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By Scott Stump - Shore Sports Network Contributor

HAZLET – Raritan’s deflating 28-7 loss to Haddonfield in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 2 final at a packed Joseph J. DeVirgilio Field on Friday night was a frustrating illustration of how executing in crucial spots can be more important than putting up bigger overall numbers when a championship is on the line.

The top-seeded Rockets (6-5) outgained the third-seeded Bulldawgs 290-255 and had 17 first downs compared to 10 for Haddonfield, but the Bulldawgs (9-2) made all the pivotal plays at the most important moments to capture their sixth sectional title in the last 11 years and deny Raritan its first title since 2015.

Haddonfield senior quarterback Carson Wolff completed only two passes in the game, but they were both backbreakers on third-and-long that set up touchdowns. Senior tailback Bobby Hahn made the most of his touches by averaging 9.9 yards per carry on his way to a 138-yard, two-touchdown night.

Every time it looked like Raritan was going to get back into the game on its home field, Haddonfield came up with a big stop on defense, a turnover, or a scoring drive that took the wind out of the home crowd. The defense produced three turnovers and two crucial fourth down stops.

“They made plays when they needed to,” Raritan head coach Anthony Petruzzi said. “They came up with the ball in all these situations. It's a credit to them. They're a perennial powerhouse. They live in this game, and I have a lot of respect for their coaching staff and their kids. They were the better team tonight. They made the plays when they needed to, and we didn't.”

The Bulldawgs move on to face South Jersey Group 2 champion Point Boro in an NJSIAA bowl game at a time and neutral site to be announced.

Haddonfield set the tone from the outset after Raritan won the toss and elected to take the ball first with an offense that was coming off a 41-point effort in a semifinal win over Hillside. The Rockets were at Haddonfield’s 23-yard line within five plays thanks to the running of junior Kieran Falzon, who finished with a game-high 143 yards on 22 carries to cap a brilliant season.

Joseph Szutyanyi

However, the Bulldawgs made three straight stops on run plays and then forced an incompletion on fourth down to halt any momentum Raritan had to start the game.

“That was huge because we know this team starts strong and comes out swinging, so to get a first-drive stop was huge,” Wolff said. “We knew if we get a stop on the first drive, it's only going to be easier from there.”

After going three-and-out, Haddonfield avoided disaster by being able to get away a punt from just in front of the goal line despite a high snap over the punter’s head to avoid a turnover that could’ve changed the whole feel of the game.

Once again, Raritan drove down to the Haddonfield 25-yard line, but the Bulldawgs responded by forcing incompletions on third and fourth downs to leave the Rockets empty-handed.

It was pretty much all Haddonfield after those two big stops, as the Bulldawgs took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard quarterback keeper by Wolff with 8:57 in the second quarter and never looked back. The touchdown was set up by a 37-yard pass on third-and-9 in which Wolff threw a rainbow into a thicket of players and junior wide receiver Carl Forebaugh came down with it at Raritan’s 7-yard line.

Haddonfield’s defense then forced a three-and-out, and the Bulldawgs made it 14-0 with a six-play, 95-yard drive that ended with a 42-yard burst down the sideline by Hahn with 4:29 left in the half.

The opening drive of the third quarter loomed large as far as Haddonfield preventing Raritan from getting the crowd back into it and starting a comeback. The Bulldawgs drove 66 yards in nine plays, which included a huge 26-yard pass on third-and-17 in which Wolff rolled out and found senior wideout Dante Del Duca to keep the drive alive.

“I know I have great chemistry with Dante Del Duca, and I trust him to catch hard passes, and I trusted him there and he came down with it,” Wolff said.

“It's always a momentum swing when teams convert on third down, that's why it's so important to find ways to get off the field,” Petruzzi said. “We weren't in the right spot, and that's on me.”

Wolff capped the drive with a 17-yard touchdown run with 6:39 left in the third quarter for a 21-0 lead.

“We got a hell of a running back in Bobby Hahn, so when he goes out left, a lot of guys go with him, so I was able to pull it, keep it, and had only green grass in front of me,” Wolff said.

Raritan finally got on the board with an eight-play, 79-yard drive capped by a 26-yard touchdown run by Falzon to make it 21-7 with 3:02 left in the third quarter.

While Falzon had a big night, Haddonfield neutralized the perimeter running of slotbacks Joe Campanella and Dan Calicari in Raritan’s flexbone offense, who had been important playmakers in the run to the title game, and forced the Rockets to throw the ball much more than they normally would. The Rockets only had 18 yards rushing outside of Falzon's carries.

“They're a good tackling team, they play with their feet on the ground, and they see it and go,” Petruzzi said.

Following Falzon’s touchdown run, the Rockets forced a three-and-out and had a chance to make it a one-score game, but once again, Haddonfield came up with a huge play by recovering a fumble on an errant pitch at the Raritan 21-yard line.

Two plays later, Hahn scored from 20 yards out to make it 28-7 on the first play of the fourth quarter, and then Del Duca all but sealed the game with a 49-yard interception return to kill Raritan’s ensuing drive.

It was a disappointing end to an impressive run by the Rockets, who were 1-3 at one point of the season and rallied all the way back to reach their first state final in six years.

Raritan returns Falzon, who finished with more than 1,500 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns as a junior, as well as Calicari, but will graduate Campanella, senior quarterback Ben Hutchins, and a host of key seniors up front and on defense.

“When you lose in a game like this, it's always bittersweet, but I'm going to remember where we were when we were sitting there at 1-3,” Petruzzi said. “I'm going to remember how much these guys just continued to come to work and fight every day to get better. And I'm going to remember the perseverance and how they fought through adversity to get us here.”

 

Box score

Haddonfield 28, Raritan 7

.                                                R                    H

First downs                           17                  10

Rushes-yards                   34-161           25-192

Passing                            10-32-2             2-6-0

Passing yards                      129               63

Penalties                              8-44              2-10

Fumbles-lost                       1-1                 2-0

 

Haddonfield (9-2)   0   14  7  7   - 28

Raritan (6-5)            0     0  7  0 -     7

 

Scoring summary

H: Wolff 1-yard run (Cutter kick).

H: Hahn 42-yard run (Cutter kick).

H: Wolff 17-yard run (Cutter kick).

R: Falzon 26-yard run (Spengler kick).

H: Hahn 20-yard run (Cutter kick).

 

Individual statistics

Rushing – R: Falzon 22-143, Calicari 3-11, Campanella 4-13, Hutchins 5-(-6). H: Hahn 14-138, Wolff 11-54.

Passing – R: Hutchins 10-32-2 129; (H) Wolff 2-6-0 63.

Receiving – R: Falzon 2-25, Moser 3-37, Calicari 1-10, Campanella 2-26, Murphy 1-14, Scarola 1-17. H: Forebaugh 1-37, Del Duca 1-26.

Interceptions – H: Foley 1-5, Del Duca 1-49.

 

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