FH (8-5)7070620
Westwood (13-0)0707721

Scoring Summary

R - Alastair Orr 2-yard run (Ryan Child kick)

W - Aidan Dugan 3-yard run (Sean Morrison kick)

R - Jack Gyimesi 8-yard pass from Owen O'Toole (Ryan Child kick)

W - Tom Bussanich 6-yard pass from Robbi Carcich (Sean Morrison kick)

R - Jackson Gallagher 2-yard run (kick blocked)

W - Tom Bussanich 14-yard pass from Robbie Carcich (Sean Morrison kick)

Individual Stats

Rushing - R: Alastair Orr 28-96, Kellen Murray 12-74, Jackson Gallagher 3-24, Owen O'Toole 3-3; W: Robbie Carcich 22-77, Aidan Dugan 14-40, Steve Klein 3-13, Aidan Carrazana 3-(-1)

Passing - R: Owen O'Toole 12-22-0 128; W: Robbie Carcich 16-20-0 145

Receiving - R: Jackson Gallagher 5-62, Nick Rigby 2-32, Nick Thomas 1-12, Jack Gyimesi 1-8, Alastair Orr 1-7, Matteo Gangemi 1-4, Griffin Kolb 1-3; W: Tom Bussanich 7-72, Joe Klein 5-55, Sean Morrison 1-13, Aidan Carrazana 3-5

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