Playoff football finally here for 11 Union County squads; 7 in action Friday night, 4 more Saturday

Defending North 2, Group 3 champion Cranford hosting first playoff game in eight years

PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI:
Cranford is led by seniors, from left, Chris Folinusz and Reggie Green.

We’ve all heard of a perfect 10.

How about a perfect 11?

There are 11 Union County football teams putting in their final preparations for first round playoff games.

One of them – Roselle Park – qualified for the first time in 11 years.

Another one – Union – will, again, attempt to win its 11th playoff title.

What number does the best player in Union County – with no disrespect to Cranford senior Reggie Green – don? That’s No. 11. That’s Elizabeth senior and Temple-bound quarterback Phillip Walker, who is 23-17 as a varsity starter since the first game of his freshman season in 2009. Since 2010, Walker’s record as the Minutemen signal-caller is 22-8.

And it was Green who guided Cranford to Union County’s only state championship in 2011.

Add the numbers of two of the other top-shelf players in the county – Dayton senior and Rutgers-bound Anthony Cioffi who wears No. 6 and Summit senior Mike Badgley who wears No. 5 – and you have another prominent 11.

There are plenty of 11s in the house on the eve the 2012 sectional quarterfinals.

On a scale of 1-10, certain teams may have to play on the level of an 11 to advance.

While there are no Union County vs. Union County matchups this weekend – we have 11 Union County teams here who qualified, with 11 separate matchups, seven on Friday night and four more on Saturday afternoon – there is the possibility of four Union County vs. Union County semifinal clashes.

They include:

North 2, Group 5: 5-Union at 1-Elizabeth

North 2, Group 4: 7-Linden at 2-Scotch Plains

North 2, Group 3: 6-Rahway at 2-Cranford

North 2, Group 1: 3-New Providence at 2-Roselle Park

If those matchups are realized, than Union County would be guaranteed of having at least four teams reach sectional finals for the first time since exactly four – Roselle Park, New Providence, Summit and Union – did so in 1993.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

All 11 Union County teams will have their hands full with opposing teams seeking to advance to the semifinals.

For the very first time in program history, Cranford is a defending champion, having won North 2, Group 3 for the initial time a year ago.

Last year only five teams qualified in N2, G3, with third-seeded Cranford receiving a bye with a solid 8-1 (7-1 at the cutoff) record that included just one loss to an undefeated team – Summit.

However, the Cougars were not able to host a playoff game. It didn’t matter. Cranford went on to dominate host and second-seeded Colonia 34-7 in the semifinals and then in the final at Kean blanked fourth-seeded Parsippany Hills 27-0.

This time, with a record of 6-2, Cranford earned the second seed and has a chance to host a quarterfinal and a semifinal. First is a big challenge in seventh-seeded South Plainfield, which will enter Memorial Field Friday night with a 4-4 record and a three-game winning streak.

The Tigers are also no strangers to beating higher-seeded teams. In 2007 they were the eighth seed in this section and went on to win at top-seeded Irvington 18-12 in overtime in the quarterfinals and then won again at fourth-seeded Scotch Plains 16-14 in the semifinals. South Plainfield was then defeated by West Side 20-0 in the final, with the Newark school capturing its first playoff title.

Last year Cranford had one week off before its first playoff game in seven years. This year the Cougars will have had two weeks off before their first playoff game after their home contest against North Plainfield – originally scheduled for Nov. 2 and then attempted to be played again last weekend – could not ultimately be played because of Hurricane Sandy.

“No one expected a layoff like this,” said Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier, in his eighth year at the helm of the Cougars. “It did give us a chance to get some bumps and bruises healed up. We’re ready to go.”

This will be only the third Cranford home playoff game and the first since 2004 when the Cougars were upset by Rahway 20-13 in a Central Jersey, Group 2 quarterfinal. Cranford’s first home playoff game was a 28-21 victory over Voorhees in a 2003 North 2, Group 2 quarterfinal.

“We put ourselves in a position to play a home game,” Rosenmeier said. “We earned a home football game because of the schedule we played and the power points we received.

“This will be a special night for us. We’re looking forward to playing a playoff game in front of our home crowd.”

Cranford’s new team in a new year includes just three returning starters on offense – Green, senior lineman Jeff Weiss and junior lineman Robert O’Shaughnessy – and only four on defense – Green and seniors Chris Folinusz, Nick Diaz and Ryan Farrell.

