Linden, Cranford, Elizabeth football all 1 win away from capturing state championships; 3 Union County teams will be playing at MetLife Stadium

On Dec. 7 in East Rutherford it will be - in N2, G3 - Parsippany Hills vs. Summit, followed by - in N2, G5 - Elizabeth vs. Linden

PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - From left are Linden head coach Deon Candia, Juwan Dolbrice, offensive coordinator Albert Chiola and Kyle Phipps.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – From left are Linden head coach Deon Candia, Juwan Dolbrice, offensive coordinator Albert Chiola and Kyle Phipps.

Just think, instead of the Giants or Jets playing at MetLife Stadium this Sunday at 1 p.m. it will be the Cranford Cougars.

Make that the – 11-0 for the first time in program history – Cranford Cougars!

Wow, that’s how far that program has come.

Not even the highly-successful Cranford baseball team has played at Yankee Stadium or Citi Field.

Representing Union County it will be Linden, Cranford and Elizabeth playing for state championships.

Here we go:

Linden is here for the first time in 29 years.

Cranford is back for the second time in four seasons.

Elizabeth is in this position for the third time in four years.

This is championship football.

Forget about division races, power points and home field advantage.

Three Union County teams will travel north to Bergen County Sunday in search of raising their index fingers high above their heads following 48 minutes – or more, whatever it takes – of smash-mouth high school football!

If you think you, as a fan, can’t wait for the games to commence, just think how anxious the players and coaches are to get it on.

“This is what we’ve practiced for, this is what we’ve worked hard for since the first day of summer,” Linden senior running back Kyle Phipps said.

“To reach this point in the season and to still be practicing in preparation for a championship game, that’s what you want to be doing,” Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier said.

On Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford it will be third-seeded Parsippany Hills (9-2) vs. top-seeded Cranford (11-0) at 1 p.m. in the North 2, Group 3 championship game followed by third-seeded Elizabeth (9-2) vs. top-seeded Linden (9-2) in the third North 2, Group 5 title contest.

Cranford and Linden will be playing in state championship games taking place in East Rutherford for the first time. For Elizabeth it will be the third time and first time since 1999. Elizabeth won its first (1981) and third (1999) state championships in the playoff era at the old Giants Stadium.

When Cranford and Parsippany Hills last played, Cranford won 27-0 in the 2011 N2, G3 final at Kean. When Elizabeth and Linden last clashed, Elizabeth came out on top 28-19 a month ago at Elizabeth’s Williams Field.

Cranford and Parsippany Hills have reached at least the semifinals of the North 2, Group 3 playoffs the past four seasons, Parsippany Hills reaching three finals and Cranford two.

Here are some tidbits pertaining to the two games involving the three Union County teams attempting to win state championships Sunday:

* Linden, led by all-time leading rusher Juwan Dolbrice, is playing in only its third state championship game and first in 29 years.

* Cranford, sparked by Union County Player of the Year candidate Luke Christiano, is playing in just its second state championship game, but second in four seasons.

* Elizabeth is 8-1 in finals, with its only loss coming in the final minute. The Minutemen are 7-1 in North 2, Group 4 finals – winning their first seven – and 1-0 in the North 2, Group 5 title contest, winning the first one two years ago.

* Cranford is 11-0 for the first time and has won 11 games in a season for the first time. Linden has won nine games for the first time since finishing 9-1 in 1986.

* Elizabeth has a four-game winning streak over Linden and is 2-0 against the Tigers in the playoffs, both N2, G4 shutout victories. This will be the first time Elizabeth and Linden will be facing each other on a neutral field.

* The only head coaches to lead Union County teams to 12-0 marks are Brearley’s Scott Miller in 2006, Summit’s John Liberato in 2009 and 2012 and Summit’s Kevin Kostibos in 2013. Cranford’s Erik Rosenmeier, now in his 10th season at the helm of the Cougars, has a chance to join that elite list. Rosenmeier has led Cranford to playoff wins in four straight seasons, which had never happened before.

* Elizabeth fifth-year head coach John Quinn has guided three programs in three different counties– Roxbury-Morris, New Brunswick-Middlesex and Elizabeth-Union – to state championships in the playoff era.

Quinn has won four, each coming in a different section.

