By: Alex Melillo
PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Two seasons removed from ending a 25 game losing streak, the Pioneers toppled Central Jersey perennial heavyweight Rumson-Fair Haven 20-15. The Bulldogs had won four consecutive state titles and had won 17 playoff games in a row.
The win gives the Pioneers their first title in 23 years.
Saturday nights matchup at High Point Solutions Stadium was a battle of the trenches. With both teams boasting two of the best running games in the area, both defenses stacked the box and tried to set the tone.
Pioneers got close on their first drive but came up empty as they turned it over on downs deep in Bulldogs territory. After the defense stood strong against RFH, the Pioneers came up with the answers they needed on offense.
Jahaln Dabney, from 4-yards out, powered his way into the end zone for the first score of the game with just over five minutes left in the opening quarter. A converted two-point try gave Somerville the early 8-0 lead.
Both defensive units continued to dominate through most of the rest of the first half but, with about a minute left, and after converting three 3rd down conversions Rumson was able to reach paydirt. The 2 point conversion tied the score at 8.
The Pioneers, however, did not just run the clock out in the half, preferring, as has often been the case, to try and drive the length of the field. They were successful in quickly moving the ball to the 18-yard line before a 15-yard penalty stalled their efforts.
Both sides went into the break deadlocked at 8.
The second half started with Rumson receiving the kick and promptly driving to the Ville 35 yard line but, the Somerville defense led by Ryan Hrabinski and Joe Ciempola held firm and, after a punt, the offense went to work.
This time it was Dabney doing it with his arm. With 2:36 left in the third quarter, he faked the run up the middle and found a wide-open Kyree Hinton in the seam for the 36-yard touchdown pass.
A failed two-point try meant the Pioneers held onto a one-possession lead, 14-8.
The Pioneers took their lead into the fourth quarter and held onto it for a good portion of the final frame before the Bulldogs fought back.
Rumson-Fair Haven, with just over three minutes left on the clock, converted on multiple fourth-down attempts capping off their long drive with a 14-yard touchdown run.
After the PAT kick hit the left upright and went over the crossbar by inches, the Bulldogs held their first lead of the game, 15-14.
The Somerville Pioneers, with a throng of supporters cheering wildly from the stands, didn't panic!
After an incredible forward flip from Dabney to Fiorentino secured a first down at midfield, Ciempola hauled in a pass from Dabney and went 45 yards all the to the Bulldog 5-yard line with 1:09 remaining.
From there it was all about strength and determination. With:53 seconds left on the clock and the State Championship on the line, the Pioneers just refused to lose!
With both Ryan Kovacs and Dabney lined up in the backfield, and Rumson not knowing what to expect, Dabney took the direct snap and powered his way in for the score, sealing the win and the first title since 1994 for the Somerville Pioneers.
Jahaln Dabney led the Pioneer offense in passing and running against the Bulldogs. He finished 14 of 22 for 211 yards and one touchdown through the air and also chipped in 84 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. After being outmuscled last year by the Bulldog defensive front, the Somerville O line was outstanding in providing the protection needed to throw the ball.
The Pioneer defense played their finest game of the year against a deadly Rumson-Fair Haven rushing attack. Prior to the game, star tailback Peter Lucas averaged 211 yards rushing and almost 3 TD's per game this season. Saturday night, the Pioneers contained Lucas and limited him to just 86 yards and one touchdown.
Leading the way on defense was Joseph Ciempola. The junior linebacker was asked with stopping the running game and came up big, delivering seven tackles as well as a sack.
The Pioneers faithful witnessed the last game in the Orange and Black for seniors Hamza Akel, Ryan Hrabinski, Owen Booker, Marcus Burnside, Michael Desarno, Ryan Kovacs, Thomas Malakio, Jake Pidgeon, Ryan Pedrani, and Raghava Sampath Kumar.