What a way for Union and Westfield to continue regular season play against each other than to have both teams undefeated in a highly-anticipated mid-season clash.
The Union County powers – now back in the same division in the Mid-State 38 Conference and now back to playing each other in the regular season after not having done so the past two years – will mix it up Saturday at 1 p.m. at Westfield’s Gary Kehler Stadium.
Both teams are 3-0 and tied for first place in the Mid-State’s newly-formed Watchung Division, which includes all five Union County Group 5 schools in addition to Somerset County squads Watchung Hills and Ridge.
Union is 3-0 overall, with the Farmers coming off their bye week after producing convincing double-digit victories over Watchung Hills (40-13), Plainfield (35-0) and Elizabeth (21-7). Those three teams have a combined record of 2-10.
Westfield is 4-0 overall, with the Blue Devils executing double-digit triumphs vs. Linden (30-0), Ridge (35-21), Franklin (37-10) and Watchung Hills (40-14). Those four squads have a combined record of 4-12.
Each team has one shutout, with Westfield blanking Linden on the road and Union whitewashing Elizabeth at home.
Without senior running back Matt Varano, who is out for the season after suffering a knee injury in the Franklin win that required surgery, Westfield still led Watchung Hills last Friday night by the score of 40-0 in the second quarter.
The last two Union-Westfield meetings also took place at Gary Kehler Stadium, with Westfield winning 44-14 in last year’s North 2, Group 5 semifinals and Union winning 25-14 in 2013, which was the last time the teams faced each other in regular season play.
After 2013, Westfield came out of the Mid-State’s Delaware Division and moved into the Watchung Division, which it captured last year with a perfect 7-0 league mark. Westfield will also be facing Elizabeth this year – Oct. 14 at Elizabeth to be exact – for the first time since 2013.
“When the Mid-State first changed and we didn’t play Linden for two years (2012 and 2013), I thought that was weird,” Westfield head coach Jim DeSarno, now in his 11th season at the helm of the Blue Devils, said. “The last two years when our schedule changed we didn’t play Union and Elizabeth. It was an empty feeling.
“Union has a great tradition and good football program and we should be playing them.”
“Throughout my childhood Union always played Westfield,” Union head coach Lou Grasso, Jr., in his fourth season at the helm of the Farmers, said. “Our conference was smart to get the natural rivalries back together. The Group 5 Union County teams should all be playing each other.”
While Union has a modest three-game winning streak after ending last year’s 5-6 campaign with a two-game slide, Westfield presently has the state’s longest winning streak at 17 games, including last year’s first 12-0 campaign. The Blue Devils have won 14 consecutive regular season contests.
Both the 17- and 14-game winning streaks started with a 6-0 victory at Plainfield on Thanksgiving 2014.
“What we did last year was done last year and all the trophies have been put in the case,” DeSarno said. “This year’s team has a four-game winning streak, not 17.”
Like when Westfield played Linden twice two years ago, including in the North 2, Group 5 semifinals, the Farmers and Blue Devils may be destined to play twice this year. Both Union and defending champion Westfield are heavy favorites to be two of the eight teams that qualify for next month’s 2016 N2, G5 field.
Union and Westfield’s last losses have come at Linden, with Union losing to the Tigers 35-14 the night before Thanksgiving last year and Westfield falling to the eventual champion Tigers 14-6 in the 2014 North 2, Group 5 semifinals.
Union is attempting to join the Union County contingency that so far has succeeded once the state went to a Group 5 section for the first time in 2012. So far the first four North 2, Group 5 champions have been Elizabeth in 2012, Ridge in 2013, Linden in 2014 and Westfield in 2015. Union fell in the 2013 final and Elizabeth in 2014.
When Linden won in 2014 it was the program’s second state championship in the playoff era and first since the Tigers captured North 2, Group 3 in 1985.
When Westfield won in 2015 it was the program’s third state championship in the playoff era and first since the Blue Devils repeated as North 2, Group 4 champions in 1977.