Here’s a closer look:

North 2, Group 4: Roxbury in 1998

Central Jersey, Group 2: New Brunswick in 2003

North 2, Group 3: New Brunswick in 2006

North 2, Group 5: Elizabeth in 2012

Quinn was also briefly the head coach at Cranford and after that was an assistant coach at Union under legendary head coach Lou Rettino.

* When Linden won its only state championship in the playoff era – in 1985 – that was the year that Union County swept North 2. Union won Group 4, Linden Group 3, Hillside Group 2 and Brearley Group 1, defeating Roselle Park in the final.


Here’s a look at Sunday’s state championship game matchups

at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford:



3-Parsippany Hills (9-2) vs. 1-Cranford (11-0), 1 p.m.

Parsippany Hills is led by freshman quarterback Nick Verducci and senior running back Angelo Gallego. Cranford is sparked by the play of first-year quarterback, junior Jack Schetelich; all-purpose standout senior Luke Christiano and Division 1-A lineman recruit Will Fries. Parsippany Hills lost only to teams from Sparta – Pope John first and Sparta second. The Vikings scored at least 30 points in seven of their nine wins. Cranford is averaging an even 40 points and has won 10 of its 11 games by double digits. The Cougars also showed comeback ability at Roselle when they won 35-27 after trailing 27-15 at intermission. Like three years ago when the teams met in the final, Cranford does not have a shutout victory. I give the intangibles edge to Parsippany Hills, which seems to be getting closer to grabbing that elusive ring. I give the talent edge to Cranford. I think the game will be much closer than the 27-0 Cranford win in 2011.

Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier’s thoughts:

On what concerns him most about Parsippany Hills: “They never give up and keep on coming at you. They run the ball very well, with one back doing most of the running. He’s (Gallego) very explosive and he can get outside. They also have a very active and aggressive defense.”

On playing the game at MetLife Stadium: “We’re all pretty excited. It can’t get any more exciting. We loved playing at Kean three years ago, but I would be lying to you if I told you there wasn’t a difference. We may be concerned about what our warmup time will be. Because of the atmosphere of the game we don’t want to get distracted.”

On Cranford’s continued success this year: “Being able to stay healthy and have the same guys in every week. We can distribute the ball to five different guys who can run with it and catch it.”

On Parsippany Hills freshman quarterback Nick Verducci: “This is week 12, so we don’t consider him a freshman anymore. He has gotten better and better and in the playoffs he didn’t play like any freshman I’ve ever seen. Against Orange he converted three or four big third-down situations and if it wasn’t for that than Orange might have come out on top. He’s playoff-tested and just a good quarterback.”

On Cranford junior quarterback Jack Schetelich, also a first-year starting signal-caller like Verducci is: “Outstanding. He makes the reads both running and passing. We have good guys up front protecting him and good guys for him to throw to and he gets the job done.”

On how Parsippany Hills fared against defending North 1, Group 3 champion Sparta in a 49-14 home loss Oct. 25. The Vikings have won four straight since: “I thought they were good against Sparta. Sparta jumped out on top and was able to get up early. It would benefit us greatly if we’re able to do the same thing. Three years ago when we played them we had a great start, got a couple of quick scores and then the game settled down.”

On Parsippany Hills making it to a third state championship game in four years: “I give the nod to Parsippany Hills for being the second best team in our section the last four years. They have gotten to three finals and lost to the eventual champion (Summit) the year (2012) they lost in the semifinals.”



3-Elizabeth (9-2) vs. 1-Linden (9-2), 4 p.m.

Elizabeth vs. Linden is about as good as it gets from a neighborhood rivalry perspective. Players on both teams know each other so well. Linden has been led all year by seniors Juwan Dolbrice at quarterback for the first time and running back Kyle Phipps, in addition to other key players by the names of Khalil Burns, Tymir Hinton and Donte Waldron. Elizabeth is lifted by the play of leading rusher – senior back Marquise Leak – and senior quarterback Tyree Gutierrez. It was touchdowns by Gutierrez and running back Jahmin Muse that clinched Elizabeth’s 28-19 regular season non-division victory over Linden on Nov. 7 at Elizabeth’s Williams Field. Elizabeth led 14-0 before Linden – behind touchdowns by Phipps and Dolbrice – closed to within 14-13 in the second half. Elizabeth outrushed Linden by quite a bit, with Leak leading the way with a 145-yard effort. The team that wins the regular season game doesn’t automatically win the playoff game, although Elizabeth accomplished that feat against lesser Linden teams in 2002 and 2006. Something tells me this game goes right down to the wire, with the team that makes the least amount of mistakes in the second half going on to win it.

