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Bulldogs storm past Willingboro, 42-6, to reach Group II state title game

Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School running back Alastair Orr gets a chest pump from teammate #8 Luke Jamin after scoring a touchdown during the semifinals of the NJSIAA Group II Tournament on Nov. 20 in Marlton. Rumson-Fair defeated Willingboro, 42-6, to advance to the Group II championship game.

MARLTON — First-year head coach Jeremy Schulte let his Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School football players know how well they had competed after the Bulldogs defeated Willingboro High School, 42-6, in an NJSIAA Group II state playoff semifinal game on Nov. 20 at Cherokee High School in Marlton.

“That was the best game we played all season,” Schulte shouted out to his Bulldogs after they had defeated Willingboro.

On the strength of their victory over the Chimeras, the Bulldogs have advanced to play in the NJSIAA Group II state championship game against Caldwell High School in two weeks at Rutgers University, Piscataway.

Rumson-Fair Haven (8-4) dominated the action on both sides of the ball against Willingboro. The Bulldogs tallied 282 yards of offense and the defense held Willingboro’s offense to four first downs.

“You have to give it up to the offensive line and to Alastair Orr. Our defense played lights out. It was very impressive to hold down (Willingboro) like that in a state semifinal,” Schulte said.

The Bulldogs got the party started on their second offensive possession when their offensive line – Spencer Branin (left tackle), Julien Devlin (left guard), Jack Mauthe (center), Caden Winters (right guard) and Zach Factor (right tackle) – took control of the action up front.

The Bulldogs marched 80 yards and Orr scored on a one-yard run with 8:17 to play in the second quarter. After the extra point, the Bulldogs led 7-0.

Orr accounted for three first downs on the touchdown drive. The junior carried the running game on a day when the wind was gusting and temperatures were in the 30’s at the Burlington County site of the state playoff contest.

Orr rushed 21 times for 86 yards during the victory.

“All the credit goes to the ‘O’ line. They were moving people around and playing like Bulldogs out there,” Orr said. “After the first couple of drives, we knew we could run the ball and be successful.”

In conditions that were not conducive to passing, sophomore quarterback Owen O’Toole made plays with his arm when called upon. He finished 9-15 passing for 141 yards and three touchdowns. Four of O’Toole’s first five completions went for a first down or for a touchdown.

Midway through the second quarter the Bulldogs took possession at the Willingboro 30.

O’Toole dished a quick shovel pass to Scott Venancio as the senior wide receiver ran across the formation. After taking the pass, Venancio evaded the Chimeras and rolled up the sideline and into the end zone for a 30-yard score. After the extra point, the Bulldogs led 14-0.

After regaining possession of the ball, O’Toole helped the Bulldogs add to their lead with 1:33 left to play in the second quarter. O’Toole faked a handoff to Orr which froze the defense and then rolled to his right and found Sean Tinder open in the end zone on a 12-yard touchdown pass. After the extra point, the Bulldogs took a 21-0 lead into halftime.

“Our running game really set up the pass,” O’Toole said. “The offensive line played phenomenal up front. The running backs did a phenomenal job. It set us up to pass the ball well.

In the third quarter, senior tailback Brayden Dill ran 20 yards to the 1 and Orr scored from there to make it 28-0 after the extra point with 3:18 to play in the third quarter.

Orr has rushed for 12 touchdowns during the 2022 season, including six in the last three games.

“Our run game is rocking right now,” Orr said.

Late in the third quarter, O’Toole connected with Venancio on a 25-yard touchdown pass and the extra point gave the Bulldogs a 35-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

O’Toole has thrown three touchdown passes in each of the last two games and now has 25 touchdown passes during the season.

“It’s all about the 10 other guys on offense who help me get the job done. We are all excited (to play for a state championship). We are going to enjoy Thanksgiving and get right back after it,” O’Toole said.

Venancio’s two touchdown receptions against Willingboro give him a team-high 11 touchdown receptions in 2022.

Junior running back Griffin Kolb capped the scoring on a 13-yard touchdown run with 4:30 to play in the fourth quarter as the Bulldogs extended the lead to 42-0.

The Chimeras scored on the final play of the game to make the final score 42-6.

The Bulldogs’ Oliver Lorraine was 5-5 on his extra point attempts and Dominic Panke was 1-1 on his extra point attempts.

Along with their seven state sectional playoff titles since 2010, the Bulldogs also won the South Jersey Group III regional championship in 2018.

Schulte, who has been a part of the coaching staff since 2006, remembers how special it was for that team to win the regional championship in 2018 when the NJSIAA instituted regional championships in football.

Now, with the NJSIAA moving to state group championships for football in 2022, Schulte says it feels right that the Bulldogs will play for the Group II state championship.

It didn’t look great for the Bulldogs after a 0-2 start to the season, but Schulte said his players never doubted they could be state champions and are now looking forward to having a chance to play for the Group II state title in two weeks.

“We want to be champions. We want to be No. 1. That’s why we are here,” Schulte said.  “When it’s do or die in the playoffs, our kids usually do a good job of turning it on and doing what needs to be done.”

Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School running back Alastair Orr runs off tackle and picks up a first down during the semifinals of the NJSIAA Group II Tournament on Nov. 20 in Marlton. Orr rushed for 86 yards and two touchdowns to help Rumson-Fair Haven defeat Willingboro 42-6.
Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School defensive lineman Marshall Halfacre tackles Willingboro's Derek Bryant for a short gain during the semifinals of the NJSIAA Group II Tournament on Nov. 20 in Marlton. Rumson-Fair Haven won 42-6.
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