Union has not won a state championship since 1993, although the Farmers still hold the record for the most playoff titles won in North 2, Group 4 at 10.
While most people view Saturday’s game as one that should be relatively close, there is precedent for such a highly-visible matchup between the two that did not turn out that way.
We start with last year’s playoff game, one in which Union was coming off a first-ever playoff win at Piscataway, coming back in the fourth quarter to stun the host Chiefs.
Westfield first scored on a long pass and then recovered a fumble deep in Union territory and quickly scored again. The Blue Devils then scored on another pass play and followed that up with another TD long run.
An interception for a touchdown put Westfield up by five touchdowns just two minutes into the second quarter.
To Union’s credit, after the Farmers scored two touchdowns, there was a moment in the third quarter when they had momentum following a defensive stop on a running play. However, Westfield broke the ensuing play for a long gain and scored again to really put the game out of reach.
“From what was at stake and how prepared we were and the excitement going in, that was a rough day for us,” Grasso said. “We didn’t give ourselves a chance. They were a very good team, but you can’t make the kind of mistakes we did and expect to have a chance.
“We don’t want to dwell on last year’s game. A lot of our guys on the field that day remember it. We all remember it.”
“Even with the big lead we had we knew the game wasn’t over,” DeSarno said. “Union made a comeback and we had to continue to play good football in order to win.”
Another example would be the 2009 playoff-cutoff week game where Union was home and undefeated at 7-0, while Westfield came in at 5-2 and on a four-game winning streak.
Westfield was equally successful with its running and passing games on offense and played even better defensively en route to a stunning 35-14 triumph. Union lost standout senior running back Isaiah McLean to injury in that game and finished 7-3, while Westfield went on to reach the North 2, Group 4 semifinals for the second time in three years.
BOTH QUARTERBACKS OFF TO GOOD STARTS
Senior signal-callers Justin Beckett for Union and Philip Martini for Westfield can both make things happen and on a dime for their offenses.
Beckett has rushed for seven touchdowns and passed for three others so far, scoring at least twice in each Union victory. He rushed for 160 yards, scored three touchdowns and passed for one in Union’s season-opening home win over Watchung Hills. Beckett has also completed touchdown passes to Hansley Cenescar, Nasir Wooten and Andy Martin.
Also producing rushing touchdowns for the Farmers have been senior running backs Jeron Whitfield and Al-Tariq Jones and also Martin, who is a junior.
Whitfield has rushed for 356 yards on 42 carries and two touchdowns and Beckett for 305 on 29.
Senior Mike Matullo, a former soccer player, became Union’s placekicker against Plainfield and is a perfect 8-for-8 on extra point kicks so far. Union’s punter is freshman Andrew Sanborn.
Martini has completed 26-of-52 passes for 457 yards, with 10 TDs and only one interception. He had a 4-TD passing game against Watchung Hills.
His favorite targets are senior Jack Shirk, who has 16 catches for 239 yards and five touchdowns, and Mike Moriarty, who has seven receptions for 164 yards and 4 TDs. Moriarty is also 13-for-14 on extra point kicks.
Senior Ishmael Glasco is Westfield’s leading rusher with 368 yards on 50 carries, six of them reaching the end zone. Varano carred 40 times for 301 yards and two touchdowns before he got injured. Glasco also returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown.
Defensive standouts for Union include senior ends Mike Tverdov and Chris Bournes, who have combined for eight of the team’s nine sacks so far, Tverdov with five and Bournes with three. Other prominent players on the unit include senior tackles Justin Bogan and Darrell Davis, junior linebacker Arthur Pinckney and Beckett and first-year player Ryan Dolce in the secondary.
Tverdov, a three-year starter, will play his college ball at Rutgers. His older brother Peter, a 2005 UHS graduate, played at Rutgers from 2005-2008.
Westfield is sparked defensively by all four linemen being returning starters. They include senior Owen Kessler and junior Jake Vall-Llobera at ends and seniors Nick Maher and Jeff Gagum at tackle. Kessler has produced four of the team’s six sacks.
Glasco, with two interceptions, is also a returning starter in the secondary.