Linden head coach Deon Candia said this following Linden’s first playoff win, which came after the team’s first loss, which was at Elizabeth: “It’s tough being undefeated, there was a little pressure, so I think losing to Elizabeth was a blessing in disguise. That was playoff-like football and it got us going. It woke us up.”






After having only 4 state champions from 2000-2008 – Elizabeth in 2000, Johnson in 2002 and Elizabeth and Brearley in 2006 – Union County will have at least one state champion for the sixth consecutive season.




2013: Summit (12-0) – North 2, Group 3


2012: Elizabeth (11-0) – North 2, Group 5

2012: Summit (12-0) – North 2, Group 3


2011: Cranford (10-1) – North 2, Group 3


2010: New Providence (11-1) – North 2, Group 1


2009: Summit (12-0) – North 2, Group 2






The winningest program in Union County since 2009, Summit fell one game short of playing in a state championship game for the fourth straight season, which would have been for the second time.

Although Summit fell short of winning a state championship three years in a row in the playoff era for the first time, the Hilltoppers did manage to win at least nine games for the sixth straight season, which is a program record.

Since the start of the 2009 season, Summit is 65-4 (.942), including a playoff mark of 12-3 in the span, which includes a state championship game record of 3-1 and five consecutive division titles over that stretch.

I think most coaches in the state would gladly take that mark.

When Cranford soundly defeated Summit 33-14 – the game was not as close as the score indicated – on Oct. 2 at Cranford’s Memorial Field, Summit had a state-leading 27-game overall winning streak and 48-game regular season winning streak snapped.

When Parsippany Hills blanked Summit 14-0 at Summit’s Tatlock Field in the Nov. 22 North 2, Group 3 semifinal, Summit lost at home and was shut out both for the first time since the 2008 season.

Summit had a 25-game home winning streak snapped by the visiting Vikings, who lost to Summit in the N2, G3 playoffs the previous two seasons, including in last year’s final at Kean. Summit also had a 78-game scoring streak snapped.

It was Summit’s first loss at home since falling to Orange 37-34 in overtime in the 2010 North 2, Group 2 quarterfinals. It was also Summit’s first loss by shutout since the Hilltoppers were blanked at Mendham 21-0 during their second game of their 2008 season. It was also the first time Summit was shut out at home since falling to Chatham 21-0 in September of 2007.

Summit, which this year was sparked by single-season all-time leading rusher Chris Zanelli, still has one more prominent streak that will carry over into its 2015 season. The Hilltoppers have won 30 straight regular season home games.

Summit’s last loss at home in a regular season game was on Nov. 1, 2008 and to Hanover Park 40-28. That was also Summit’s last home game as a member of the Hills Division of the Iron Hills Conference and also its last home game of the 2008 season.

NOTES: Dolbrice, this year moved to quarterback, passed 2002 Linden graduate Andre Sumner as Linden’s all-time leading rusher. He did so at the end of Linden’s North Hunterdon playoff victory when he passed Sumner’s total of 2,760 yards set during his senior season of 2001.

Sumner was a junior on the 2000 Linden team that was the only squad to beat Elizabeth and just missed playing Elizabeth again in the North 2, Group 4 final, falling at home to Montclair 20-14 in overtime in the N2, G4 semifinals. Elizabeth went on to repeat as N2, G4 champions, defeating Montclair in the final for the second straight season, that time by a 13-7 score on a very cold day at Elizabeth’s Williams Field.

Zanelli, a senior like Dobrice, broke a record that stood for 20 years. Summit senior Torrie Fogg set his school’s single season rushing record his senior season of 1994 when he gained 1,374 yards that fall. Fogg, a 1995 Summit graduate, helped lead the Hilltoppers to back-to-back North 2, Group 2 championships in 1993 and 1994, with the 1993 squad finishing a perfect 11-0.





