The Somerville Pioneers won their first state title since 1994, beating Rumson-Fair Haven 20-15 in the Central Jersey Group 3 Championship game at Rutgers' High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway Saturday night.
The Bulldogs had won four straight sectional finals - two in Group 2, the last two in Group 3 - but the second-seeded Pioneers had something to say about that. They said it with stellar defense.
The game was tied 8-8 at the half, when Somerville went up 14-8 on a 38-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jalahn Dabney to sophomore receiver Kyree Hinton with 2:36 remaining in the third quarter. But the two-point pass failed.
Rumson would tie the game at 14 with 3:13 left in the fourth, on a 14-yard TD run by senior Peter Lucas. Quinn Doherty's kick hit the left upright, but bounced in, to give the Bulldogs a 15-14 lead.
Following the kickoff, Somerville would start its drive on their own 34-yard line. And they moved down the field thanks in large part to a 45-yard pass play from Dabney to Joe Ciempola. That set up first and goal at the Rumson 5. On second down, Dabney punched it in from two yards out following a Somerville time out.. Again, the two point try failed, but it wouldn't matter. Rumson went three and out on their ensuing possession, and it was all over.
Somerville had completed a remarkable turnaround, from a 26-game losing streak that ended in the midst of a two-win season in 2015, to a team that has won 21 games in two seasons, adding a Central Jersey Group 3 title to cap it off under second-year head coach, and former Devils' owner, Jeff Vanderbeek.
It's the 11th state title for the Pioneers, their 8th in the playoff era, and first since they beat Manasquan in 1994.
Hear head coach Jeff Vanderbeek's comments to WCTC's Dom Savino after the game here: