Defense Keys Big Win for Dogs
By Mike Ready
Union – The Rumson-Fair Haven defense heard all about how the Weequahic defense had allowed only 29 points all season and shutout its opponent’s offense nine times, including two shutouts in their quarterfinal and semifinal playoff wins.
Nevertheless, in Rumson’s 14-6 win over previously undefeated Weequahic Saturday night at Kean University, it was the Bulldog defense everyone was talking about. Playing with complete abandon and ferocity, the defense carried the Bulldogs (11-1) to their second Central Jersey Group II title in four years, and second championship in school history.
For Weequahic (11-1), ranked No.20 in the state, it was their third consecutive loss in the Central Jersey Group II finals.
Weequahic’s offense came into the game averaging almost 40 points per game and 372 total yards, including 316-yards rushing. On Saturday night, the Bulldogs defense limited the Indian offense to 167 total yards including 83-yards rushing. Of those 167 yards, 61 yards came on two (34 and 27 yards) pass completions to Indian senior wide receiver Yusuf Williams, who made two spectacular grabs to position the Indians at the Bulldog 21-yardline with 38 seconds left in the game and trailing by eight.
After a five-yard illegal formation penalty pushed the Indians back to the 26-yardline, Bulldog senior defensive linemen Donald Bedell, Dan Morea and Kevin Clayton combined to sack Indian quarterback Kedar Clarke for a three-yard loss and Weequahic called their final time out.
On second and 18, from the 29-yardline, senior cornerback/wide receiver Sam Shaud nearly intercepted Clarke’s pass in the end zone to set up a third-and-18 from the 29 with just seconds remaining. Clarke attempted to roll out on third down, but Bedell had him in his sights all the way, slamming him to the ground as time ran out with the game-ending, exclamation-point sack, touching off a wild celebration of both players and supporters.
The Rutgers-bound Bedell had three sacks on Weequaic’s final drive and finished with five tackles to close out his high school career in dramatic fashion.
“Our defense was amazing tonight,” Bedell said. “We played as a unit all year long and tonight was no different; it was a total team effort. I can’t say enough about these guys, it’s an incredible way to end my high school career and I’ll never forget this night.”
The Rumson defense set the tone of the game forcing three straight three-and-outs to start the game, delivering some thundering hits that sent a message to the Indians that they weren’t the only ones who knew how to play defense.
“We wanted to go out and show we meant business,” Bulldog head coach Bryan Batchler said. “We knew it was going to be a defensive struggle, they only gave up 29 points all year. We saved our best for last; we smacked them in the mouth.”
The Bulldogs never trailed in the game, taking a 7-0 lead at 6:40 of the second quarter, when senior quarterback Chase Caruso hit Shaud on an 85-yard pass play. The pass was slightly underthrown with Shaud and Indian cornerback Qua’D Cheatham both going up for the ball at the Indians 49. Cheatham deflected the ball with Shaud grabbing it and racing down the left sidelines. Weequahic’s senior linebacker Sidney Gopre tripped up Shaud at the 10, causing Shaud to stumble for a second before reaching the end zone. Connor Kelly’s point-after kick was good for the 7-0 lead.
“We definitely respected their defense; 29 points in 11 games that’s amazing,” Caruso said. “But we put in a great game plan and came into the game confident. We knew they were going to give us man coverage and I trust Sam, so I just threw it up there for him and he made a great catch.”
“I saw the ball coming and I was just trying to make a play,” Shaud said. “I was in the right place at the right time and sometimes that’s when good things happen.”
On the Indians ensuing possession following the score, Shaud recovered a fumble by the Indians Alkadair Ports on the Indian 33-yard line. But on third-and-three, Bulldog star running back Charlie Volker fumbled the ball back at the 20-yard line.
Two plays later, junior cornerback Sam Eisenstadt intercepted Clarke at the Weequahic 39 and returned it to the 21-yard line. Senior fullback Dylan Zohn converted a fourth-and-one from the 11 with 43 seconds left in the half. On second-and-eight from the nine, Caruso found tight end Kevin Clayton in the right rear end zone for what appeared to be a touchdown with two seconds left in the half.
However, an ineligible man downfield penalty negated the score, and the Bulldogs came away empty handed when Kelly’s 31-yard field goal attempt was just wide left and the score remained 7-0 at the half.
After deferring the opening kickoff, Weequahic received the second half kickoff and drove 61 yards in 11 plays, taking 6:30 minutes off the clock. Clarke scored from on yard out on third-and-goal from the one. The point after was blocked but an illegal equipment penalty was called giving the Indians another chance which they failed on as well, and the Bulldogs led by one, 7-6.
On the drive, the Indians ran their option with a full-house backfield, inserting linemen Jahe Williams and KyJahn Carter in the backfield for additional blocking and it seemed to take the Bulldogs by surprise.
The Bulldogs adjusted and held the Indians to minus three yards on three-and-outs on their next two possessions prior to their final drive.Senior defensive tackle Dan Morea had a five-yard tackle for loss to thwart the first three-and-out and senior linebacker/ turned safety Thomas Martello knocked down a third down pass to force the Indians to punt from their own end zone on the next series.
Rumson pressured the punt and Cheatham shanked it out of bounds, giving the Bulldogs first-and-ten at the 20-yard line with 6:01 left in the game.
Volker then carried five consecutive times for 17 yards, setting up a third-and-goal from the 3-yard line.
The standout running back then showed why he leads the Shore Conference in rushing with over 2100 yards, bulling his way in from three yards out to push the Bulldog lead to 14-6 with 2:08 to play, sealing the Bulldogs second state championship.
Volker was once again the workhorse, carrying the ball 31 times for 93 yards and scoring his 24th touchdown of the season.
Weequahic’s all-everything linebacker Sidney Gopre ended his stellar high school career with a game high 21 tackles. Gopre and Bedell will be teammates at Rutgers next season, as Gopre has committed to the Scarlet Knights as well.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the kids and the coaching staff,” Batchler said. “When I was named head coach in February I put a big T.E.A.M. on our tee shirts and a little tiny me under it. That was one of coach Fallon’s sayings and I wanted that to live on with us and it definitely has; we won as a team tonight.”