Bulldogs, Blue Devils, Caseys shift focus to state football playoffs

By Warren Rappleyea

Rumson-Fair Haven

Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School’s football team is set to open the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III playoffs at home Nov. 11 against Cranford High School.

The Bulldogs (6-2), who are coming off a 35-6 victory over Carteret High School Nov. 4, enter the tournament seeking a fourth successive state title.

Coach Jerry Schulte’s team entered the Carteret game in eighth place in the Central Jersey, Group III power point standings. The impressive win moved the Bulldogs all the way up to fourth and an opening-round home game.

Rumson-Fair Haven scored a pair of first-quarter touchdowns, as quarterback Michael O’Connor ran the ball in both times from 11 and 17 yards, respectively. The home team slowly pulled away. O’Connor scored for a third time on a short keeper, as the Bulldogs took a 21-0 lead into the half.

After the break, Matt Veccharelli’s 6-yard run more or less put the game out of reach for Carteret (5-3), which entered the game in fourth place but fell to seventh place with the loss and will visit second-seeded Ewing High School Nov. 11. O’Connor connected with Pete Lucas for a 20-yard scoring pass in the fourth quarter to close the scoring for Rumson-Fair Haven. Later in the fourth, Carteret’s Jarrod Tasnady picked up a Bulldogs fumble and returned it 96 yards for the Ramblers’ only touchdown.

Cranford (7-2) has won six straight after losing two of its first three games. During the win streak, the Cougars have piled up 259 points and have scored 345 points in total this fall. Rumson-Fair Haven, meanwhile, is not quite as prolific, but the Bulldogs can still score and have posted 234 points on the season.

The Bulldogs defense, however, has permitted just 55 points against and 28 of those came in a loss to undefeated St. John Vianney High School. Rumson-Fair Haven’s only other loss came in a 14-13 decision against Middletown High School South.

“Our players take great pride in playing defense,” Schulte said. “Cranford’s an excellent team. They won seven games, and we know they’re explosive. It should be a good test. We’ll be ready.”

Shore Regional

In West Long Branch, Shore Regional High School held on to the top spot in Central Jersey, Group I despite a tough 21-20 loss to Keyport High School Nov. 4. It looked like it might be an easy night for the Blue Devils, who went up 14-0 in the opening quarter.

Matt Pennell put Shore Regional on the board with a 61-yard touchdown run on his team’s first possession of the night. The Shore Regional quarterback fooled the Red Raiders defense with a fake handoff. Josh Campi’s 9-yard run doubled his team’s edge later in the quarter.

The visitors recovered in the second session, drawing even thanks to a pair of touchdown runs by Greg Robinson. After recovering a fumble at the Keyport 20-yard line, Shore Regional regained the lead shortly thereafter when Pennell ran it in from 2 yards out. The PAT attempt, however, failed.

The Blue Devils, who piled up 351 rushing yards, seemed on the verge of putting the game away midway through the fourth when a fumble stalled the drive. Keyport marched downfield — converting three fourth downs — and took the lead on the PAT following a 15-yard touchdown pass from Chris Hogrefe to Cody Young.

Shore Regional got the ball back with less than two minutes to play and, aided by two Keyport penalties, was in position to try a 40-yard field goal with seconds remaining. The kick went wide, ending the Blue Devils’ hopes.

Shore Regional (5-3) ended up with 98 power points but wound up in first place by virtue of its victory over Point Pleasant Beach High School, which also finished with 98 power points. Keyport (7-1), which had its lone loss against Mater Dei Prep, was third with 97 points.

As a result, Shore Regional will host eighth-seeded Keansburg High School (2-7) Nov. 11. The Titans are coming off a 34-12 loss to Asbury Park High School Nov. 5. Keyport, meanwhile, will host sixth-seeded Manville High School (6-2), which last played Oct. 28 when it downed People’s Preparatory Charter School, 42-12.

Red Bank Catholic

Red Bank Catholic (RBC) High School (5-4) enters the Non-Public, Group IV playoffs on the heels of a 32-19 loss to Manasquan High School (7-1).

The Caseys got out to an early 7-0 lead on Tom Smith’s 1-yard run. However, the visitors scored the next three touchdowns and RBC was unable to fully recover — but not for lack of trying. RBC opened the second half by recovering an onside kick. Five plays later, quarterback Steve Lubischer, in his second game back from a shoulder injury, found Brandon Lombama for a 20-yard touchdown pass to make it 18-13.

The teams held each other in check until late in the fourth quarter. Manasquan capitalized on an RBC fumble to drive 35 yards in 11 plays to go up, 25-13. The Panthers defense held on the ensuing drive and following a turnover on downs, Manasquan scored again. Lubischer scored on a 15-yard keeper to close out the scoring with time running down.

The sixth-seeded Caseys will travel to Sparta High School Nov. 11 to face off against third-seeded Pope John XXIII Regional High School (5-4) in the Non-Public, Group IV opener. The Lions, who are in the highly competitive North Jersey Super Football Conference, last played Nov. 5, downing Hudson Catholic Regional High School, 52-8.

Ocean Township

Ocean Township High School (4-5) concluded a frustrating season — and one of the toughest schedules in the Shore Conference — with an equally frustrating 32-8 loss to Middletown High School North (6-2). The visiting Lions took just a 6-0 lead into halftime but came back to dominate the second half.

The Spartans were able to move the ball, accumulating 12 first downs but just eight points.

Ocean Township posted wins against Monmouth Regional High School, Long Branch High School and Matawan Regional High School. The highlight of the season was a 41-7 over Point Pleasant Borough High School, which knocked the Panthers (8-1) from the ranks of the unbeatens.