Rumson-Fair Haven advances to another state playoff final

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Rumson-Fair Haven High School wide receiver Patrick Jamin makes a 27-yard reception during Friday night's game against Timber Creek. Rumon-Fair Haven defeated Timber Creek 16-9 to advance to the finals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 Tournament.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Rumson Fair-Haven High School's Dan Afflitto returns the kickoff up the field during Friday night's game. Rumson-Fair Haven defeated Timber Creek 16-9.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Rumson-Fair Haven High School running back Peter Crowley runs the ball up the middle. Crowley rushed for two touchdowns in Rumson-Fair Haven's 16-9 win over Timber Creek.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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The Rumson-Fair Haven High School football team celebrates defeating Timber Creek 16-9 and advancing to the finals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 Tournament.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Rumson-Fair Haven High School wide receiver Patrick Jamin makes a 27-yard reception during Friday night's game against Timber Creek. Rumon-Fair Haven defeated Timber Creek 16-9 to advance to the finals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 Tournament.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Rumson Fair-Haven High School's Dan Afflitto returns the kickoff up the field during Friday night's game. Rumson-Fair Haven defeated Timber Creek 16-9.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Rumson-Fair Haven High School running back Peter Crowley runs the ball up the middle. Crowley rushed for two touchdowns in Rumson-Fair Haven's 16-9 win over Timber Creek.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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The Rumson-Fair Haven High School football team celebrates defeating Timber Creek 16-9 and advancing to the finals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 Tournament.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

 The Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School football team has punched another ticket to the state sectional playoffs.

Rumson-Fair Haven secured its ninth trip to the state sectional championship game in 10 years with a 16-9 victory over Timber Creek High School  in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 playoffs on Nov. 15 at Borden Stadium in Rumson.

“We’re glad to be back in the finals,” said Rumson-Fair Haven coach Jerry Schulte. “It’s been a nice run. Our kids are resilient. They’re used to having to fight through adversity and different challenges in front of them. We talk about having a culture. Teams come and go, but if the culture stays the same then the program stays the same.”

Rumson-Fair Haven will now play undefeated Wall Township at Wall Township High School in the sectional finals on Nov. 22.

On the evening of Nov. 15, Timber Creek marched down to inside the Rumson-Fair Haven 25-yard line on its first two possessions of the game, but the Bulldogs stood tough and limited the Chargers to only three points out of their two drives.

Trailing by only three points entering the second quarter, the Rumson-Fair Haven offense got rolling to put the Bulldogs in the lead.

A 33-yard screen pass by quarterback Colin Coles to running back John Volker helped the Bulldogs convert on 3rd and 8 and extend their drive to the Timber Creek 11-yard line.

Three plays later, Volker’s running mate in the backfield Peter Crowley, shot Rumson-Fair Haven into the lead on a three-yard score with 9:52 to go in the half that put the Bulldogs up 7-3.

“Going into this game we knew it was going to be a grind and that we were going to have to be physical in the run game,” Crowley said. “The O-Line blocked outstandingly.”

The Bulldogs’ defense got another big stop on the following drive, forcing Timber Creek to come up empty again in the red zone with a turnover on downs to give the Rumson-Fair Haven offense the ball back at its own eight-yard line with 4:19 to go in the half.

Rumson-Fair Haven was able to put together a strong drive to end the half and add to its lead going into halftime. A 30-yard field goal by Mike Piperno with 2.8 seconds left put the Bulldogs up 10-3 going into the second half.

Timber Creek finally found the end zone in the final seconds of the third quarter, scoring on a one-yard touchdown run by Jalen Gibson-Greene to cut the Rumson-Fair Haven lead to one.

Rumson-Fair Haven, however, came up with a huge block on the extra-point try to keep the Bulldogs up one going into the fourth quarter.

Leading by one and faced with a fourth and inches situation at the Timber Creek 17-yard line with 4:46 left to play, Rumson-Fair Haven opted to go for it and not try the field goal.

The Bulldogs put the ball in Crowley’s hands, trusting the senior would get enough to keep the chains moving.

Crowley did more than just move the chains, he added to the Rumson-Fair Haven lead. Keeping his feet moving as he got to the 10-yard line, Crowley powered his way to the end zone for his second touchdown of the night to give the Bulldogs a 16-9 lead with 4:36 left to play.

“I was just focused on getting the first down and then just kept my legs moving and got in the end zone,” Crowley said. “It felt amazing. Especially it being my last home game as a senior, that touchdown felt amazing.”

Crowley now has four rushing touchdowns this season.

Rumson Fair-Haven was successful in its onside kick attempt on the following kickoff that led to Timber Creek having to use all its timeouts on defense and then making the Chargers have to go 74 yards in 2:29 to either force overtime or win the game.

Timber Creek got down to the Rumson-Fair Haven 43-yard line, where the Bulldogs stood tall again for one last defensive stand to finish out the game.

Forcing Timber Creek into a do or die on fourth down and eight yards with 1:44 to go, Rumson-Fair Haven got the game-winning stop it needed by sophomore John Lista.

Seeing his opportunity to seal up the triumph for his team right in front of him, Lista recorded his second strip-sack of the game to help Rumson-Fair Haven earn another trip to the sectional final.

“It’s not just me, but the entire defense,” Lista said. “I could not make those two strip-sacks if it’s not for the guys around me. We got a great set of players here and I’m really excited about that.”

The Rumson-Fair Haven defense held Timber Creek to a season-low nine points.

Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports