Cranford football preview – Cougars have necessary talent back to be in the mix again

CRANFORD – With a few key skill position players back on offense and eight returning starters on defense there are many reasons why the Cougars could be in for one of their best seasons ever.

The potential is there to not only make the playoffs for a program-best four years in a row, but again seriously challenge to get back to the North 2, Group 3 championship game.

Cranford won North 2, Group 3 and a playoff title for the first time in 2011 and the last two seasons reached that section’s semifinals.

“I feel like we’re improving, but I would like to see the rate of improvement increase,” said 10th-year head coach Erik Rosenmeier.

Leading the spread offense is first-year quarterback, junior Jack Schetelich.

“Jack has the potential to be an excellent, all-around quarterback,” Rosenmeier said. “He can throw, he can run and he has a good feel for the game. He’s a tough kid who makes good decisions.”

Schetelich filled in one game for injured senior John Oblachinski last year, guiding the Cougars to a 30-13 home win over Delaware Valley.

“Now he has the keys to the car,” Rosenmeier said. “We expect him to lead us. We think he is capable of handling that.”

Two premier skill position players Schetelich is working with include returning starters Luke Christiano and Donovan Walker.

“Christiano had over 1,500 all-purpose yards and in the range of 20 touchdowns last year,” Rosenmeier said. “He’s a very smart football player.

“He’s probably 15 pounds heavier this year, but did not lose any speed. He’s as dangerous a player as we’ve had here. He’s a big-play guy.”

Whereas Christiano is labeled as one of five slot players, Walker is the tailback.

“We feel the same way about Donovan as we do about Luke,” Rosenmeier said. “They played some as sophomores and now they’re expected to do well.”

Also back as a starter on offense – and defense – is junior Will Fries, who at 6-6, 265 is one of the biggest linemen in Union County.

“He’s beginning to be recruited,” Rosenmeier said. “He will have to step it up to prove that he is there. He’s a great weight room kid.

“One thing you can’t avoid is a player at 6-6, 265. He has a chance to be a great player for us.”

It’s not often that a team has as many as eight returning starters back on any side of the ball, which is a huge plus for the Cougars on defense this year.

Returning defensive starters such as seniors Jake Mathews and Alex Ballas at end and senior Colin Scanlon at linebacker were lauded by Rosenmeier for their continued, unselfish efforts.

“Guys like Ballas, Mathews and Scanlon are the reason that we’ve had recent success here,” Rosenmeier said. “They’re tough kids who play hard and care about the team.

“They might not be recruited by colleges necessarily, but they’re your, roughly, 5-10, 190-pound players that play hard every day. They have a toughness and edge to them.

“They practice hard every day and play hard every game.”

They will be tested immediately when Cranford opens home against Warren Hills. The Blue Streaks are coming off a 5-5 season that saw them get knocked off in the quarterfinal round of the Central Jersey, Group 3 playoffs.

Warren Hills is back in North 2, Group 4 this year. They reached that section’s championship game two years ago, falling to West Morris 35-7 at Rutgers.

Back to lead the team this year is senior running back Justin Iaione, who last year rushed for 1,870 yards and scored 20 touchdowns. He set the school mark for rushing yardage in a game when he rushed for 331 yards in a 41-35 home win over Hillside.

“I felt we got better as the season went on last year, but it would be nice to get off to a quicker start,” Rosenmeier said. “It won’t be easy, starting with Warren Hills and going up against one of the leading rushers in the state.”

This will be the first time the teams are playing each other since the formation of the Mid-State 38 Conference back in 2009. Cranford is situated in the Raritan Division and Warren Hills, the defending champion, in the Mountain Division.

TENTH SEASON FOR ROSENMEIER,

WITH MUCH ACCOMPLISHED

Rosenmeier is now in his 10th season at the helm of the Cougars in what is his first head coaching stint.

Not too long ago he was the athletic director at Scotch Plains. Now his 10th season as a head coach at Cranford is about to begin.

“I love the community and with the Cranford kid, the one thing I can count on is that all I have to do is coach football because they’ve been raised right,” Rosenmeier said.

Before Rosenmeier took over in 2005, present Morristown head coach and 1984 Cranford graduate Chris Hull made great strides with the Cougars, leading them to the playoffs the last three years of his six-season (1999-2004) stint.

In Hull’s first nine seasons at Morristown, he guided the Colonials to the 2010 North 2, Group 3 championship.

In Rosenmeier’s first nine seasons at Cranford, he guided the Cougars to the 2011 N2, G3 title, which was the program’s first championship and also first title-game appearance in the playoff era.

Last year Rosenmeier became the first coach in program history to guide Cranford to playoff wins in three straight seasons.

“Our players feel that the team and their teammates are the most important thing, which is big,” Rosenmeier said. “Our kids come ready to play.

“They come in expecting to do well if they work hard and make the connection that hard work leads to success.”

Rosenmeier’s first seven seasons did not include any playoff appearances or championships, but there were some winning years and progress was being made, beginning with the feeder program.

