Westwood wins 2023 NJSIAA Football Group2 championship.
Westwood's Dante Downey celebrates the Cardinals' 2023 NJSIAA Group 2 championship. (Photo by Andee Fagan - JSN)

Westwood captures Group 2 state championship in OT thriller

The Westwood Cardinals (13-0) rallied for a dramatic 21-20 overtime win against the Rumson Fair-Haven Bulldogs (8-5) in the NJSIAA Group 2 State Championship Game at SHI Stadium(Rutgers University) in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Westwood reached the final by blanking Bernards 17-0 in the semifinals. Conversely, Rumson edged past Willingboro 35-28 to book their ticket to the championship game.

Rumson caught an early break on the opening kickoff, with Bulldogs Cole Pangborn recovering a fumble at the Cardinals 31-yard line.

The Bulldogs kept the ball on the ground with running back Alastair Orr running the ball seven out of eight plays, including a two-yard touchdown that chewed up almost four minutes off the clock.

Late in the second quarter, Westwood had the ball at their 42-yard line after a Bulldogs' punt. Cardinals quarterback Robbie Carcich completed a pass to wide receiver Tommy Bussanich that moved the ball down to the Rumson 33-yard line.

A roughing of the passer penalty called against the Bulldog's defense pushed the ball to the Rumson 18-yard line. Carcich connected with Bussanich on an eight-yard pass that advanced the ball to the three-yard line. On first and goal, Aidan Dugan plowed through into the end zone for the score with 53 seconds remaining.

On Rumson's second drive of the second half, the Bulldogs started with an excellent starting field position at the Westwood 44-yard line. Rumson's pound and ground attack worked perfectly on seven consecutive plays, with the ball sitting at the Cardinal's eight-yard line.

The Bulldogs' offense caught Westwood off guard on first and goal with a pass that worked out brilliantly as quarterback Owen O'Toole lofted a touchdown pass to tight end Jack Gyimesi in the back of the end zone as Rumson reclaimed the lead 14-7 with 5:16 left.

In the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs had a golden opportunity to extend their advantage, but the Cardinals dug a line in the sand with a tremendous goal-line defense that forced a turnover on downs.

However, Westwood was backed up deep in their territory at the one-yard line. That presented no problem for quarterback Robbie Carcich as he heaved a 31-yard pass to wide receiver Joe Klein.

Carcich completed an 11-yard pass to Tommy Bussanich, advancing the ball to the Rumson 37-yard line. The Cardinals' offense churned out yardage on the ground to move deeper into Bulldog's territory, with Carcich running six out of eight plays and running back Aidan Dugan getting a couple of carries.

With 10 seconds remaining, Westwood faced a second and goal at the Rumson six-yard line. Carcich took the snap, then rolled out of the pocket to his right and hurled a pass to Bussanich as he kept his feet in bounds while in the end zone. Cardinals' kicker Sean Morrison booted home the extra point that sent the game into overtime tied at 14-14.

The Bulldogs got the first offensive possession in the extra session. Rumson relied on their well-oiled machine running game, with Orr running the ball on four consecutive plays.

On first and goal at the two-yard line, the Bulldogs switched up the formation with tight end Jackson Gallagher taking the direct snap and surging into the end zone for the score.

The extra point turned into a setback for Rumson as Westwood's Aidan Dugan blocked the kick.

The Cardinals' offense replicated the Bulldog's offense by running the ball four times in a row. Carcich found his favorite target, Bussanich, on a 10-yard completion that pushed the ball to the four-yard line.

Westwood attempted to keep grinding away on the ground, but that backfired with two running plays, netting a minus 10 yards as the ball ended up back at the 14-yard line.

Facing a third-down situation, Carcich took the snap, then dropped back in the pocket and unleashed a pass down the middle of the seam as Bussanich reeled in the catch and crossed the goal line.

A critical extra point looming, Sean Morrison displayed ice water in his veins, belting home the kick that set off pandemonium as Cardinals players and coaches streamed onto the field and hugged each other. Meanwhile, the Westwood fans' section celebrated feverishly. The Cardinals wrapped up a memorable season, undefeated at 13-0 and state sectional and group champions.

For more scenes from the 2023 NJSIAA Football Group 2 Championship, check out more of Andee Fagan’s photos from the game.

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