UNION HEAD COACH LOU GRASSO JR.
ON WESTFIELD’S 4-0 START: “I see a lot of the same stuff from last year. They have a very active defense. They are strong on all three levels. Offensively, they just execute well and don’t make a lot of mistakes.”
ON UNION’S 3-0 START: “I’m happy with it. We haven’t really played a complete game yet, but you can never complain about wins in this conference. Our defense has played pretty well. Our special teams have been better than expected and were a big bonus in the Elizabeth game.”
HOW HUNGRY ARE HIS KIDS TO COME OUT ON TOP?: “We’re just trying to get better every single game. We’re just trying to go 1-0 each week and the kids have bought into that. With last week off it feels like we haven’t played in a while. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. It really doesn’t matter. You have to show up ready to play.”
WESTFIELD HEAD COACH JIM DeSARNO
ON UNION’S 3-0 START: “They’re big, physical and have some speed. Their quarterback is better and a threat to run and throw the ball. They also have a ton of big kids playing at a big level. It’s a typical Union team.”
ON WESTFIELD’S 4-0 START: “We’ve played well. Defensively, we’ve really been solid. The kids we returned have raised the levels of their games and our new starters have caught on quickly. We’re playing at a high level on defense, with our four returning linemen really pushing the whole team.”
ON LOSS OF VARANO, ROLE GLASCO NOW PLAYS AND THE REST OF THE OFFENSE: “Losing Matt was definitely a big blow. Ishmael has worked very hard and we’ll keep going forward with him. Jack (Shirk) was a big part of our offense last year and Mike Moriarty, who just kicked last year, and Phil (Martini) have been battery mates a long time. It’s nice to have two kids who can catch the ball and Phil has done a nice job so far.”
Union has only given up three scores in three games, while Westfield’s starting defense has yielded only three touchdowns in four games, all against Ridge.
“Defense is still our bread and butter,” DeSarno said. “Offensively, our guys want to get involved, too.”
“I like what I see on the field first and we want to be disciplined regardless,” Grasso said. “What we preach doesn’t always work out that way. We have to be disciplined against Westfield. They very seldom give you any breaks.”
UNION’S MULTIPLE OFFENSE:
G Alex Acevedo, junior, (5-9, 220)
G Carl Lockard, senior, (6-0, 230)
C Jose Rivera, junior, (5-9, 230)
T Darrell Davis, senior, (6-3, 285)
T Chauncey Caffey, junior, (6-3, 235)
TE Mike Tverdov, senior, (6-4, 235)
QB Justin Beckett, senior, (5-10, 170)
RB Jeron Whitfield, senior, (5-11, 185)
RB Al-Tariq Jones, senior, (6-1, 190)
WR Hansly Cenescar, senior, (5-11, 165)
WR Kevin Willis, senior, (6-1, 195)
WR Andy Martin, junior, (5-10, 170)
WR Nasir Wooten, senior, (5-6, 140)
PK Mike Matullo, senior, (5-1, 135)
Returning starters (5): Davis, Tverdov,
Beckett, Whitfield, Jones.
UNION’S 52 DEFENSE:
E Mike Tverdov, senior, (6-4, 235)
E Chris Bournes, senior, (6-0, 215)
T Justin Bogan, senior, (6-4, 295)
T Darrell Davis, senior, (6-3, 285)
T Alex Acevedo, junior, (5-9, 220)
T Ndiaye Madiama, junior, (6-0, 240)
LB Bryce Wilson, senior, (5-10, 190)
LB Arthur Pinckney, junior, (5-10, 200)
DB Justin Beckett, senior, (5-10, 170)
DB Al-Tariq Jones, senior, (6-1, 190)
DB Hansly Cenescar, senior, (5-11, 165)
DB Rowland Miller, senior, (5-10, 165)
DB Adens Georges, senior, (5-7, 160)
DB Ryan Dolce, senior, (5-8, 160)
P Andrew Sanborn, freshman, (5-10, 155)
Returning starters (6): Tverdov, Bournes,
Bogan, Wilson, Beckett, Jones.
