Union County football has produced a state champion each of the last three years.
Can this be the season that more than one Union County team holds up a trophy?
The last time that happened was six years ago in 2006 when Elizabeth and Brearley won titles.
Now it’s time to get ready for the playoffs.
I originally reported a couple of weeks ago that 10 Union County football teams qualified for the state playoffs.
Make that 11.
Linden snuck in in North 2, Group 4 after posting its first home win of the season, defeating Bridgewater-Raritan 23-21 Saturday at Cooper Field.
As a result, the Tigers (2-6) earned the seventh seed and will play Barringer (4-4) next weekend in a quarterfinal at Schools Stadium in Newark.
Linden is one of two Union County teams that made it with a record under .500, which was a new qualifying rule this year. The other is Dayton, which at 4-5 – 3-5 at the cutoff – earned the eighth and final seed in North 2, Group 1.
Ironically, Linden did not qualify in North 2, Group 4 in 2010 with a 6-2 record at the cutoff date. The Tigers finished ninth in the power points and became the first team ever in N2, G4 to not make it with a record of 6-2 at the cutoff. Linden went on to finish 7-3 two years ago.
The 11 Union County teams that qualified and their seeds are:
PLAYOFF MATCHUPS INVOLVING
UNION COUNTY FOOTBALL TEAMS:
NORTH 2, GROUP 5
8-Edison (4-4) at 1-Elizabeth (8-0) – Friday, 7
5-Union (5-2) at 4-Franklin (5-3) – Saturday, 2
NORTH 2, GROUP 4
7-Linden (2-6) at 2-Barringer (4-4) – Saturday, 1
6-Warren Hills (3-6) at 3-Scotch Plains (5-4) – Saturday, 2
NORTH 2, GROUP 3
8-Newark West Side (3-6) at 1-Summit (9-0) – Saturday, 2
7-South Plainfield (4-4) at 2-Cranford (6-2) – Friday, 7
6-Rahway (5-3) at 3-Palisades Park (7-2) – Friday, 7
NORTH 2, GROUP 1
8-Dayton (4-5) at 1-Hoboken (7-2) – Friday, 7
7-Secaucus (4-5) at 2-Roselle Park (6-2) – Friday, 7
6-Bound Brook (5-4) at 3-New Providence (6-2) – Friday, 7
CENTRAL JERSEY, GROUP 2
8-Johnson (5-3) at 1-Carteret (8-0) – Friday, 7
Here’s a look at all 11 teams that qualified:
ELIZABETH: The Minutemen, sparked by Temple-bound senior quarterback Phillip Walker, are the favorites to win the first North 2, Group 5 section. Of Elizabeth’s eight wins, five have come against teams situated in the section – Westfield, Union, Franklin, Bridgewater-Raritan and Phillipsburg.
Hurricane Sandy prevented Elizabeth from winning at 0-7 Plainfield and having a chance to finish 12-0 for the first time. Instead, the Minutemen will now go after the program’s second 11-0 finish and first since 1989, which was the only year Elizabeth finished undefeated during the playoff era.
Elizabeth is in the playoffs for the 23rd time and for the second straight season. After going 1-9 in 2009 – for the program’s first sub-.500 season since 1980 – and starting 2010 with a 0-4 mark, the Minutemen are 22-3 in their last 25 games.
UNION: The Farmers will be going back to Somerset County to face a Franklin team it was defeated by 26-13 at Franklin on Oct. 20. Union’s only other loss was at Elizabeth 42-7 back on Sept. 14.
Union will be attempting to get past Franklin for another rematch – in the semifinals at top-seeded Elizabeth, who is a heavy favorite to get past Edison in the quarterfinals.
This is Union’s 28th playoff appearance and – like Elizabeth – its second in a row.
SCOTCH PLAINS: The Raiders made the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and during their first season situated in North 2, Group 4.
Guided by first-year head coach Jonathan Stack, who was promoted from within and who also played for previous longtime head coach Steve Ciccotelli, the Raiders have also won five games for the first time since 2007.
