Early in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III semifinal at Borden Stadium in Rumson, the Bulldogs held a precarious 21-13 lead with fifth-seeded Wall at the Bulldogs 33-yard line needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the game.
On second-and-nine, Crimson Knights running back Brady McNally took a handoff from quarterback Eddie Scott but Rumson senior defensive end Elijah McAllister hit and stripped him of the ball and sophomore linebacker Gordon Forsyth scooped it up and returned it to the Wall 40-yard line.
“Our defense wins games for us,” senior running back Peter Lucas said of the forced turnover. “They’re constantly making plays putting us in great field position and putting us in a position to win – that’s how we roll.”
“At halftime coach said, ‘big-time players make big-time plays in big games’,” McAllister said of his forced fumble. “I know its cliché but I felt I had to step up for the team. We played well but not the best we’ve ever played so I made the play, we got the turnover and it feels great.”
Quarterback Dan Harby then found junior tight end Ian O’Connor for a 36-yard pickup on first down at the four-yard line and on Rumson’s next play from scrimmage, Lucas punched it in from the four untouched off right tackle for his third touchdown run of the night.
And just like that, the top-seeded Bulldogs were up, 28-13, after Quinn Doherty’s PAT with 9:43 left in the game. The Bulldogs then went on to shut down Wall the rest of the way advancing to the sectional final with a chance to make history.
A win against second-seeded Somerville – who needed a furious fourth-quarter comeback against Monmouth Regional to win, 33-24, after being down, 24-12, entering the fourth – in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III final would put them in rare company becoming only the second team in Shore Conference history to capture five straight sectional championships.
“It’s great for the community and program,” Lucas said about a chance to tie the record. “We owe it to the past players so we’re always working hard every year for it.”
The legendary Manasquan teams from 1998-2002 are the first, and only, Shore Conference team to win five consecutive sectional titles and now the Bulldogs have a better than even shot at becoming the second.
Rumson (9-1, 5-1) held a 14-7 lead late in the second quarter and were forced to punt from the end zone setting up a short field for Wall at the Rumson 41. Wall capitalized, embarking on a methodical 10-play scoring drive with McNally finishing off the drive taking a direct snap in for a four-yard score. Aidan Mulreed’s PAT was no good and the score stood, 14-13, with four minutes left in the half.
Lucas then changed the complexion of the game on their ensuing possession with 2:38 remaining in the half.
Facing a third-and-3 from their own 27-yard line, Lucas burst through the left side of the line cut right, broke a tackle and raced down the right sideline for a 73-yard touchdown run pushing the Bulldog lead to 21-13.
“Pete’s been great for us; he’s our guy and a great team leader,” McAllister said of his team’s star running back. “Just give him the ball and he makes plays. That’s all he does is make plays and that’s huge for us.”
Wall (5-5, 1-4) then drove to the Bulldog 35 in six plays but three straight incompletions with pressure from McAllister and Aiden McGurl on the final play of the half ended the threat with the Dawgs up, 21-13. Junior defensive tackle Joe Afflitto had a 10-yard sack of Scott to help keep Wall out of the end zone as the half ended.
Lucas’ touchdown run pushed him over the 2000-yard mark for the season, giving him 2,110 yards and counting. He finished with 157-yards rushing and three touchdowns on 16 attempts on the night – his tenth consecutive game going over the century mark along with six 200-plus-yard games.
On Wall’s possession following Lucas’ four-yard TD run that put Rumson up, 28-13, Henry Sullivan’s five-yard sack of Scott – his second of the game – on third-and-7 from their own 19, forced a punt that Pete Crowley returned all the way to the Wall 39 but a facemask penalty brought it back to the Bulldog 45.
“Henry Sullivan’s great,” McAllsiter said of his defensive mate. “Honestly he takes on double teams at the three technique for us. He helps keep us in balance with the ends and inside guys. He’s been a great addition and a great help to me and the entire defense.”
A 26-yard run by junior running back Alex Maldjian gave Rumson a first down at the Wall 22 but a 12-yard loss on a fumbled snap led to a Bulldogs punt that rolled into the end zone.
The Crimson Knights then took over at their own 20 still down, 28-13, with 5:18 remaining in the game but after two plays netted 21 yards setting up a second-and-3 from the 41 Rumson’s Kevin Ninger picked off Scott and returned it to the Wall 24-yard line.
But a penalty on the play brought it back to the Rumson 34 and after the Bulldogs went nowhere and punted, a last-ditch drive by Wall with 2:28 remaining in the game ended with a sack by Forsyth and an Alex Sloan interception of Scott with seconds left in the game.
Wall opened the game with a six-play, 64-yard drive with McNally scoring from one-yard out to take a quick 7-0 lead after Aidan Mulreed’s PAT. Scott’s 49-yard run on a read-option keeper had set up the Crimson Knights with a first-and-goal from the one.
However, the Bulldogs answered right back stinging the Knights with a five-play, 67-yard scoring drive. Harby found junior tight end Ian O’Connor open at around the 30 and he avoided a tackler before racing down the right sideline for a 37-yard touchdown to tie the game, 7-7.
On Wall’s ensuing possession they drove to the Bulldog 27-yard line where they faced a fourth-and-four and decided to go for it. Scott then faded back to pass but the 6-foot-6, 235-pound McAllister – who has multiple FBS offers on the table – was there to swat the ball away turning the ball back over to the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs then went up for good going 74 yards in five plays for 14-7 lead. Maldjian’s 17-yard run and a nifty 33-yard quarterback keeper around left end by Harby led to a 12-yard touchdown run by Lucas with 17 seconds left in the first quarter.
Harby managed the game nicely, going 3-of-3 for 73 yards passing on the night with his entire passing yardage going to O’Connor.
Scott passed for 111 yards and ran for another 109 yards keeping the Bulldogs on their toes all night with his read-option plays while McNally finished with 96 yards on 25 carries and scored both of Wall TDs.
Sullivan finished with two sacks and Mcallister had two pass knock downs and a forced fumble.
“For us seniors it was our last home night game so we knew we had to play well in the second half,” McAllister said when asked about shutting Wall out in the second half. “We don’t look past anything. We just played our game, did our job and got a win.
“It was no surprise, Wall’s a great team, they’re in the state semifinals for a reason,” McAllister added when asked if they expected Wall to play them so tough. “We knew they were going to come in here and play and that’s what they did. It was an exciting game for us to be out there to play with them, but I just can’t wait to move on to Rutgers."