Green, who verbally committed to Pittsburgh at the end of September, is the player South Plainfield began to game-plan against.

“He’s had an excellent year, an even better one than last year in terms of all the new faces around him,” Rosenmeier said. “After winning a state championship last year, everyone knew who he was this year.

“He had to deal with that, with teams keying on him. He’s still a guy that people have to account for.”

Cranford’s offensive success has also been bolstered by senior running backs Evan Zoughy and Jimmy Dwyer and senior wideout John Oblachinski.

“With our option offense, they’re our other options,” Rosenmeier said.

Zoughy has the speed to get to the outside and sprint down the sidelines, while a slightly bigger Dwyer can pound his way up the middle for huge chunks of yardage.

Not only can Oblachinski (6-2, 190) catch a pass and gain key yardage afterwards, but he can also get behind center and throw the ball effectively to a fellow receiver.

“Our other guys can hurt you on the ground, with Green comfortable handing off to both,” Rosenmeier said. “Oblachinski is sure-handed, a big target.”

In addition, Folinusz (6-3, 230), is another offensive weapon, just as capable of hauling in a pass from the tight end position as he is breaking a long run after taking the handoff from behind the line of scrimmage.

“We can line up Folinusz at any number of places,” Rosenmeier said. “He can run hard and is very physical. That has to be a concern for any team.”

Cranford had to get past a Greater Middlesex Conference team in Colonia last year to advance to the final. South Plainfield is another formidable GMC squad, one that is more than capable of going on the road and winning a playoff game in enemy territory.

“We have a lot of respect for the GMC,” Rosenmeier said. “Those teams play excellent, hard-nosed football. It’s a tough conference.

“We know we’ll be in for a very physical game against South Plainfield. They found ways to win games at the end of the year. We like the way that they played.”

Cranford last played on Oct. 26, defeating Mid-State 38 Conference-Raritan Division foe Johnson 29-3 at Johnson’s Nolan Field in Clark.

After not playing a game the past two weekends, this is Rosenmeier’s biggest concern: “I thought that we played one of our best halves in the second half of the Johnson game and we were looking forward to building off of that.

“That’s always a concern. Hopefully, we can pick up where we left off.

“Our guys are anxious to get on the field and play somebody else.”

Last year’s team was the program’s first to make the playoffs in seven years. Cranford had to perform on the road as well.

“Last year was the first year we made it during my tenure and we didn’t have the luxury of playing at home,” Rosenmeier said. “It was brand new to us. We relied on senior leaders for the most part.

“This year our kids – whether they were a starter last year, or on the bench or on the sidelines or whether they played on special teams – expected to make the playoffs. Our kids now – without being overconfident – expect to win.”

When you throw a team like Summit into North 2, Group 3, that only makes the section stronger.
“The section was a bit maligned last year because only five teams made it,” Rosenmeier said. “I thought the first four teams were all quality football teams with good records and all had a chance to win it.

“The same thing applies this year, but there are more teams. You add teams like Voorhees and Rahway and then Parsippany Hills had another quality season. Summit is the favorite, but I think there are a number of teams that could win it.”

 

FARMERS SEEK FIRST PLAYOFF WIN IN 4 YEARS

Union’s last playoff win came at home over Elizabeth, just one week after beating the Minutemen in Elizabeth in the regular season. That was in the North 2, Group 4 quarterfinals in 2008.

Union was ousted by Elizabeth last year in the N2, G4 quarterfinals at Elizabeth’s Williams Field after beating the Minutemen at home when Elizabeth was 5-0.

This weekend the Farmers will be seeking their first playoff win in four years in order to face Elizabeth again – this time in a North 2, Group 5 semifinal.

While top-seeded Elizabeth is a heavy favorite to oust eighth-seeded Edison, Union will get another shot at beating Franklin in Franklin in its first-ever N2, G5 quarterfinal.

On Oct. 20 at Franklin, Union was defeated 26-13.

The Farmers, who boast last year’s New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year and the school’s all-time leading rusher – junior running back Jamauri Bogan – will have to go on the road and beat the only two teams they lost to in the regular season, Franklin and Elizabeth, to reach their first sectional final in nine years.