“I feel blessed to be able to coach these kids,” Rosenmeier said. “We have a lot of kids here who play multiple sports and we encourage that at Cranford. I think that helps all of our sports programs.

“The specialization guys have it wrong. Playing other sports helps preserve the body, you use other muscles.”

Cranford is also beginning to build a successful past history now, something that wasn’t really there for a long time.

“Players from the past such as Joe Papandrea and Sean Trotter, all those guys that came before laid down the foundation for success,” Rosenmeier said. “Now it’s up to us to continue to build.

“The challenge will be to keep moving forward.”

 

CRANFORD’S SPREAD OFFENSE:

LT Alex Ballas, senior, (6-0, 205)

LG Kevin Doran, junior, (6-2, 255)

G Kevin McNeil, senior, (6-0, 245)

RG Will Fries, junior, (6-6, 265)

C Colin Scanlon, senior, (5-10, 200)

C Joe Lefano, senior, (5-9, 185)

RT Mike Melrose, junior, (5-11, 235)

T Matt Muller, senior, (5-9, 190)

WR Joe Norton, junior, (5-10, 165)

WR Dante Anderson, senior, (6-1, 175)

WR Eric Donahue, senior, (6-5, 215)

SLOT Luke Christiano, senior, (5-10, 180)

SLOT Dan Delayo, senior, (5-9, 175)

SLOT Ryan Bakie, sophomore, (6-4, 185)

SLOT Jake Palumbo, senior, (5-8, 160)

SLOT Ahmad Davis, junior, (5-9, 165)

TB Donovan Walker, senior, (6-1, 175)

RB Brian McGovern, sophomore, (5-8, 165)

QB Jack Schetelich, junior, (6-2, 175)

PK Joe Norton, junior, (5-10, 165)

Returning starters (4): Fries, Christiano,

Walker, Norton.

 

CRANFORD’S 4-3 DEFENSE:

E Jake Mathews, senior, (6-2, 195)

E Alex Ballas, senior, (6-0, 205)

T Will Fries, junior, (6-6, 265)

T Kevin Doran, junior, (6-2, 255)

T Kevin McNeil, senior, (6-0, 245)

T Ethan Tom, junior, (6-0, 215)

MLB Niko Cappello, junior, (6-0, 185)

MLB Matt Muller, senior, (5-9, 190)

SLB Eric Donahue, senior, (6-5, 215)

SLB Ahmad Davis, jr., (5-9, 165)

WLB Colin Scanlon, sr., (5-10, 200)

WLB Mike Palumbo, sr., (6-0, 185)

S Luke Christiano, junior, (5-10, 180)

S Kevin Trotter, senior, (5-10, 175)

S Chris Szekeres, junior, (6-0, 170)

CB Donovan Walker, senior, (6-1, 175)

CB Sean Leonard, junior, (5-10, 170)

CB Ryan Bakie, sophomore, (6-4, 185)

Returning starters (8): Trotter, Christiano,

Walker, Fries, Cappello, Mathews, Ballas, Scanlon.

 

CRANFORD COUGARS

Head coach: Erik Rosenmeier, since 2005.

A 1983 Johnson Regional graduate.

10th season: 54-38 (.587)

Conference: Mid-State 38

Division: Raritan

Section: North 2, Group 3

Cranford’s last sectional title: 2011

2013: (7-4 and 5-1, second in Raritan Division)

Memorial Field: Field Turf.

Rosenmeier is the first coach in program history to

guide Cranford to three consecutive playoff appearances.

He is also the only coach in program history to lead

the Cougars to a playoff championship, which was

the 2011 North 2, Group 3 crown.

 

CRANFORD COUGARS 2014

Sept. 12 Warren Hills, 7 p.m.

Sept. 19 at Somerville, 7 p.m.

Sept. 27 at Roselle, 1 p.m.

Oct. 2 Summit, 7 p.m

Oct. 10 Voorhees, 7 p.m.

Oct. 18 at Hillside, 1 p.m.

Oct. 24 Delaware Valley, 7 p.m.

Nov. 1 at Gov. Livingston, 1 p.m.

Nov. 7 North Plainfield, 7 p.m.

Head coach: Erik Rosenmeier,

10th season

 

2013 COUGARS (7-4)

(A) Watchung Hills 22, Cranford 7

(H) Cranford 20, Somerville 14

(A) Summit 48, Cranford 14

(H) Cranford 13, Roselle 12

(H) Cranford 30, Delaware Valley 13

(A) Cranford 34, Scotch Plains 14

(A) Ridge 49, Cranford 28

(H) Cranford 26, Johnson 10

(A) Cranford 28, North Plainfield 6

(A) Cranford 47, Palisades 21

(A) Summit 35, Cranford 14

Head coach: Erik Rosenmeier,

ninth season

Section: North 2, Group 3

Conference: Mid-State 38

Division: Raritan 5-1, second

Record: 7-4

Home: 4-0

Away: 3-4

Points for: 261

Points against: 244

Shutouts: 0

Overtime: 0-0

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