PISCATAWAY – It did not take long last week for Rumson-Fair Haven head coach Bryan Batchler to sense that his team was up for the challenge of taking on 11-0 Red Bank Regional Saturday night in the NJSIAA Central Grouip III championship game.
“We had more buzz on Monday at practice in full pads than we did coming out of the locker room against (Shore. Rumson-Fair Haven lost 20-14 to 12-0 Central Group I champion Shore on Thanksgiving Day),” Batchler said. I don’t know if there were many teams that were going to beat us (Saturday night).”
Rumson-Fair Haven became the fifth team in Shore Conference history to win sectional championships three straight seasons with a methodical 21-0 victory over Red Bank.
The Bulldogs (10-2) join Brick (1981-83), Manasquan (1998-2002), Middletown South (2003-2006) and Asbury Park (2007-2009) as Shore Conference teams that have won three consecutive sectional championships.
It was also the fourth sectional title in the last six years for Rumson, which has been in a sectional championship five times in the last six seasons. It was Rumson’s second straight shutout in a sectional final. It has allowed just 16 points total in its last five sectional championship games.
The Bulldogs have defeated unbeaten teams in three of those sectional championship games.
“Our goals were to go 1-0 in the opener (the season-opener) against Matawan and 1-0 in December,” Batchler said. “I think, when you have those goals – even when you lose to Vianney (St. John Vianney) and Shore – it doesn’t ruffle your feathers. You save your best for last.”
Red Bank was denied its first sectional championship and unbeaten season since 1975, when it had “The Impossible Dream” season.
“They’re (his players) distraught,” Red Bank coach Nick Giglio said. “They were very high for a long time – very confident for a long time. This is something they worked very hard for a long time. It is my job as the head coach, the coaching staff and the community to just build them back up and let them know how proud of them we are.”
Rumson-Fair Haven did it with suffocating defense. Led by junior linebacker Mike Ruane (nine tackles) and junior safety Mike Murdock (eight tackles, including one for a loss, and two passes broken up), the Bulldogs held Red Bank to just 114 yards of total offense. The Bulldogs received TD runs of 40 and 2 yards from junior running back Bryan Hess (71 yards on 16 carries) and a 17-yard TD run from junior quarterback Mike O’Connor (87 yards on 15 carries).
Ahead 14-0 at the half, Rumson, after it punted on the first possession of the second half, stopped Red Bank on its first possession of the third quarter when Ian Clarke sacked Red Bank quarterback Jack Navitsky for an 11-yard loss on a third-and-3 from the Red Bank 42.
Then, a fumbled punt snap that was recovered by Noah Stodenmire enabled the Bulldogs to take over at the Bucs’ 18.
Three plays later, O’Connor broke the game open with a zig-zagging 17-yard touchdown run in which he started running to his right and then cut back to his left and raced untouched into the end zone.
Red Bank had one last chance to get back into the game when it moved to a first goal at the Rumson 10 after a 34-yard run to the 31 by Sadiq Palmer and a 21-yard Jack Navitsky to Palmer completion to the 10.
A personal foul penalty set Red Bank back to the 20, but the Bucs then got a break when an interception in the end zone was nullified by a pass interference penalty that moved the ball back to the 10.
However, on fourth and goal from the 3, Palmer was stopped for no gain.
Rumson took control almost immediately.
Its defense thwarted a Red Bank fourth-and-3 gamble from the Rumson 47 on the game’s first possession when it stopped Alim Godsey 2 yards short of the first down.
“We had momentum. We were coming here as the underdog. You have to do something different to go for the win. We were going for the win (Saturday night),” Giglio said.
That led to the 40-yard TD run by Hess four plays later and a 7-0 Rumson lead with 7:00 left in the first quarter.
Red Bank has an opportunity to tie the game when it recovered a fumbled punt at its own 48 on its next possession. However, that possession ended when Rumson’s Griffin Schulz recovered a fumble at the Bulldogs 27.
The Bulldogs then moved 73 yards in eight plays. Junior running back Matt Vecchiarelli started the drive with a 20-yard run. O’Connor’s 36-yard completion to John Kingdon moved the Bulldogs to the Bucs’ 3. Two plays later, Hess’s 2-yard TD run made it 14-0 with 13 seconds left in the first quarter.
“I think we played our A game (Saturday night),” Batchler said.
Key play: The Rumson defense stopping Red Bank’s fourth-and-3 gamble from the Rumson 47 on the game’s first series.
Offensive game ball: Rumson junior running back Bryan Hess, who rushed for 71 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensive game ball: Junior strong safety Mike Murdock who had eight tackles – two for a loss – and two passes broken up.
Steven Falk: 732-643-4267; firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t miss a thing
Download our apps and get alerts for local news, weather, traffic and more. Search “Asbury Park Press” in your app store or use these links from your device: iPhone app | Android app for phone and tablet | iPad app
Don’t forget to ‘like’ us on Facebook!