Union lost at Elizabeth 42-7 in Week 2 on Sept. 14, a game that Bogan carried the ball only once after suffering a knee injury.

 

TOUGH TO BEAT A TEAM TWICE IN THE SAME SEASON?

While Franklin will seek to beat Union a second time in two tries, there are a couple of other Union County teams that will face their playoff opponents again.

Scotch Plains, guided by first-year head coach Jonathan Stack, and New Providence, led by first-year head coach Joe Carollo, will once again host – respectively – Warren Hills and Bound Brook.

On Oct. 27 at Tyson Field, host Scotch Plains was defeated by Warren Hills 21-7 in Mid-State 38 Conference-Mountain Division play. Both teams finished with 3-2 division records, while third-seeded Scotch Plains garnered a higher seed in the section because of its better overall record – 5-4 (4-4 at the cutoff) compared to sixth-seeded Warren Hills’ 3-6 (3-5 at the cutoff).

The teams will clash again at Tyson Field Saturday, with a late kickoff scheduled for 2 p.m. because of SATs.

Summit is also scheduled to host Newark West Side in its North 2, Group 3 quarterfinal Saturday at 2 p.m. because of SATs.

Games that are starting at 2 p.m. Saturday because of SATs could be in danger of completing before dark if halftimes of 30 minutes or longer – which are unfortunately the norm nowadays – are tolerated.

This weekend’s other re-match includes sixth-seeded Bound Brook at New third-seeded New Providence. On Oct. 13 at New Providence’s Lieder Field, the host Pioneers whipped the Crusaders 44-27.

New Providence, Union County’s third-highest scoring team behind No. 1 Elizabeth (336) and No. 2 Summit (311), has scored at least 43 points on five occasions, all victories.

 

THIS IS A SPECIAL AND LONG-AWAITED TIME FOR ROSELLE PARK

There is so much more that Roselle Park (6-2) can accomplish this year as the Panthers prepare for an unknown playoff opponent in Hudson County’s Secaucus.

While Roselle Park is in the North 2, Group 1 playoffs for the first time since 2001, conversely, Secaucus qualified in N2, G1 every season from 2003-2010.

Last year the Patriots began 5-0 and then didn’t qualify with a record of 5-3 at the cutoff. Also not qualifying with a better record of 6-2 was Belvidere, who Secaucus lost 20-12 to in the sectional consolation game for both.

Secaucus ended up losing its final five games to finish 5-5, while Belvidere produced a rare 8-2 record in a non-playoff season.

Belvidere moved to North 1, Group 1 this season and will play at Cedar Grove in a quarterfinal. Cedar Grove captured North 2, Group 1 last year for the third time since 2007.

For Roselle Park this year, under first-year head coach Terry Hanratty, this has been a breakthrough season of firsts. Also deserving of credit are freshmen coaches James Foy and Keith Wintermute, both former Roselle Park players. Foy was the varsity head coach from 2006-2011, coming back for one more season in 2011 after Roselle Park Athletic Director John Wagner left to become the head football coach at Point Pleasant Beach.

Roselle Park took it on the chin against the likes of arch rivals Brearley and New Providence, losing to both 10 seasons in a row from 2002-2011. That changed this year when the Panthers defeated both for the first time since the 2001 season.

So here’s what the Panthers, led by transfer junior running back Brian Matthews and veteran seniors Juan Carmona and Frank Schneeberger, have accomplished so far:

First playoff season since 2001

First wins over Brearley and New Providence since 2001

First 6-win season since 2006

First winning season since 2006

First home playoff game since 1996

A chance to win first playoff game since 1993

After facing Secaucus, Roselle Park will attempt to snap another negative streak. The Panthers have lost to Thanksgiving Day rival Roselle the last four years and all by shutouts.

Roselle Park last scored against Roselle and last beat the Rams in the 2007 game, which was a 28-14 win at Roselle’s Arminio Field.

The two will clash next Thursday morning at Roselle Park’s Herm Shaw Field.

 

PLAYOFF STREAKS FOR UNION COUNTY TEAMS:

Elizabeth: second straight season

Union: second straight season

Scotch Plains: first time since 2007

Linden: first time since 2006

Summit: fifth straight season

Cranford: second straight season

Rahway: third straight season

Roselle Park: first time since 2001

New Providence: 11th straight season

Dayton: first time since 2010, third time in four years

Johnson: second straight season

 

THIS WEEK’S PLAYOFF GAMES:

Friday, Nov. 16

North 2, Group 5

8-Edison (4-4) at 1-Elizabeth (8-0), 7 p.m.

