An impressive run came to an end for the Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School football team.
Rumson-Fair Haven was thwarted in its bid to win a fifth straight NJSIAA sectional playoff championship when it fell to Somerville High School, 20-15, in the Central Jersey, Group 3 final on Dec. 2 at High Point Solutions Stadium on the campus of Rutgers University in Piscataway.
Rumson-Fair Haven had captured the Central Jersey, Group 3 crown the past two years and won the Central Jersey, Group 2 championship in 2014 and 2013.
Coach Jerry Schulte reflected on what this program has done and not the defeat.
“We just told them that we’re proud of them,” he said. “This was still a great season, especially for the seniors and the things that they’ve done for us the past four seasons. There’s nothing to hang your head about. We were there with some of the best programs in the Shore Conference, and no one can take that away from us.”
Rumson-Fair Haven was leading in the fourth quarter, but Somerville struck for the winning points.
The Somerset County school answered a Rumson-Fair Haven touchdown when Jalahn Dabney, the star for the Pioneers all game, scored on a 1-yard run with 53 seconds to play in the fourth quarter. Somerville failed on the two-point conversion try and held a 20-15 lead.
The Bulldogs then turned the ball over on downs to ice Somerville’s victory.
Rumson-Fair Haven had gained a 15-14 edge with just over three minutes remaining in the final quarter when senior back Peter Lucas ran 13 yards to the end zone.
Somerville had opened the scoring in the game when Dabney kept the ball on a quarterback sneak from a yard out. His pass on the two-point conversion gave Somerville an 8-0 lead.
The Bulldogs came back and tied the game at 8-8 in the second quarter when junior running back Alex Maldjian ran into the end zone from 2 yards out and then senior quarterback Dan Harby connected with junior tight end Ian O’Connor on the conversion with less than a minute left to go in the half.
The Pioneers broke the tie in the third quarter when Dabney hooked up with Kyree Hinton for 38 yards and a touchdown. The Pioneers were unsuccessful on the two-point conversion to leave the game at 14-8.
The scoring run by Lucas had provided a slim lead for the Bulldogs that was eventually erased by Dabney’s late touchdown run. Dabney ended with 211 yards passing and 84 yards on the ground.
Rumson-Fair Haven ended the year with a 10-2 record, while Somerville finished 11-1. The playoff title was Somerville’s eighth overall and first since 1994.
Lucas, who finished with 86 rushing yards and a touchdown against Somerville, felt the defeat will only spark next year’s squad.
“I was battling an ankle sprain all night,” he said. “I had to rely on my [offensive] line, and they opened up some great holes for me. Harby played great all night. We had a lot of guys that made great plays tonight. We played hard, but it does hurt not getting the five-peat. But the team will be back next year for sure.”
O’Connor, who ended the game with four catches for 52 yards, was at a bit of a loss for words, but he loved how the team never gave up.
“We played our hearts out and we did everything we could, but sometimes you just fall short,” he said. “My coaches reminded us that we’ve been through worse. This isn’t the worse thing that’s happened to us this year, but we’ll use this anger as motivation for next year.
“The season was a good start for us. The bond that we made with the seniors this year was incredible. I know we’re going to use all the things that they taught us this year to do big things next year.”