Rumson-Fair Haven Regional does not mind the challenge it is facing Saturday night when it meets Ridge Road rival Red Bank Regional in the NJSIAA Central Group III championship game at Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium.
“I think the kids have their chip on their shoulder back,” said Rumson-Fair Haven head coach Bryan Batchler said.
For the third time in the last six seasons, the Bulldogs (9-2) will be meeting an 11-0 team in a sectional championship game.
In 2010, it was a powerful Matawan team in the Central Group II final. The Huskies were the defending Central II champion and on a 19-game winning streak.
In 2013, it was a Weequahic team that had recorded eight shutouts, outscored its opponents, 431-29 and had lost in sectional championship games the previous two seasons.
Both times, Rumson won, with the 13-7 win over Matawan being one of the biggest upsets in the history of sectional championship games.
Rumson won the Central Group II championship the last two seasons and is trying to become the fifth team in Shore Conference history to win sectional championships three consecutive seasons. It is also in a sectional final for the fifth time in the last six seasons and sixth in the last nine.
On every one of those occasions, Rumson has entered the game after a loss on Thanksgiving weekend. This time, it was a 20-14 loss to 11-0 and Central Group I finalist Shore on Thanksgiving Day.
So, not much phases Rumson.
“There’s a belief system,” said Batchler, who was a defensive assistant coach under current Holmdel athletic director Shane Fallon before he became the Bulldogs’ head coach after the 2012 season. “Our staff and our players know what to expect. Max Pfrang (a senior linebacker) has played in three straight finals. Michael O’Connor (the Bulldogs’ starting junior quarterback) is starting his second final and helped us prepare as the scout team quarterback two years ago so he is experiencing his third straight final. Success breeds success and winning and expectations breed winning and expectations. We know what it is like on the big stage at Rutgers.”
Rumson’s previous sectional championships came at Kean University. It is 0-2 in sectional championship games at Rutgers.
But, Batchler’s point is Rumson expects to be playing on the final weekend of the season and it expects to win, no matter who it is playing.
“I told the kids back in the summer, we have two goals. We want to be 1-0 in the opener and 1-0 in December and here we are trying to win another game in December,” Batchler said.
“More importantly, the kids feel the exact same way. I think you will see us play loose. I feel like we have saved our best for last. I’d love to see us go out there and play our A game.”
Rumson-Fair Haven’s two defeats are by a combined 13 points to two 11-0 and sectional finalists by in St. John Vianney and Shore. The 13 points St. John Vianney had in a nor’easter on Oct. 2 was by far the lowest it has had all season.
The Bulldogs also defeated Central Group II finalist Raritan by a point on Oct. 30 and have two wins over Central Group III semifinalist Matawan.
“We are battle-tested,” Batchler said.
Rumson-Fair Haven will need a big game from O’Connor, who has amassed 1,515 yards of total offense, including 995 rushing, and running backs Bryan Hess and Matt Vecchiarelli, both of have run for more than 700 yards.
The Bulldogs’ offense will be trying to move the ball against a solid and fast defense, led by defensive back Sadiq Palmer (five interceptions) and linebacker Chris Outterbridge.
Rumson’s defense, which is led by linebackers Mike Ruane and Pfrang and safety Mike Murdock, has allowed just 8.4 points a game. It will have to contain an offense led by Palmer, a wide receiver and running back, running back Alim Godsey and quarterback Jack Navitsky.
“We like our chances,” Batchler said.
Steven Falk: 732-643-4267; firstname.lastname@example.org