The Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School Bulldogs won the Battle of Ridge Road last night against the Red Bank Regional Buccaneers, 9-3, making the team's record a perfect 4-0 for the season so far.
The Buccaneers fell short in the Battle to a steady team of Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs, now 4-0, were heavy favorites. But RBR Coach Nick Giglio felt that an inconsistent offense hurt his team's chances. The Bucs seemed perpetually on the verge of breaking the game wide open, only to lose momentum. The pattern began early, and never let up.
In the first quarter, the Bucs defense beat back the Bulldogs' first drive. But a deep Bulldog punt forced the Bucs to begin their possession at their own eight-yard line, with senior Ross Gisondi at quarterback. A couple quarterback keepers and a nice run by senior Jahimere Hinton pushed the Bucs to midfield, but the drive lost steam. A long punt by Gisondi put the Bulldogs back on their own 24.
On the Bulldogs possession, Gisondi broke up a pass play, and when R-FH quarterback Danny Roberto kept the ball, RBR's Hinton took him down, forcing R-FH to punt. The mis-hit went 10 yards before going out of bounds, and the Bucs were suddenly in striking distance at the Bulldog 35.
Strong runs by Hinton brought the Bucs to the 18, and Gisondi pounded his way to the five-yard line. But a high snap was fumbled, and Connor Phillips of the Bulldogs recovered, ending the Bucs' chances in the first quarter. Big defensive plays by the Bucs' Garrett Sickels, Dillon Stambaugh, and Dylan DeVita contained the Bulldogs, and Alex Fox then took over as quarterback for the Bucs in the second quarter.
The Bucs' next drive fell short, and a booming punt by Gisondi forced the Bulldogs to start out on their own 27. Stambaugh, Sickels, and Saiquan Thigpen turned in strong defensive performances to frustrate a long Bulldog effort, and Gisondi intercepted a Bulldog pass at the 20 yard line at 4:37 of the second quarter. Again, however, the Bucs could not sustain their drive, and a Gisondi punt landed the Bulldogs on their own 37 with less than three minutes left in the half.
The Bulldogs then started a halting drive that saw RBR's Stambaugh tackle a runner for a loss, and senior Wylie Bogden sack the RFH quarterback with less than a minute to go in the half. The Bucs' Mario Williams broke up a long Bulldog pass into the end zone, and senior Isaac Coates of the Bucs forced Rumson to throw it away with 18 seconds left. With three seconds remaining in the half, however, the Bulldogs' Jake D'Amelio kicked a 38-yard field goal, and the half ended with the Bulldogs up, 3-0.
The Bucs' opening drive in the second half came up short, and senior Tim Vilardi downed a Gisondi punt at the Buc 41. Bulldog senior running back Travis Clark was kept from long gains by Stambaugh, Sickels and Bogden, but a long Bulldog pass to the two-yard line suddenly put the Bulldogs in scoring position. With inches to go, the Bulldogs' Roberto kept the ball and pounded into the end zone, but D'Amelio's kick for the extra point bounced off the right upright, putting the Bulldogs up 9-0 with just over five minutes left in the third quarter.
The Bucs opened their next drive with a rumble by Coates to the Buc 40, but an illegal shift penalty left the Bucs at fourth down and long, and Gisondi punted for the Bucs. Rumson started out again at 3:35 of the third quarter, but Stambaugh, Mario Williams, and the Bucs defense forced the Bulldogs to punt. Bucs senior Steven Megill returned the ball to the Bucs 27, and again the Bucs started out, with Sickels taking the ball to the 34 yard line on a seven-yard screen pass. A keeper by Fox and a Fox pass to senior Will Noglows ended with the Bucs again forced to punt, and the Bulldogs were at their own 40 yard line as the third quarter ended.
The fourth quarter saw the Bulldogs' standout Clark fumble at the 50 yard line, but the Bucs were unable to capitalize. The Bucs defense was able to contain the RFH offense, with strong efforts by their seniors and junior Gary Johnson. A Bucs drive initiated by a Fox pass to Noglows to the Bulldog 46 again came up short, and the Bulldogs took over on downs with 4:07 left in the game. With the ball at the Bucs 42, however, Gisondi picked the pocket of Bulldog running back Clark and ran the ball back to the Bulldog 13 yard line with 3:37 to play. A Bulldog facemask penalty and a Gisondi run put the ball at the five yard line, but on fourth down, the Bucs elected to go for three. Senior Erwin Pupovic kicked the field goal, and with 2:22 remaining, the score was 9-3.
The Bulldogs' last drive was contained by strong play by DeVita, Stambaugh, and the rest of the Bucs defense, but time ran out at midfield, with the Bucs unable to regain possession.
Coach Giglio noted improvement from the first week of the season in tackling, pursuit, and physical play on defense. But, he acknowledged, "the offense has to be more consistent."
Giglio said he believes in his team, and that they will build on the loss. The changes expected next week? "A victory!" he said.
Last night's game was played under the lights at Count Basie Field in Red Bank. The Bucs wore gold socks, in recognition of Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. The loss leaves the Bucs at 0-3 on the season. They next face Ocean Township High School at noon, at home, on Saturday, October 6.
Bob Neff, who serves as Little Silver's mayor and has a son on the Bucs football team, gives us the lowdown each week on the Red Bank Regional High School game.