North 2, Group 3

7-South Plainfield (4-4) at 2-Cranford (6-2), 7

6-Rahway (5-3) at 3-Palisades Park (7-2), 7

North 2, Group 1

8-Dayton (4-5) at 1-Hoboken (7-2), 7

7-Secaucus (4-5) at 2-Roselle Park (6-2), 7

6-Bound Brook (5-4) at 2-New Providence (6-2), 7

Central Jersey, Group 2

8-Johnson (5-3) at 1-Carteret (8-0), 7

Saturday, Nov. 17

North 2, Group 5

5-Union (5-2) at 4-Franklin (5-3), 1:30 p.m.

North 2, Group 4

7-Linden (2-6) at 2-Barringer (4-4), 1 p.m.

6-Warren Hills (3-6) at 3-Scotch Plains (5-4), 2 p.m.

North 2, Group 3

8-Newark West Side (3-6) at 1-Summit (9-0), 2

 

THIS WEEK’S CONSOLATION GAMES:

Friday, Nov. 16

Westfield at J.P. Stevens, 7 p.m.

Gov. Livingston at Raritan, 7

Hillside at Wood-Ridge, 7

Montclair Immaculate at Brearley, 7

Saturday, Nov. 17

Plainfield at Mendham, 1 p.m.

Cardinal McCarrick at Roselle, 1

 

THIS WEEK’S PLAYOFF PICKS (11)

Elizabeth over Edison

Cranford over South Plainfield

Rahway over Palisades Park

Hoboken over Dayton

Roselle Park over Secaucus

New Providence over Bound Brook

Johnson over Carteret

Union over Franklin

Linden over Barringer

Scotch Plains over Warren Hills

Summit over Newark West Side

Best bet: Elizabeth

Upset special: Johnson

Last week: 6-3

This year: 81-26 (.757)

Best bets: 7-1

Upset specials: 1-8

 

LAST WEEK’S RESULTS:

Friday, Nov. 9

Rahway 29, Roselle 6

Delaware Valley 47, Johnson 6

Bound Brook 26, Brearley 21

Saturday, Nov. 10

Scotch Plains 10, Westfield 2

Roselle Park 35, New Providence 28

Dayton 35, Manville 7

Summit 50, Hillside 0

Linden 23, Bridgewater-Raritan 21

Bernards 42, Gov. Livingston 21

Had games cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy:

Union, Elizabeth, Cranford, Plainfield.

 

UNION COUNTY STATE CHAMPIONS IN THE PLAYOFF ERA:

2011:

Cranford – North 2, Group 3

2010:

New Providence – North 2, Group 1

2009:

Summit – North 2, Group 2

2006:

Brearley – North 2, Group 1

Elizabeth – North 2, Group 4

2002:

Johnson – North 2, Group 2

2000:

Elizabeth – North 2, Group 4

1999:

Elizabeth – North 2, Group 4

1997:

Elizabeth – North 2, Group 4

1995:

Johnson – North 2, Group 2

1994:

Summit – North 2, Group 2

1993:

Union – North 2, Group 4

Summit – North 2, Group 2

Roselle Park – North 2, Group 1

1992:

Union – North 2, Group 4

Roselle Park – North 2, Group 1

1991:

Union – North 2, Group 4

Brearley – North 2, Group 1

1990:

Scotch Plains – North 2, Group 3

1989:

Elizabeth – North 2, Group 4

Roselle – North 2, Group 2

New Providence – North 2, Group 1

1988:

Elizabeth – North 2, Group 4

Summit – North 2, Group 2

New Providence – North 2, Group 1

1987:

Union – North 2, Group 4

New Providence – North 2, Group 1

1986:

Union – North 2, Group 4

Brearley – North 2, Group 1

1985:

Union – North 2, Group 4

Linden – North 2, Group 3

Hillside – North 2, Group 2

Brearley – North 2, Group 1

1984:

Union – North 2, Group 4

Rahway – North 2, Group 3

1982:

Union – North 2, Group 4

1981:

