It was an electrifying play, and one that proved the difference in giving Rumson-Fair Haven its second NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship in four years.
But Sam Shaud’s 85-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Chase Caruso midway through the second quarter Saturday night was also a rarity.
Not only was it one of only three Rumson completions on the night, it was one of just four touchdowns that Weequahic allowed this season. And it was the first time an opponent had crossed the goal line against the Indians since Cedar Grove did so on November 8.
The touchdown gave Rumson a lead it fiercely protected throughout the balance of the game en route to its 14-6 championship victory at Kean University.
“We knew they had a great defense,” said Shaud, a senior wide receiver. “But we also knew that we were going to score against them.”
Shaud’s score broke a defensive tug-of-war that had seen seven punts on all seven possessions — and just two first downs — in the game up until that point.
“I saw the ball coming and I was just trying to make a play,” Shaud said. “I was just in the right place at the right time. And sometimes that’s when good things happen.”
The pass was slightly underthrown, with Shaud and Weequahic defender Qua’D Cheatham leaping simultaneously at the Indians 49. Cheatham deflected the ball backward, and Shaud took it off the cornerback’s helmet before turning to race toward the end zone. Weequahic’s Sidney Gopre tripped Shaud from behind at the 10, causing Shaud to briefly stumble before collecting himself and heading in for the score.
“(The first touchdown) took a little bit of the pressure off,” said Rumson running back Charlie Volker, “but we knew we had to keep playing hard every down.”
While Shaud’s catch and subsequent sprint gave Rumson the early lead in dramatic fashion, the Bulldogs couldn’t help but lament the missed opportunities that followed.
On Weequahic’s ensuing possession following his score, Shaud struck again, recovering a fumble by Alkadair Ports on the Indians 33. But Rumson fumbled on third-and-three from the 20 to give the ball back to Weequahic.
Two plays later, Sam Eisenstadt intercepted Kedar Clarke at the Weequahic 39 and returned it to the 18. Fullback Dylan Zohn converted a fourth-and-one from the Weequahic 11 with 43 seconds to play in the half, and the gambit appeared to pay off when Eisenstadt grabbed a nine-yard pass from Caruso in the right rear corner of the end zone with two seconds left.
But an ineligible man downfield penalty negated the score, and the Bulldogs were turned away when Connor Kelly’s 31-yard field goal try fluttered wide left.
But the ominous missed opportunities became a moot point when Volker scored from three yards out with 2:08 to play to clinch the Rumson victory, and start an early celebration.