LAKEWOOD – Rumson-Fair Haven coach Bryan Batchler makes no bones about the fact his team wins games by running the ball effectively and playing good defense.
However, he also knows his offense needs to keep defenses honest by showing they can throw the ball.
Batchler got that development Saturday in Rumson-Fair Haven’s 30-14 win over previously-unbeaten Lakewood at Russell E. Wright Field.
Junior quarterback Mike O’Connor went 8-for-8 for 89 yards and two TD passes in the first half. That helped offset Rumson-Fair Haven (5-1), ranked No. 5 in the Asbury Park Press Top 10, being held to minus 1-yard rushing in the first half with six rushing plays that resulted in minus yardage and three other plays that were for no gain.
“It’s (the ability to throw the ball) is vital because people are going to load the box (the line of scrimmage),’’ Batchler said. “It doesn’t matter how good you are running the football, you don’t want your kids taking too many shots and all that kind of stuff. You have to be balanced to win games.’’
O’Connor had three completions for 40 yards on Rumson’s penalty-filled first drive. The Bulldogs converted a thid-and-11 when O’Connor hooked up with junior running back Bryan Hess for a 22-yard completion.
O’Connor’s 15-yard touchdown pass to 6-foot-6, 215-pound sophomore receiver Elijah McAllister came on a second-and-goal from the 15.
McAlister made a fine leaping catch on a play Batchler called McAlister’s “best catch I’ve seen him make in his two years of playing football.”
McAlister had four receptions for 38 yards in the first half.
“He’s (McAllister) a special kid. He’s getting better. He’s getting more comfortable,’’ Batchler said.
O’Connor had four completions for 41 yards on the Bulldogs’ third scoring drive. He had a 17-yard completion to senior receiver Lachlan Hull on a second-and-15, a 12-yard completion to McAllister on a fourth-and-12 and the 14-yard TD pass to senior receiver John Kingdon.
“Our thought process is always this: We will throw the ball if you make us throw the ball,’’ Batchler said. “Michael is getting better and better as a quarterback. He can throw the football. He’s better than people think he is. Temple University liked him enough to upgrade him to a quarterback prospect for them. That means something to me.’’
In between O’Connor’s two TD passes came the turning point of the game in the first minute of the second quarter. Lakewood (5-1), ranked No. 10 in the Asbury Park Press Top 10, had driven from its 30 to a first-and-goal at the Rumson 5 behind a 19-yard run by senior running back Amir Tyler and a 21-yard Zyhier Jones to Jyhier Jones completion.
A penalty pushed Lakewood back to the 15 and then Bulldogs’ senior cornerback Mike Caruso intercepted a pass over the middle at the 13 and raced 87 yards for a TD.
Rumson built two 24-point leads in the second half on a 34-yard field goal by Thomas Chapin and an 8-yard run by Hess that concluded a 62-yard drive.
Tyler, who is also a safety on defense had a 25-yard interception return and a sensational one-handed 18-yard catch for Lakewood’s TDs.
Key play: Mike Caruso’s 87-yard return of an interception for a TD that gave Rumson-Fair Haven a 14-0 lead with 11:18 left in the first half.
Offensive game ball: Rumson-Fair Haven junior quarterback Mike O’Connor, who went 8-for-8 for 89 yards with two TDs in the first half.
Defensive game ball: Rumson junior linebacker Mike Ruane, who led a defense that held Lakewood to just 40 yards rushing.
Up next: Rumson-Fair Haven is at Raritan Friday night. Lakewood hosts Barnegat next Saturday.
Steven Falk: 732-643-4267; email@example.com