The team’s biggest wins were both at home, first vs. eventual Mid-State 38 Conference-Mountain Division champion Voorhees 21-14 on Sept. 29 and then over neighborhood arch rival Westfield 10-2 Saturday. Scotch Plains defeated Westfield for the first time since 2007.
LINDEN: The Tigers didn’t make it with a 6-2 record in 2010. Now two years later they make it with a 2-6 mark.
“We’re definitely excited and I’m excited for our players and our coaching staff,” said fifth-year head coach Deon Candia, who has guided the Tigers into the playoffs for the first time under his tenure.
To get in, Linden defeated Bridgewater-Raritan 23-21 at home Saturday for its first home win. Linden’s other victory is a 14-12 win at Plainfield, which is 0-7.
“We’re not proud to have a 2-6 record, but this young team has a great opportunity,” Candia said. “It’s up to me as a coach to sell that point, sort of a seize-the-moment sell.”
Linden snapped a five-game losing streak by beating a 4-4 Bridgewater-Raritan team Saturday. BR is projected to be the seventh seed in North 2, Group 5.
“This is a new season now, a new life in a sense for us,” Candia said. “That’s our message now.
“It’s now up to us to make the best of this opportunity. This is something to be grateful for.”
Linden opened with a one-point (13-12) loss at North Hunterdon and then after winning at Plainfield was blanked at home by Ridge 23-0.
The next week at home against Monroe, the game was tied 14-14 at the half before Monroe went on to post a 24-14 triumph.
Linden was then decisively defeated at Immaculata 27-0, at home by Elizabeth 42-0 and then at Watchung Hills 35-21. If Monroe makes it in Central Jersey, Group 5, then of Linden’s six losses, five came against playoff teams, with the exception being the setback at North Hunterdon, which did not qualify in North 2, Group 4.
“This has been a rough year, but we continue to tell the kids to keep fighting and good things will happen,” Candia said. “Good things don’t typically happen this way where you make the playoffs with the kind of record we have, but in the end it will be good to be playing for something instead of just chalking this up as a rebuilding year.
“We’re a young team, but getting better.”
Candia said that his staff felt the Tigers had a good chance to sneak in with a win over the visiting Panthers.
“We knew we had a good chance of making it with a win,” Candia said. “We just wanted the kids to keep playing hard and not focus on it. Sometimes you can lose focus that way.
“It was one of those games. We’re happy to get in and to have something to play for.”
When Linden didn’t make it two years ago with a 6-2 record it was difficult to take.
“We had a senior-oriented team that was strong, but – unfortunately – things didn’t work out,” Candia said. “It was very disappointing. I was more disappointed for the kids.
“This team is a young group that is still learning.”
While some will argue that a team making the playoffs with a record of 2-6 is not worthy, remember this – during the first year of the expanded sections (from four to eight teams) in 1998, teams seeded 5-8 won some of the games.
Piscataway twice won North 2, Group 4 as the eighth seed, including last year.
Next week’s quarterfinals will have more to do with how the teams match up against each other than what their won-loss records are.
“The section we’re in is definitely competitive,” Candia said. “But our section is open. A lot of teams are evenly matched.
“Records do mean something, but not everything. If our kids play, we’ll have a chance to advance.
“You have to take it one game at a time. Who knows what could happen?
“We’ll all be 0-0 now, so let’s go after the first one.”
Linden is in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, which was Bucky McDonald’s 22nd and final season as the head coach. The Tigers upset Piscataway 13-12 at Piscataway in the quarterfinals before falling at eventual champion Elizabeth 21-0 in the semifinals.
Following the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, Linden students returned to school Wednesday, with the football team still having a good week of preparation for its big home game against BR.
“We were fortunate,” Candia said. “There was no school Monday and Tuesday, but we were still able to have walk-throughs and keep the kids together.
“After the first week of the storm, with the kids at home and without electricity, we were all anxious to get back to work. We took advantage of being able to practice for Bridgewater-Raritan.”
Linden had normal practices Wednesday and Friday and in between on Thursday – because of the Nor’easter – practiced in the gym.
