For the first time, the Linden and Cranford football teams will be playing for a state championship in East Rutherford.
Both Union County Mid-State 38 Conference division winners advanced to sectional finals – for Linden the first time since 1985 and only third time total – and for Cranford the first time since 2011 and only second time total.
On Dec. 7 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford at 1 p.m. it will be third-seeded Parsippany Hills (9-2) vs. top-seeded Cranford (11-0) in the North 2, Group 3 championship game. Cranford won its only title in the playoff era while making its first appearance in a championship game three years ago when it blanked Parsippany Hills 27-0 in the 2011 N2, G3 final at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium in Union.
Immediately following at MetLife on Dec. 7, the 4 p.m. kickoff will be third-seeded Elizabeth (9-2) vs. top-seeded Linden (9-1 going into Thursday’s game at Union) in the third North 2, Group 5 championship game. Elizabeth won the first one in 2012 over Piscataway at Kean and Ridge won the 2013 one over Union at Rutgers.
Linden’s only loss so far this year was a 28-19 decision at Elizabeth on Nov. 7. The Tigers won the Mid-State’s Watchung Division title for the first time, doing so with a perfect 7-0 league mark.
Linden is 0-2 vs. Elizabeth in the playoffs – setbacks in North 2, Group 4 in the quarterfinals in 2002 and the semifinals in 2006. Linden is also just 7-23 vs. Elizabeth the last 30 regular season games from 1985-2014.
Cranford is 11-0 for the first time and has won 11 games in a season for the first time. The Cougars won the Mid-State’s Raritan Division crown for the first time, doing so with a perfect 6-0 league record.
Cranford is 35-8 since the start of the 2011 season and has made the playoffs the last four years, which is a program-best for consecutive seasons. The Cougars are 6-2 in the playoffs the last four years after winning only one playoff game before that.
More to come.