2013-12-12 / Sports

Bulldogs capture state title as defense holds off Weequahic

By DAVE LIEBERFARB
Staff Writer

When Donald Bedell flung Weequahic High School quarterback Kedar Clarke to the turf, fans of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School’s football team could breathe a sigh of relief and begin celebrating the Bulldogs’ NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship.

Led by a ferocious defense, Rumson- Fair Haven (11-1) defeated previously unbeaten Weequahic, 14-6, on Dec. 7 at Kean University in Union, avenging a loss to the Newark school that knocked Rumson-Fair Haven out of last year’s NJSIAA playoffs.

The Bulldogs also bounced back strongly from their Nov. 29 loss to Red Bank Catholic High School, according to coach Bryan Batchler.

“They understood the goal the entire season was the state championship,” Batchler said. “We lost to them in 2006 (Weequahic’s only state championship season) and lost, 13-10, last year.”

Batchler lamented his squad’s missed opportunities in a first half that was dominated by defense, except for one big play.

“We could’ve been up, 14-0, at the half,” he said.

After a scoreless first quarter that featured five punts and another exchange of punts early in the second quarter, the Bulldogs struck with stunning suddenness from their own 15-yard line. Quarterback Chase Caruso lofted a long pass toward wideout Sam Shaud, who out-leaped an Indians defensive back near midfield and sprinted the rest of the way to the end zone. Connor Kelly kicked the extra point.

The defensive struggle resumed, as the teams traded fumble recoveries before an interception and 19-yard return by Sam Eisenstadt gave Rumson-Fair Haven possession at the Weequahic 20-yard line. Five plays later from the Weequahic 9-yard line, Caruso connected with Kevin Clayton in the end zone, but the apparent touchdown was nullified by a penalty for an illegal receiver downfield. With only two seconds left before halftime, Kelly’s 31-yard field goal try sailed wide left.

Rumson-Fair Haven’s defense held Weequahic (11-1) to 55 yards of total offense and just two first downs in the first half, while it notched two fumble recoveries and the interception.

The Indians regrouped during the intermission, however, and opened the second half with a 12-play, 61-yard scoring drive — all on the ground — capped by Clarke’s 1-yard plunge. Weequahic missed the extra point kick, and Rumson-Fair Haven was left with a one-point lead, 7-6.

After an exchange of punts, Rumson- Fair Haven ate up the first four minutes of the fourth quarter with a drive highlighted by the rushing of workhorse back Charlie Volker (30 carries, 88 yards) and a 17-yard completion from Caruso to Clayton. The Indians’ defense stiffened and forced a punt by Lazarus Alves, which rolled out of bounds at the Weequahic 12-yard line. Rumson-Fair Haven then forced another three-and-out, and an 8-yard punt put the Bulldogs in business at the Weequahic 20-yard line. From there, it was all Volker. Six plays later, the junior tailback powered into the end zone from the 3-yard line. Kelly’s PAT made it 14-6 with 2:08 on the clock, and then it was up to the Rumson-Fair Haven defense.

On the first play after the kickoff, Bedell knocked the ball loose from Clarke. Weequahic recovered, but the loss of 11 yards pushed the Indians back to their own 18- yard line. On third-and-21, the elusive Clarke connected with wideout Yusef Williams for 27 yards. On the next play, they hooked up for 34 yards to the Rumson 21- yard line. But the Indians got no closer. After a penalty and another sack backed the Indians up to the 29-yard line, they had to burn their last timeout with about 20 seconds left. An incompletion near the goal line made it third down, and Clarke never got off another pass, as the Rutgers University-bound defensive end Bedell made his final play for Rumson-Fair Haven a memorable one.

“It could’ve gone either way,” Bedell said. “We just got the better of them today.”

Notes: In a game dominated by great defense, a few statistics stand out.

Each team had only eight first downs, and neither reached the 200-yard mark.

The game’s first pass completion was from Caruso to himself for a 2-yard gain after an Indians defender deflected the toss.

The game’s initial first down was the result of a facemask penalty against Weequahic on the next-to-last play of the first quarter.

Rumson-Fair Haven defensive lineman Dan Morea made a momentum-changing play in the third quarter. After Weequahic’s touchdown and a Rumson-Fair Haven three-and-out, the Indians gained possession at their own 37-yard line hoping to take the lead. On the first play, Morea burst through the line and dumped the Weequahic running back for a 5-yard loss.

“After their touchdown drive, I told them ‘We have to do better on first down.’ Dan’s been a great kid for us all year. He plays both ways; he’s a quiet leader,” Batchler said.

The game featured a clash between a pair of future teammates at Rutgers — Bedell and Weequahic two-way star Sidney Gopre, who had 14 tackles as a linebacker and nine carries for 32 yards on offense.

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