Two defensive starters who did not play against BR included junior tackle Derrick Hendricks and senior cornerback Sam Guillaume, both out with concussions. Candia said that Hendricks has a good chance to play in the Barringer playoff game.
Linden is in the playoffs for the 14th time and has one title, winning North 2, Group 3 in 1985.
SUMMIT: The Hilltoppers will take a 36-game regular season winning streak into their 2013 campaign. Summit just went 9-0 for the fourth straight year and has not lost a regular season game since it was defeated in its Iron Hills Conference-Hills Division finale in November of 2008.
Summit is in the playoffs for the 21st time, for the fifth consecutive year and is a top seed for the third time since 2009. The Hilltoppers will attempt to win North 2, Group 3 for the third time and first time since 1980.
CRANFORD: Last year, before Cranford won the two biggest games in program history, the Cougars received a bye and had a week off before going on to win their first state championship in the playoff era.
Now in an attempt to defend the North 2, Group 3 crown it captured last year, Cranford will have had two weekends off before its first playoff contest.
While only five teams qualified in the section last year because you still needed to have a record of .500 or better to make it, the section is back to eight teams this year because you didn’t need to be at .500 or better to be among the top eight.
It appears that only one team – Newark West Side – made the section this year with a record – after eight games – under .500. West Side was 3-5 at the cutoff and, as the eighth seed, will be a heavy underdog at top-seeded Summit.
Cranford qualified for the playoffs in consecutive years for the second time and for the first time since making it in 2002, 2003 and 2004. This is Cranford’s sixth playoff season. The Cougars defeated Parsippany Hills 27-0 in last year’s final at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium in Union.
RAHWAY: The Indians are in the playoffs for the third year in a row and for the eighth time in nine years under the guidance of ninth-year head coach Gary Mobley.
Rahway is projected to play at Bergen County foe Palisades Park.
“We got a birds-eye view of Palisades Park vs. North Arlington,” Mobley said. “This is one of our goals, to be playing when it’s cold, in the playoffs.”
Rahway initially started the year in North 2, Group 4 before NJSIAA enrollment revisions put the Indians in North 2, Group 3. Since Mobley was promoted to head coach in 2004, the Indians have been bounced back and forth from North 2, Group 3 to Central Jersey, Group 2. Rahway was in CJ, G2 last year.
“We have a good section here, with Summit and Cranford at the top,” Mobley said. “You’ve also got teams like Parsippany Hills and Voorhees, which is much-improved. Everyone will be a tough out.”
Rahway can run the ball with juniors Jeffery Bost at quarterback and Gabril Gross at running back swift and elusive. A physical target at tight end is senior Colin Quinn.
Rahway is in the playoffs for the 16th time and is seeking to win North 2, Group 3 for the fourth time and first time since 1984.
If Rahway and Cranford win their quarterfinal games, they will then clash in a semifinal at Cranford’s Memorial Field. The two Union County rivals were put in different Mid-State 38 Conference divisions this year, thus they did not face each other in the regular season.
DAYTON: The Bulldogs made the grade in North 2, Group 1 for the third time in the past four years – all of those seasons sparked by Anthony Cioffi, who next year will be playing for head coach Kyle Flood at Rutgers.
Dayton fine tuned its game this weekend by handling winless Manville 35-7 in what should be its final home game to be played at Union’s Cooke Memorial Field. The Bulldogs played their home games at Union every year since 2008.
Next year Dayton will have its own field turf field for the first time.
Dayton will play at Hoboken in the quarterfinals, with the Red Wings losing Sunday at Union City 14-12.
ROSELLE PARK: First-year head coach Terry Hanratty, who previously guided Governor Livingston to the playoffs six straight seasons (2004-2009) including a state championship game in 2008, said that his Panthers needed to learn how to win.
Well, here’s what Roselle Park has accomplished so far this season:
They defeated Brearley for the first time since 2001.
They qualified for the state playoffs for the first time since 2001.
They defeated New Providence for the first time since 2001.
They will be playing a home playoff game for the first time since 1996.
