There are many reasons why the Roselle Park football team was able to reach a championship game for the first time in 19 years two seasons ago and that Cranford was able to not only reach one for the first time but win one three seasons ago.
Two of them were playing for the Union All-Stars in last Thursday night’s Snapple Bowl.
Roselle Park running back Brian Matthews scored the game’s first touchdown for six p0ints, while Cranford placekicker Troy Kettler kicked two field goals and two extra points for a total of eight points.
The two standouts combined for almost all of Union County’s scoring in the MyCentralJersey.com Snapple Bowl XXI game played at Sayreville High School’s War Memorial Stadium.
Middlesex County came back in the fourth quarter to pull out a 34-20 victory, winning for the third time in a row.
Middlesex County now leads the series 13-8 and has won eight of the last nine games after Union County held a 7-5 advantage after the first 12 contests.
This was the second game played at Sayreville, with Union County winning the first one 17-15 in 1995.
Next year’s Snapple Bowl – the 22nd – will be played at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium in Union.
Matthews, who helped lead Roselle Park to the playoffs the last two seasons, including the 2012 North 2, Group 1 championship game, scored on a 49-yard run in the first quarter. Kettler then kicked the extra point to give the Union County All-Stars a 7-0 lead.
After Steven Jones of Plainfield returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, Kettler kicked his second extra point.
Kettler then kicked a 25-yard field goal for the final points of the first half, pulling Union County to within 12-10.
His second field goal, which were the last points of the third quarter, gave Union County its final lead of 20-19.
Kettler was a three-year varsity starter for Cranford who with his kicking helped lead Cranford to the 2011 North 2, Group 3 championship.
“He’s a weapon that we count on,” said Cranford head coach Erik Rosenemeier when last season began. “If we get to the 25 we’re in field goal position with him.
“We’re shocked when he doesn’t make a field goal.”
Matthews was also a standout wrestler for Roselle Park, helping lead the Panthers to another county championship and district title.
“Brian does so many things so well for us,” Roselle Park head coach Terry Hanratty said as the 2013 season dawned.
A transfer from Brick, Matthews rushed for 1,443 yards his junior season, helping lead the Panthers to a 9-3 finish, which was the team’s first winning season since 2006 and first playoff campaign since 2001.
Roselle Park then won its first playoff game and reached its first championship game since the 1993 season. After two playoff wins, the Panthers were defeated by favored Hoboken in the North 2, Group 1 final played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.
Roselle Park, sparked by the play of Matthews on offense and defense, returned to the playoffs last year, reaching the North 2, Group 1 semifinals.
Both Matthews and Kettler proved to be big-time impact players for their Union County teams and as a result the Panthers and Cougars benefitted greatly when it came to winning football games.
NOTES: St. Joseph of Metuchen running back Matt Olivo was named the game’s MVP. He scored touchdowns on runs of 12 yards in the third quarter and 57 in the fourth.
Olivo is the first MVP from St. Joe’s.
After winning the 2005 Snapple Bowl to take a 7-5 series lead, the only Snapple Bowl the Union County squad has won was the 2011 game.