Dec 04, 2018 | Rumson-Fair Haven

 EAST RUTHERFORD – Coming into Saturday’s game, Rumson-Fair Haven knew they had to keep the ball out of the hands of Woodrow Wilson’s record-breaking quarterback Nick Kargman, who came into the game needing 23 yards to break the New Jersey single-season passing record, and that meant feeding the ball to senior running back Alex Maldjian.

After running the ball a career-high 50 times for 281 yards in the Bulldogs’ thrilling 42-35 win over Somerville to claim the school’s fifth sectional championship in six years two weeks ago, the Bulldogs felt they needed a repeat performance out of their tireless running back if they were to get past the explosive Tigers, and that’s exactly what they got.

Maldjian thrives on big stages and Saturday, on his biggest stage yet at MetLife Stadium, the deceptively fast and powerful Maldjian rushed for 204 yards on 40 attempts propelling the Bulldogs to a 26-18 win over Woodrow Wilson to win the inaugural NJSIAA South, Group III Bowl game.

“I feel a little better today I’m not as banged up, I bet I could run a 100-yard sprint right now,” joked Maldjian when comparing the two games. “We had the same game plan (as last week) 10-yard war. Win those 10 yards and that brings us down the field. So we just wanted to get those first downs and we knew if we could do that we’d get in the end zone eventually.” 

The game see-sawed back and forth with each team answering the other’s score with one of their own on the ensuing possession.

Woodrow Wilson had just tied the game, 18-18, on a nine-play, 80-yard drive that was kept alive by a Kargman 25-yard pass to Louisville-bound Naiem Simmons to the four-yard line.

A false start pushed the ball back to the nine-yard line before Kargman found Stanley King alone in the far left corner of the end zone. Woodrow Wilson then failed to convert on their third straight two-point conversion attempt and the score remained 18-18 with 5:27 left in the game.

Amari Clark’s kickoff rolled out of bounds on a questionable squib-kick and the Bulldogs took over at the Tigers 35-yard line with just over five minutes left in the game.

“There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to get the ball in there,” said Maldjian of the Bulldogs final scoring drive. “Everybody in the huddle knew that if we didn’t score there the game might not be ours so we just wanted to make sure we were winning this game.”

Rumson quarterback Collin Coles converted a clutch third-and-8 hitting sophomore wide receiver Patrick Jamin for 29 yards to the Tigers 34-yard line. Three plays later on third-and-4 from the 28 and the Tigers defense stacked up in front to try and stop Maldjian, he bulled his way up the middle for six yards and another first down at the 22-yard line with 2:06 left in the game.

Maldjian picked up a yard on his 41st carry of the game leaving the Bulldogs with a second-and-9 at the 21-yard line with under two minutes remaining.

The Bulldogs then went back to the air with Coles firing a strike to senior Jackson McCarthy, who caught the pass down the left sideline before side-stepping a defender and racing into the end zone untouched the rest of the way.

McCarthy, a stud basketball player, is a first-year varsity football player and his catch-and-run TD undoubtedly made his decision to come out for football the correct one.

“When there’s one man to beat your eyes get a little bigger,” McCarthy said. “I was just so excited but this is way bigger than just myself. It’s about the whole team and the community. It was awesome.”

Rumson elected to go for two and Maldjian capped off his night with a two-point conversion and a 26-18 lead with 1:15 left in the game.

Coles’ long kickoff went for a touchback and Woodrow Wilson was looking at an 80-yard drive to tie the game with just over a minute remaining.

Isaac Vernon sacked Kargman on first down and his last-ditch pass to Clark on fourth-and-6 from their own 41 fell incomplete and the Bulldogs took over on downs to run out the clock.

Kargman broke the state record on his first pass of the game, a 35-yard bomb to Simmons, to give him 3,715 yards. He then connected with King on second-and-8 from the 14-yard line for a 6-0 lead. Simmons was stopped on the two-point conversion attempt.

Rumson answered on its ensuing possession when Maldjian took it to the house on second-and-five from their own 47 for a 53-yard scoring jaunt. Coles’ kick was no good and the score remained 6-6 with 3:11 left in the first quarter.

Rumson’s defense then came up with two huge turnovers on potential Woodrow Wilson scoring drives.

Starting at their own 28, the Tigers drove to the Rumson 34-yard line where they had a first down after a Kargman 12-yard strike to King.

Kargman then looked for Simmons over the middle but Rumson’s all-state linebacker Keegan Woods, reading the play all the way, stepped into the passing lane and snagged the ball at the 21-yard line.

Woodrow Wilson forced a three-and-out and Nick Ferrara’s punt was fielded at the 39 before Rumson’s swarming special teams unit dropped Simmons nine-yards back at the 30-yard line.

Kargman hit Simmons for 35 yards giving the Tigers a first down at the 29-yard line before Muheem McCargo ripped off a 24-yard run to the Rumson five-yard line. Three plays later on third-and-goal at the two, Woods hit McCargo hard behind the line of scrimmage forcing a fumble with Drew Frankel recovering.

“The only stop that matters is the last one and we got it so that’s all you can ask for,” Woods said. “We were just saying bend-don’t-break. They went five wide (on his interception) and I just read his eyes and went up and got it. It was a fun game.”

Woods finished 11 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.                               

Rumson then dodged another bullet. After recovering the fumble they went nowhere and Simmons returned the punt to the Rumson 19-yard line and had a first down at the three-yard line with 13 seconds left with no time outs.

Kargman then mishandled the snap and was forced to fall on the ball as time ran out on the half with the two teams still knotted at 6-6.

Woodrow Wilson received the second-half kickoff and drove to the 49-yard line where they were looking at a fourth-and-nine. Kargman’s pass to King was a yard shy of a first down and the Bulldogs took over on downs.

Maldjian carried the ball on nine plays, including converting on a crucial third-and-2 picking up six yards on the play. Four plays later on fourth-and-goal from the three, Coles found senior tight end Ian O’Connor all alone in the far right corner of the end zone for the score. Coles’ pass to O’Connor for two was incomplete.

Now trailing, 12-6, the Tigers marched 62-yards in four plays with Kargman hitting Simmons for 30 yards before finding him for a 32-yard touchdown. His pass fell incomplete on the two-point conversion attempt leaving the score 12-12.

Rumson answered marching 60 yards in a time-consuming 12-play drive. Sophomore John Volker completed the drive scoring on an eight-yard reverse for an 18-12 lead with 7:50 left in the fourth quarter.

On the drive, Maldjian rushed for 37 yards on nine attempts with most of them going up the gut of Woodrow Wilson’s defense. His punishing runs were beginning to take their toll on the Tigers front seven and you could see their frustration in not being able to stop him boiling over.

“I think for any defense to have an offense slowly move the ball down their throats it drains on them,” said Maldjian of pounding the ball up the middle. “For an offense to be able to do that is something special.

“Our guys up front are amazing, Ryan McCann and Evan Davis on the left, Tim Kelly center, Ethan Ardolino and Spencer Short on the right side. I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys blocking for me. I love them to death.”

In his final two games of his career, Maldjian had 475 yards rushing and five TDs on 89 carries finishing the season with 1,679 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Kargman threw for 297 yards and three touchdowns and in the process set a new state single-season passing record for passing yards with 3,963.