They now have a chance to win the program’s first playoff game since 1993.
Here are the scores of Roselle Park’s last three playoff games since repeating as North 2, Group 1 champions in 1993 with a second consecutive 11-0 record:
2001 North 2, Group 1 quarterfinals – lost at Cedar Grove 38-7
2000 North 2, Group 1 quarterfinals – lost at Mountain Lakes 34-7
1996 North 2, Group 1 semifinals – lost at home to New Providence 16-13
Roselle Park won at New Providence 35-28 Saturday for its first win over the Pioneers since a wild 35-33 come-from-behind victory at New Providence in their third game of the 2001 season.
“Yesterday was a huge victory for our team,” Hanratty said. “We came out and played well in the beginning of the game, intercepting a pass.
“The kids never gave up, kept on working hard and put together a drive and scored a touchdown.”
While beating Brearley earlier in the season for the first time since 2001 was not really seen as an upset, Saturday’s victory could have been considered one unless you were a Roselle Park player or coach.
“This gives us huge momentum going into the playoffs,” Hanratty said.
Had Roselle Park lost, the Panthers were probably going to be the sixth seed and would have played on the road. Instead, they shot all the way up to the second seed, even passing New Providence, and are now two home playoff wins away from playing for a state championship.
“To be able to play at home, there’s a nice buzz in town about our football team,” Hanratty said. “We’ve pretty much been the underdog in every game.
“We’re the nobodys from nowhere who has done nothing. We want to shock the world.
“That’s what we tell our kids. It’s a way to get them motivated.”
Roselle Park has won six games and clinched its first winning season both since finishing 6-4 in 2006.
“We’re excited now, but realize that we have our hands full with Secaucus,” Hanratty said.
Hanratty said that he would be trading film with Secaucus while attending Sunday’s Hoboken-Union City game.
“We have the ability to be a good team, a great team,” Hanratty said. “We’re now winning and winning with the attitude of what’s next instead of wow!
“We’ve gotten better every week, holding on for victories and pulling some out. We now believe in ourselves.”
Roselle Park is in the playoffs for the 12th time and will be seeking to capture North 2, Group 1 for the first time since 1993.
NEW PROVIDENCE: The Pioneers are in the playoffs for the 11th consecutive year. The last time New Providence didn’t make it was in 2001, which was the last year Roselle Park did.
New Providence won this section in 2010 for the first time since 1989 and last year lost at home to eventual champion Cedar Grove in the semifinals.
New Providence defeated Bound Brook 44-27 at home on Oct. 13. The Pioneers will have to defeat the Crusaders again at home next weekend to advance to the semifinals.
New Providence is in the playoffs for the 31st time – a Union County record – and is seeking to win North 2, Group 1 for the fifth time.
JOHNSON: The Crusaders have given up half of the points they have yielded this year in their last two games – double-digit losses at home to Cranford (29-3) and at Delaware Valley (47-6).
Now they are preparing for a top-seeded and undefeated Carteret (8-0) team that is averaging nearly 40 points.
Johnson is in the playoffs for the 16th year and for the second season in a row. The Crusaders have never won Central Jersey, Group 2.
ELEVEN OF UNION COUNTY’S BEST PLAYERS
TO GO TO WAR WITH COME PLAYOFF TIME:
Phillip Walker, Elizabeth, senior
Reggie Green, Cranford, senior
Jamauri Bogan, Union, junior
Anthony Cioffi, Dayton, senior
Mike Badgley, Summit, senior
Juan Carmona, Roselle Park, senior
Gabril Gross, Rahway, junior
Juwan Dolbrice, Linden, sophomore
Derek Singer, New Providence, senior
Anthony Travisano, Johnson, senior
Cody Biondi, Scotch Plains, senior
SECTIONAL CONSOLATION MATCHUPS FOR NEXT WEEKEND:
Hillside at Wood-Ridge
Montclair Immaculate at Brearley
Cardinal McCarrick at Roselle
Plainfield at Mendham
Westfield at J.P. Stevens
Governor Livingston at Raritan