Caldwell beats Bulldogs, 18-14, in Group II state championship game


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PISCATAWAY — The members of the Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School football team took the field to compete in the first NJSIAA Group II state championship game on Dec. 4 at SHI Stadium on the campus of Rutgers University in Piscataway.

The Bulldogs squared off against undefeated Caldwell High School of Essex County and gave the Chiefs all they could handle as the teams battled to become New Jersey’s first Group II champion on the gridiron.

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In the end, Caldwell (13-0) left the field as the 2022 Group II state champion with an 18-14 victory over Rumson-Fair Haven.

“It really sucks losing the last game of the year, but it is what it is. Somebody has to lose this game,” Bulldogs Coach Jeremy Schulte said. “We were the No. 2 Group II team in the state in a year nobody thought we would make it out of the Shore Conference alive.”

Trailing 18-14 with less than 2:30 to play, the Bulldogs faced second and goal from the Caldwell 5, but before the Bulldogs could run that play a false start was called. The penalty put the ball on the 10.

Sophomore quarterback Owen O’Toole threw incomplete passes on second down and on third down, leaving the Bulldogs facing fourth and goal from the 10 with 2:05 to play.

On fourth down, O’Toole stepped up in the pocket and threw a pass into the end zone intended for junior wide receiver Nick Rigby, but the ball sailed over Rigby’s head and the Chiefs took over on downs.

The Bulldogs called their final timeout after a two-yard run by the Chiefs on first down with 1:56 to play. On second down, Joey Marinello ran for nine yards and a first down that sealed the victory.

Caldwell won its 28th consecutive game dating back to the 2020 season.

“Caldwell is a hell of a football team. You don’t win 28 games in a row and not be a good football team,” Schulte said.

The Bulldogs trailed the Chiefs, 6-0, at the end of the first quarter, but strung together a strong second quarter on both sides of the ball to take a 7-6 lead at halftime.

Running their up-tempo offense was a key to the Bulldogs getting rolling. The offense roared 72 yards in 12 plays in under two-and-a-half minutes.

Senior running back Brayden Dill finished the drive with a two-yard scamper into the end zone and junior Oliver Lorraine kicked the extra point to give the Bulldogs a 7-6 lead with 7:05 to play in the second quarter.

“We knew (Caldwell) had a lot of guys going both ways and we wanted to tire them out,” Schulte said of the decision to go up-tempo on offense. “It worked.”

The Bulldogs’ defense forced two turnovers after the offense had scored and kept the Chiefs from regaining the lead.

Sophomore linebacker William Tencza forced a fumble that was recovered by senior linebacker Luke Mikolajczyk that stopped a Caldwell drive at the Bulldogs’ 16 with 3:10 to play in the second quarter.

On Caldwell’s next possession, senior defensive back Ryan Kalman knocked the ball out of the arms of wide receiver Louie Anemone and senior defensive back John Connors fell on the ball.

The Bulldogs had shown Caldwell they were in for a fight and the Chiefs responded on their first possession of the second half with some trickery.

With the ball at the Bulldogs’ 14, the Chiefs lined up to attempt a 31-yard field goal, but Anemone, the holder, took the ball on the snap and made a pass to Michael Mignone in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown. The extra point was no good and the Chiefs led 12-7 with 6:07 to play in the third quarter.

After the Bulldogs went three and out on the following possession, Caldwell took over at the Rumson-Fair Haven 40 and took advantage of the excellent field position.

The Chiefs rolled down the field and into the end zone on four plays, scoring on a 19-yard run by senior tailback Harry Boland to take an 18-7 lead with 3:11 to play in the third quarter. Boland rushed for two touchdowns in the contest.

The Bulldogs did not panic and got back into their up-tempo offense. Rumson-Fair Haven went on a 10-play, 68-yard drive that was capped off by a one-yard run by O’Toole. Lorraine kicked the extra point as the Bulldogs pulled to within 18-14 with 19 seconds to play in the third quarter.

“I am really proud of (the players). They fought hard the whole year. They never gave up even when people would have understood it,” Schulte said.

O’Toole’s touchdown run gave him 26 total touchdowns in 2022. The sophomore finished the season with 2,161 yards passing after completing 19 passes for 212 yards in the Group II championship game.

“The kid’s special,” Schulte said of O’Toole. “He is a first class kid all the way.”

Rigby caught 10 passes for 109 yards and junior running back Alastair Orr led the rushing attack with 94 yards on 19 carries.

On defense, Mikolajczyk led the team with 14 tackles in the championship game.

Rumson-Fair Haven ends its 2022 campaign with a record of 8-5.

After an 0-2 start, the Bulldogs won eight of their final 11 games and won the program’s seventh state sectional title since 2010 with a 34-27 victory over Raritan High School of Hazlet in double overtime in the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group II championship game.

The ending to his first season at the helm of the Bulldogs was not picture perfect for Schulte, but the coach said losing in the Group II title game would not take away from many great moments his team had during this “special” season.

“I am going to remember (the wins) against Raritan, Willingboro and Manalapan, and how awesome this class of seniors has been for us. We will be back next year,” Schulte said.

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