By Rich Chrampanis |
SOMERVILLE – Alex Maldjian is used to a heavy workload in the Rumson-Fair Haven backfield, but the senior got a season’s worth of work in one masterful four-quarter performance. The RFH gameplan was clear. Give the ball to No. 6 and let the Bulldogs offensive line punish the Somerville defense into submission. The results were stunning. 50 carries, 281 yards and four touchdown runs for Maldjian in one of the all-time great performances in a sectional final.
“All week long we said it was a 10-yard game and just keep winning each 10 yards,” Maldjian said. “We just wanted to keep those drives going, keep their explosive offense off the field and we did that. It was exciting.”
Rumson saw their quest for five straight sectional titles come to an end in heartbreaking fashion last year at the hands of Somerville at Rutgers University in a 20-15 last-minute defeat. The Pioneers became a top 10 state power in 2018 with a perfect 11-0 record. Rumson was put in the rare position of being an underdog in late November.
It didn’t take long to realize that RFH was going to remind everyone they have been one of the state’s most prolific programs over the past six years. The Bulldogs marched down the field in a 10-play, 55-yard drive that was all run plays. Maldjian’s first score of the game served notice that the Bulldogs came to play. Somerville quarterback Jalahn Dabney, who had over 1,500 yards passing and rushing and 50 combined touchdowns, scored on the Pioneers first offensive play of the game with a 63-yard bomb to Joe Ciempola. It set the tone for the entire game. Rumson would put together long sustained drives that took time off the clock while Somerville used a no-huddle, quick-strike attack. RFH did not give up more than 14 points in a game during their 2018 campaign. Dabney hung up 35 points with four TD passes, a TD run and two 2-point conversions. Rumson never surrendered the lead as Maldjian ended the second quarter with his second TD run of the game to make it 21-12 at the half and then the Bulldogs opened the third quarter with another long drive that saw Maldjian increase the lead to 28-12. Sandwiched between Maldjian’s dominance as senior wide receiver was Ian O’Connor with two TD passes, including a 71-yard score in the first quarter that saw the Lehigh commit soar above a defensive back to bring down a Collin Coles pass and turn up the sideline to streak into the end zone untouched.
“Last year when we lost at Rutgers, it was a feeling we all hated,” O’Connor said. “Since that day we worked for this day. We knew that we were going to be back if we worked hard enough and we got it done.”
Maldjian’s headlines across the state were well warranted, but it was the Bulldogs offensive line that rightly shared the spotlight. Evan Davis, Spencer Short, Ethan Ardolino, Tim Kelly and Ryan McCann were the earth movers who are the primary reason Rumson-Fair Haven has now won five of the last six sectional titles.
Normally the journey would be over, but there is one more round of post-season football. The new playoff format in New Jersey has the four section champions take one more step toward a true state champion. RFH will take on Woodrow Wilson, the South Jersey Group 3 champion, Dec. 1 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. A win there would leave RFH as one of two Group 3 teams standing on top of the mountain. While it’s no state championship, it would serve notice that Rumson-Fair Haven is among the very best in the Garden State. Head coach Jerry Schulte called Alex Maldjian a tank. With two weeks to fuel up, Maldjian and the offensive line will no doubt be ready to try and do it all over again at the home of the Jets and Giants.
This article was first published in the Nov. 22-28, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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