PISCATAWAY — Rumson-Fair Haven gave it its all in an attempt to end the state’s current longest winning run and secure its place in state history, but ultimately fell short.
In the first half, the Bulldogs performed quite well. They were able to calm the first tempest to the point where they went into halftime up by one point.
At that point, Caldwell performed what it had done for the previous two years. Their efforts were successful, and they triumphed.
Caldwell’s winning streak reached 28 games after an impressive second half helped them overcome Rumson-Fair Haven 18-14 in the Group 2 final at Rutgers University on Sunday.
Around two minutes remained in the game, Rumson-Fair Haven had four opportunities to score the game-winning touchdown inside the Caldwell 10-yard line. Defensively, Caldwell held his ground.
After the NJSIAA finally changed the high school football playoffs to honour actual state public champions, the Bulldogs (8-5) were trying to make history as the first Jersey Shore club to capture an overall public school state title.
Head coach Jeremy Schulte of Rumson-Fair Haven commented, “It always stings to lose the last game of the year.” Nobody expected us to make it out of the Shore Conference alive this year, but here we are as the second-ranked Group 2 team in the state.
What Seems Like a Long Shot of A Ride to The Final
The Bulldogs went on a trip they hadn’t planned on. When the Bulldogs started the season 0-2, losing to Toms River North and Donovan Catholic by a combined score of 61-27, it looked like their impressive postseason run may come to an end.
Instead, the Bulldogs cruised through the sectional tournament, claiming South Group 2 with a 34-27 victory over Raritan after winning their final four of six games during the regular season against tough Shore Conference competition. The Bulldogs advanced to the title game with a 42-6 blowout of Willingboro.
Next year, we plan to return. So, that’s what I wanted to convey,” Schulte added. “They have my full support. They didn’t give up all year long, even though most people would have considered it to be the wisest course of action.
Struggle the whole way
Rumson–Fair Haven fought valiantly. Owen O’Toole, a sophomore quarterback, led a 72-yard drive that resulted in a Brayden Dill 2-yard rushing score in the middle of the second quarter.
Even though Caldwell answered with two solid drives of their own, senior defensive back Ryan Kalman caused two turnovers on consecutive possessions, and the Bulldogs pounced on both deep in Caldwell territory to take a 7-6 lead into halftime.
Caldwell’s luck changed when the Bulldogs botched a fake punt. After taking a 7-0 lead, Caldwell extended their advantage to 18-7 with a pair of touchdowns in the final minutes of the game.
Again, O’Toole directed the drive that resulted in the sophomore’s one-yard rushing touchdown. Schulte opted against going for the two-point convert, thus the score remained at 18-14 and the game was still within reach.
Caldwell’s Success Stemmed on A String of Fortunate Breaks
To paraphrase what Schulte stated, “We wanted a fake punt, didn’t work.” After scoring, “probably should have gone for two, but that’s on me.”
Despite this, with only around two minutes remaining, Rumson-Fair Haven was in position to win the game from inside the Caldwell five-yard line. The penalty setback the Bulldogs at their own 10-yard line. Caldwell’s flawless defence held off O’Toole and the Bulldogs on three more occasions, securing a victory.
O’Toole, in only his second season of football, guided a very inexperienced Rumson-Fair Haven team all the way to the championship game. In the end, he threw for 2,161 yards, 25 scores, and 7 picks. In other words, you may expect him to return the next year.
Schulte believes this man will be the top quarterback in the Shore Conference for the next two seasons. It’s hard to put into words how remarkable that kid is.
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