UNION FARMERS (3-0)
(H) Union 40, Watchung Hills 13
(A) Union 35, Plainfield 0
(H) Union 21, Elizabeth 7
Oct. 8 at Westfield, 1 p.m.
Oct. 14 Franklin, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 at Ridge, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28 Bridgewater-Raritan, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4 at Hunterdon Central, 7 p.m.
Nov. 24 Linden, 10:30 a.m.
Head coach: Lou Grasso, Jr.,
fourth season: 20-16 (.555)
Section: North 2, Group 5
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Watchung 3-0
Points for: 96
Points against: 20
WESTFIELD’S MULTIPLE PRO OFFENSE:
T Max Schwetie, senior, (6-3, 265)
T Brett Spass, senior, (6-1, 255)
C Jack McCauley, junior, (6-3, 260)
G Fran Alliegro, junior, (5-11, 220)
G Rory McGovern, junior, (5-11, 210)
G Conor Root, senior (6-2, 250)
TE Kyle Dombroski, senior, (6-4, 210)
QB Philip Martini, senior, (6-2, 200)
RB Matt Varano, senior, (5-10, 185) – out for season
RB Ishmael Glasco, senior, (5-10, 190)
FB Jacob Kaplan, senior, (6-0, 200)
WR Jack Shirk, senior, (5-11, 180)
WR Mike Moriarty, senior, (5-11, 175)
WR Adam McDaniel, junior (6-0, 180)
WR Steve Barden, junior, (6-0, 180)
PK Mike Moriarty, senior, (5-11, 175)
Returning starters (7): Schwetie, Spass,
McCauley, Dombroski, Martini, Shirk,
WESTFIELD’S 4-4 DEFENSE:
E Owen Kessler, senior, (6-4, 230)
T Nick Maher, senior, (6-0, 220)
T Jeff Gagum, senior, (6-0, 245)
E Jake Vall-Llobera, junior, (6-2, 195)
T Will Swartz, senor, (5-10, 220)
ILB Shea Elliott, junior, (6-0, 200)
LB Jake Dayon, junior, (5-7, 180)
OLB Conor Scanlon, senior, (5-10, 180)
CB Ishmael Glasco, senior, (5-10, 190)
CB Kyle Shirk, senior, (5-10, 180)
FS Ben Kelly, senior, (6-0, 185)
B Steve Barden, junior, (6-0, 180)
B Adam McDaniel, junior (6-0, 180)
P Kyle Dombroski, senior, (6-4, 210)
Returning starters (6): Kessler, Maher,
Gagum, Vall-Llobera, Glasco, Dombroski.
WESTFIELD BLUE DEVILS (4-0)
(A) Westfield 30, Linden 0
(H) Westfield 35, Ridge 21
(H) Westfield 37, Franklin 10
(A) Westfield 40, Watchung Hills 14
Oct. 8 Union, 1 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Elizabeth, 7 p.m.
Oct. 22 Immaculata, 1 p.m.
Nov. 5 at Scotch Plains, 2 p.m.
Nov. 24 at Plainfield, 11 a.m.
Head coach: Jim DeSarno,
11th season: 73-36 (.670)
Section: North 2, Group 5
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Watchung 3-0
Points for: 142
Points against: 45
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE
WATCHUNG DIVISION STANDINGS:
1-Westfield (3-0, 4-0)
Union (3-0, 3-0)
3-Ridge (2-1, 3-1)
Elizabeth (2-1, 2-2)
5-Plainfield (0-2, 0-4)
6-Linden (0-3, 1-3)
Watchung Hills (0-3, 0-4)
UNION VS. WESTFIELD THIS DECADE:
2015: Westfield 44, Union 14 – N2, G5 semifinal at Westfield
2015: Did not play
2014: Did not play
2013: Union 25, Westfield 14 – at Westfield
2012: Union 35, Westfield 23 – at Union
2011: Westfield 37, Union 35 – at Westfield
2010: Westfield 17, Union 7 – at Union