2013 North 2, Group 3:

Summit 16, Parsippany Hills 13 – at Kean


2011 North 2, Group 3:

Cranford 27, Parsippany Hills 0 – at Kean


2006 North 1, Group 3:

Wayne Hills 23, Parsippany Hills 12 – at Giants Stadium


2005 North 1, Group 3:

Wayne Hills 46, Parsippany Hills 0 – at Giants Stadium





2011 North 2, Group 3:

Cranford 27, Parsippany Hills 0 – at Kean





2012 North 2, Group 5:

Elizabeth 37, Piscataway 33 – at Kean


2011 North 2, Group 4:

Piscataway 41, Elizabeth 34 – at Rutgers


2006 North 2, Group 4:

Elizabeth 14, Phillipsburg 9 – at Rutgers


2000 North 2, Group 4:

Elizabeth 13, Montclair 7 – at Elizabeth


1999 North 2, Group 4:

Elizabeth 26, Montclair 13 – at Giants Stadium


1997 North 2, Group 4:

Elizabeth 14, Plainfield 7 – at Plainfield


1989 North 2, Group 4:

Elizabeth 25, Morris Knolls 0 – at Elizabeth


1988 North 2, Group 4:

Elizabeth 13, Morris Knolls 12 – at Morris Knolls


1981 North 2, Group 4:

Elizabeth 21, Union 0 – at Giants Stadium





1985 North 2, Group 3:

Linden 19, West Morris 7 – at West Morris


1983 North 2, Group 3:

Randolph 22, Linden 9 – at Linden





(Elizabeth leads series 41-20-2):


2014: Elizabeth 28, Linden 19 – at Elizabeth


2013: Elizabeth 36, Linden 10 – at Elizabeth


2012: Elizabeth 42, Linden 0 – at Linden


2011: Elizabeth 27, Linden 14 – at Elizabeth


2010: Linden 49, Elizabeth 20 – at Linden


2009: Linden 26, Elizabeth 12 – at Elizabeth


2008: Elizabeth 26, Linden 0 – at Linden


2007: Elizabeth 42, Linden 14 – at Elizabeth


2006: Elizabeth 21, Linden 0 – at Elizabeth – N2, G4 semis


2006: Elizabeth 39, Linden 0 – at Linden


2005: Elizabeth 27, Linden 7 – at Elizabeth


2004: Elizabeth 23, Linden 0 – at Linden


2003: Elizabeth 40, Linden 15 – at Elizabeth


2002: Elizabeth 34, Linden 0 – at Elizabeth – N2, G4 quarters


2002: Elizabeth 13, Linden 0 – at Linden


2001: Elizabeth 28, Linden 18 – at Elizabeth


2000: Linden 27, Elizabeth 6 – at Linden


1999: Elizabeth 32, Linden 6 – at Elizabeth


1998: Elizabeth 14, Linden 8 – at Linden


1997: Elizabeth 20, Linden 6 – at Elizabeth


1996: Elizabeth 20, Linden 13 (3OT) – at Linden


1995: Elizabeth 28, Linden 0 – at Elizabeth


1994: Linden 26, Elizabeth 12 – at Elizabeth


1993: Elizabeth defeated Linden – at Linden


1992: Linden defeated Elizabeth – at Elizabeth


1991: Elizabeth defeated Linden – at Linden


1990: Elizabeth defeated Linden – at Elizabeth


1989: Elizabeth defeated Linden – at Linden


1988: Elizabeth defeated Linden – at Elizabeth


1987: Linden defeated Elizabeth – at Linden


1986: Linden defeated Elizabeth – at Elizabeth


1985: Elizabeth defeated Linden – at Linden









Sunday, Dec. 7 (2 games)


3-Parsippany Hills vs. 1-Cranford, 1 p.m.


3-Elizabeth vs. 1-Linden, 4 p.m.



Thursday, Nov 27 (4 games)

Union 26, Linden 19

Westfield 6, Plainfield 0 (OT)

Johnson 35, Rahway 16

Roselle Park 29, Roselle 14

Saturday, Nov. 29 (1 game)

Gov. Livingston 35, New Providence 14



Cranford over Parsippany Hills

Linden over Elizabeth

Best bet: Cranford

Upset special: Linden

Last week: 3-2

This year: 101-37 (.732)

Best bets: 12-0

Upset specials: 7-5




1-Cranford (11-0)

2-Elizabeth (9-2)

3-Linden (9-2)

4-Summit (9-2)

5-Westfield (7-4)

6-Roselle (7-4)

7-Union (4-6)

8-Johnson (5-5)

9-Gov. Livingston (5-5)

10-New Providence (6-4)


Brearley (5-4-1)

Roselle Park (5-5)

Dayton (4-6)

Scotch Plains (3-7)

Hillside (2-8)

Rahway (1-9)

Plainfield (1-9)