WOODBRIDGE, NJ- For the second year in a row, the Randolph Rams football saw their successful season come to an end in the semifinals of the NJSIAA North 1 Group 4 state playoffs, after a 14-13 loss to Woodbridge on Friday Nov. 15.
Facing an undefeated Woodbridge team ( 9-0 ) who looked surprisingly beatable, a combination of injuries, turnovers, and a blocked extra point ultimately lead to the Rams demise. While the defense was mostly intact, he Rams offense had key players who were limited due to various injuries, and that was evident in both the play calling and the execution to anyone who has watched them this year.
“We have a next man up mentality, and we don’t make excuses for players being banged up,” said Coach Will Nahan. “We prepare every single person so that when their number is called, they are ready to go.”
Both offenses shot out of the gate right from the start, and the game appeared as though it could turn into a track meet.
Randolph won the toss and took the opening kickoff, needing only a few plays to strike first. After a bit of luck on a third down fumble that was recovered just past the first down marker, the Rams took an early lead on the very next play.
Senior QB Matt Kleiven dropped back to pass and found Tom Colombaris open over the middle. Colombaris made a one-handed grab at the 25 yard line and sprinted to the end zone for a 57 yard TD and a 7-0 Rams lead.
The Barrons then took the ensuing kickoff and marched on a methodical drive down the field to tie the game at 7-7.
From there the defense on both sides tightened up and neither team was able to score again in the half. The Rams had the best scoring chance when they moved to the 15 yard line in the second quarter, but their Field Goal attempt was blocked, and became another miscue that would hurt them later on in the evening.
In that second quarter, DB Corey Neclario made two nice pass breakups for the Rams on deep ball attempts to help slow the Barrons offense, which came in averaging 28 points per game.
Woodbridge came out of the halftime locker room with the ball, and just like their first possession of the game they went the length of the field to score. They relied on their Division I recruit Ali Lee to run the ball, and he ultimately scored on a 1 yard touchdown run to grab a 14 to 7 lead.
Junior Jake Blumenthal then returned the kickoff to the Woodbridge 30, but a holding penalty brought it back to the Rams 25
A 40-yard pass from Kleiven to Justin Lawler, and a 20-yard pass on third and 15 to Justin Townsend had the Rams on the move and into scoring territory again. But a fumble stalled the drive on the Woodbridge 25.
Randolph then stopped the Barrons on downs, but a penalty gave the ball back to Woodbridge. A few plays later, Kevin Jung came up with a big third down sack to force a punt.
The Rams started to move again early in the fourth quarter, and after a 40-yard run by Townsend, they had the ball on the 32 yard line of Woodbridge.
Kleiven then launched a pass to Lawler in the left corner of the end zone, where the junior out worked the defender and came down with a juggling catch for a 32-yard TD catch.
But the Rams were then stunned when Lee made a huge play for his team, coming off the right edge to block the point after try, leaving the Rams behind 14-13 with ten minutes left.
The Rams defense did their job again, getting the ball back on downs. But the Barrons defense answered back with 4:30 left when Lee again rose to the occasion and nabbed an interception to stop the Rams drive.
Randolph’s defense held Lee and the Barrons in check one last time, forcing a punt and giving their offense one last chance with just over three minutes left.
A 20-yard pass to Townsend, and a couple defensive penalties helped the Rams move to the 30 yard line and they looked to be in prime position to pull out a win. But they would get no further, as some good pass defense by Lee and a key sack contributed to the ball being turned over when the Rams failed on a fourth and six from the 23 yard line.
The Barrons took a knee on the final few plays, running the clock out on not only the game, but also on the final moments of the Rams seniors careers.
“We have a standard about how we play, my seniors protected that standard and left this place better than when they got here,” said Nahan. “I am so proud to be associate with every member of this team, and I am very happy about what they accomplished.”
The Rams ended their second winning season under Nahan, who has re-invigorated the Randolph football program, having posted a 15-8 record with two straight state sectional semifinal appearances. They plan to return next season hungry for more.
“Our expectation is to be a playoff team every year and continue to chase a championship,” said Nahan. “We are going to chase perfection here, knowing that we will never settle for average in our program.”