CALDWELL, NJ — The Caldwell High School football team defeated Rumson–Fair Haven, 18-14, to win the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Group 2 state championship game on Sunday, Dec. 4, at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium in Piscataway.
When it comes to high school football championships of any type, there are two teams that raise that flag more times than they can count as they are consistently in the hunt. The Caldwell Chiefs have been on a tear as they are on a 27-game winning streak going back to Nov. 13, 2020. At that point, Luke Kurzum and Harry Boland were merely sophomores who were just beginning to take the state by storm. By the end of the 2021 season the Chiefs turned in a perfect 12-0 season winning the final New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s North Jersey, Group 3 regional state championship.
This year the Chiefs were taking no prisoners as everyone on their schedule had to step their game up or suffer the consequences. The Chiefs completely manhandled their opponents in lopsided victories with the exception of West Essex in a close 16-13 regular season affair and Westwood in a tight 13-7 defensive struggle in the NJSIAA North Jersey Group 3 semifinal.
On the flipside of the coin are the Rumson-Fair Haven Purple Bulldogs. They have been a constant staple as one of Central Jersey’s premiere teams who played in nine straight sectional finals since 2013 and tallying an impressive 23-8 record since 2020. Led by sophomore QB Owen O’Toole and the running back tandem in senior Brayden Dill and Junior Alastair Orr, are looking to add to RFH’s relatively stellar trophy case. But will they be able to stop the Chiefs’ buzzsaw attack, or will they pull out their own clippers and shave the Chiefs clean and break the current longest winning streak in the state?
It didn’t take long for the Chiefs to establish their dominance after the opening kickoff. They went 73 grueling yards in 15 plays to set the tone with Harry Boland’s 4-yard opening 6-0 score. The opening drive took 6 minutes, 56 seconds off the clock. But the Purple Bulldogs didn’t want to take that lying down. They weren’t able to get things going in the first quarter, but in the second quarter QB Owen O’Toole had dig into his bag of plays to speed up their time of possession that spanned 72 yards in 12 plays which only took 2:25 off the clock and gave Rumson–Fair Haven a temporary 7-6 edge with 7:05 left in the half. The Purple Bulldogs would keep the lead into the half.
The third quarter would open with the Rumson–Fair Haven running nine plays on 34 yards before punting to Caldwell on the Bulldogs 46-yard line. Caldwell didn’t waste any further time with the ball going 54 yards in 11 plays, capping the drive by digging into their bag of tricks. Setting up for a 24-yard field goal, Chiefs place-holder Louie Anemone saw something in the Purple Bulldogs defense and called for a fake by throwing the ball 14 yards to teammate Michael Mignone for the 12-7 stretch with 6:07 left in the third quarter. Rumson felt some type of way on their next possession as they were forced to turn over the ball after a three-and-out giving Caldwell good field position at the Rumson 40-yard line. Caldwell again made Rumson pay for their mistake with four quick plays, sending Harry Boland for a 19-yard rushing touchdown, giving the Chiefs the 18-7 comfortable lead.
Rumson’s O’Toole again flashed the uptempo air attack that the Purple Bulldogs are known for, finding his wide receiving corps in senior Scott Venancio; juniors Nick Rigby and Sean Trinder; along with junior running back Alastair Orr. They all combined for 10-play, 68-yard drive to cut into Caldwell’s lead 18-14 by the end of the third quarter. Both teams had scoring opportunities in the fourth quarter but each squads’ defenses came up big with stops that shut the opposing offenses down in their tracks. “It wasn’t about jumping on them early; it was about establishing our dominance on the line of scrimmage,” said Caldwell head coach Todd Romano. “We came here to play the Group 2 championship and we knew that they weren’t going to allow us to do that.” Senior Harry Boland said that he knew that everything he did was for the success of his team. Senior QB Luke Kurzum said that he felt that the need to spin out of would be tacklers was based on what the defense gave him when he tossed the ball. Along with Joey Marinello, and Lucas Lattimer, Boland and Kurzum all combined for an impressive 254 yards rushing on a 56 carries. Kurzum would also manage a stellar 9-for-16 passing with 66 yards while being sacked once.
Although Rumson–Fair Haven wasn’t available for postgame interviews, they did have a relatively stellar day. QB Owen O’Toole finished the day with 19 completions on 37 attempts for 212 yards. Alastair Orr carried the ball 19 times for 94 yards on the day, while Brayden Dill carried the ball 4 times for 8 yards and a touchdown. O’Toole also chipped in with 3 rushes for 15 yards and a touchdown. The Purple Bulldogs Receiving Corp would combine for 18 catches for 204 yards with Nick Rigby leading the way with 10 catches for 109 yards on the day.
Both defenses would turn in a good performance as the Chiefs would finish the day with a combined 32 tackles while the Chiefs offense kept the Purple Bulldogs defense busy with a combined 42 tackles. Rumson–Fair Haven senior LB Luke Mikolajczyk led the day with a hefty 14 tackles that included 2 tackles for loss.
Caldwell will continue to have the state’s longest active winning streak at 28 games completing the 2022 season at a perfect 13-0.
Photos Courtesy of Kerry E. Porter