Elizabeth – North 2, Group 4

Brearley – North 2, Group 1

1980:

Summit – North 2, Group 3

1979:

Union – North 2, Group 4

Rahway – North 2, Group 3

Roselle Park (declared) – North 2, Group 1

1978:

Union – North 2, Group 4

Rahway – North 2, Group 3

1977:

Westfield – North 2, Group 4

1976:

Westfield – North 2, Group 4

Summit – North 2, Group 3

New Providence – North 2, Group 2

1974:

New Providence (declared) – North 2, Group 2

 

From 1975-1997 when 4 teams in each section qualified:

4 champions: 1985

3 champions: 1993, 1989, 1988, 1979

2 champions: 2006, 1992, 1991, 1987, 1986, 1984, 1981, 1978, 1976

Years no champions: 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2001, 1998, 1996,

1983, 1975.

Only two teams or one (declared) were selected in each section the first year in 1974, with all the games taking place at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. The sections were expanded to eight teams in 1998.

 

PLAYOFF TITLES:

 

Union 10 (10-4 in N2, G4 final)

Years won: 1978, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1991, 1992, 1993

 

Elizabeth 7 (7-1 in N2, G4 final)

Years won: 1981, 1988, 1989, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2006

 

New Providence 6 (1-2 in N2, G2 final and one title declared,

4-10 in N2, G1 final and 0-1 in CJ, G1 final)

Years won: 1974 (declared), 1976, 1987, 1988, 1989, 2010

 

Summit 6 (4-4 in N2, G2 final and 2-0 in N2, G3 final)

Years won: 1976, 1980, 1988, 1993, 1994, 2009

 

Brearley 5 (5-2 in N2, G1 final and 0-1 in CJ, G1 final)

Years won: 1981, 1985, 1986, 1991, 2006

 

Rahway 3 (3-4 in N2, G3 final)

Years won: 1978, 1979, 1984

 

Roselle Park 3 (2-3 in N2, G1 final and one title declared)

Years won: 1979 (declared), 1992, 1993

 

Westfield 2 (2-0 in N2, G4 final and 0-1 in N2, G3 final)

Years won: 1976, 1977

 

Johnson 2 (2-0 in N2, G2 final and 0-1 in CJ, G2 final)

Years won: 1995, 2002

 

Cranford 1 (1-0 in N2, G3 final)

Year won: 2011

 

Scotch Plains 1 (1-1 in N2, G3 final)

Year won: 1990

 

Roselle 1 (1-1 in N2, G2 final, 0-1 in N2, G1 final)

Year won: 1989

 

Linden 1 (1-1 in N2, G3 final)

Year won: 1985

 

Hillside 1 (1-1 in N2, G2 final)

Year won: 1985

 

ONLY SCHOOLS THAT HAVE NOT WON A PLAYOFF CHAMPIONSHIP:

Plainfield (0-4 in N2, G4 final)

Gov. Livingston (0-2: 0-1 in N2, G1 final and 0-1 in N2, G2 final)

Dayton (0-1 in N2, G2 final)

4 CHAMPIONSHIPS IN A ROW:

Union – 1984-1987 – all in N2, G4

7 FINALS IN A ROW:

Union – 1981-1987 – all in N2, G4 (5-2)

4 FINALS IN A ROW:

Summit – 1992-1995 – all in N2, G2 (2-2)

New Providence – 1987-1990 – all in N2, G1 (3-1)

Rahway – 1978-1981 – all in N2, G3 (2-2)

 

MISCELLANEOUS:

Elizabeth and Brearley were Union County’s only champions in

1981 and then again 25 years later in 2006 – winning the same sections,

Elizabeth N2, G4 and Brearley N2, G1.

Linden and Hillside have only appeared in title games in 1983 and 1985,

both losing in 1983 and then both winning the same sections – Linden N2, G3 and Hillside N2, G2 – in 1985.

Essex County school Glen Ridge’s three state championships all came in N2, G1 over Union County schools Brearley (1977), Roselle Park (1980) and New Providence (1982).

New Providence lost eight straight title games before winning its sixth championship in 2010. The Pioneers – after winning N2, G1 three years in a row from 1987-1989 – lost the N2, G1 final in 1990, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 and the CJ, G1 final in 2004.

No Union County team has won a section as a team situated in Central Jersey.

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