UNION – There’s always a price to pay when attempting to win one of these all-star games.
To say that the Middlesex County squad had the right fee Thursday night would be a most appropriate statement.
That fee was paid in the form of diminituve running back Chase Fee of Spotswood.
One of the shortest and lightest players (5-8, 165) on the field came up – perhaps – the biggest as his two first half touchdowns helped lift the Middlesex County All-Stars to a more-than-convincing 33-13 victory over the Union County All-Stars in the 22nd annual MyCentral Jersey.com Snapple Bowl, which was contested for the seventh time at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium.
Fee scored his team’s and the game’s first two touchdowns, the first coming on a five-yard run up the middle to wrap Middlesex County’s first possession and the second on a 14-yard run around left end late in the second quarter that helped the winners capitalize after recovering a Union County fumble.
For his fine performance, Fee was named the game’s MVP, the first player from Spotswood so honored. The only school with more than one MVP so far, which is two, is South Brunswick, which had the MVP in the 1996 game – Kenny Rogers – and in the 2010 game – Mike Muha.
All proceeds from the Snapple Bowl benefit Children’s Specialized Hospital and the Lakeview School, a program of the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities.
The all-stars visited both facilities Monday.
“It was a great bonding experience for our players,” Union County assistant coach Al Chiola of Linden said.
Since its inception in 1994, the game has raised more than $500,000.
Middlesex County won for the fourth straight time and for the ninth time in the past 10 games to increase its series lead to 14-8. Middlesex is also now 5-2 in the seven games played at Kean and 8-3 in the 11 games that have been played at Union County sites.
Union County committed four turnovers, with Middlesex County scoring 10 points off them. Middlesex turned the ball over once, with Union capitalizing and scoring six.
Middlesex County answered both Union touchdowns with scores of its own, including a late first half TD and a third quarter field goal.
None was more important than the touchdown it scored right before halftime, which squelched Union County’s first momentum and changed the complexion of the game once the second half commenced as Union had to start the third quarter down two scores again.
After Union County running back Kyle Phipps of Linden – who rushed for 46 yards on 10 carries in the first 30 minutes – scored his team’s first points on a one-yard run with just 2:06 left in the second quarter and Andrew Ciccarino of Scotch Plains followed with the extra point, suddenly Union was back in the game down just 13-7.
However, and still with the use of all three of its first half timeouts, Middlesex County was poised to try and score again before halftime. Returning the ensuing kickoff past its own 40 was a very good start.
On third-and-four from its own 47, Albert Thomas of Perth Amboy rushed for five yards to give Middlesex County a first down with 56 seconds before intermission.
Middlesex registered one more first down to the Union 30 with 21 seconds to go and then called its first timeout.
On the next play, quarterback Mike Gargano of Old Bridge dropped back, eluded two Union County rushers, and then found an open Javon Hicks right before the end zone. Hicks caught the pass with his back facing the end zone and then crossed the goal line for six points with 12 seconds to go.
Hicks, who played at St. Joseph’s, Metuchen, slipped past three defenders to get in place and haul in a beautifully thrown pass.
Going for two, Middlesex County was successful again when Gargano threw a low ball to the right side to 6-3 wide receiver Joe Castellanos of North Brunswick. An open Castellanos was able to bend down and grab the ball – which was just above the ground – with both hands and then enter the end zone to give Middlesex a 21-7 advantage.
An interception by Union County defensive back Kevin Trotter of Cranford halted Middlesex County’s first second half drive and gave Union a first down at the Middlesex 18.
Later in the drive – on fourth-and-two from the Middlesex County 10 – Union County quarterback John Apicella of Dayton rolled right and completed a six-yard pass to tight end Nick Buontempo of Westfield for first-and-goal at the Middlesex 4. Buontempo leaped high and used both hands to haul in the perfectly-placed pass, while also holding on to the ball once he landed on the field.
Union County running back Jayson Gonzalez of Roselle Park scored from the one-yard line two plays later to pull his team to within 21-13. The score remained that way after the extra point kick was wide left.
To Middlesex County’s credit they answered by driving right down the field again. A 27-yard field goal by placekicker Ed Mish of Old Bridge capped a six-plus minute drive, putting Middlesex back up by two scores again, 24-13.
Middlesex County produced a safety and a two-yard touchdown run by quarterback Tenny Adewusi of Colonia in the fourth quarter and ended up scoring the game’s final 12 points.
Middlesex County cornerback Kyle Dickerson of South Plainfield recovered a fumble that led to his team’s second score.
Middlesex County strong safety Kayshawn Wilson of Middlesex intercepted two passes – one late in each half. His one before the end of the game prevented Union County from getting a third score.
OTHER UNION COUNTY HIGHLIGHTS:
*First quarter: Kyle Phipps of Linden runs 19 yards for a first down on Union’s first possession.
*First quarter: Andrew Ciccarino of Scotch Plains blocks the extra point after Middlesex County’s first touchdown.
*Second quarter: David Eskin of Brearley booted a very solid punt that bounced forward and was good for 68 yards.
*Second quarter: Gregory Blaine of Linden sacks Middlesex quarterback Tenny Adewusi.
*Second quarter: Jayson Gonzalez of Roselle Park runs four yards to the Middlesex 1 to give Union a first down at the Middlesex 17.
*Second quarter: David Eskin of Brearley takes a pitch left and runs 17 yards to the Middlesex 1 for a first-and-goal.
*Third quarter: John Apicella of Dayton rolled right and then threw the ball across his chest left to a wide open Kyle Phipps, who waited for the pass, caught it and ran the ball to the Middlesex 45 for a 38-yard gain.
2014 COACHES OF THE YEAR HONORED AT HALFTIME:
Union County: Deon Candia, Linden – Candia guided Linden to the North 2, Group 5 championship last December.
Candia then made it official with the high school’s administration during the winter that he would be stepping down as Linden’s head coach.
“I intend on going back to school,” said Candia then, who holds undergraduate and master’s degrees from American International College. “I’ll be going for my doctorate degree.”
Candia was promoted to head coach at Linden in 2008 after serving as an assistant under Bucky McDonald in 2005 and 2006 and then for one year under Joe Stinson in 2007. Before that he was a middle school coach for one season.
“Last year I thought about it (stepping down), but loved the group that I had,” Candia said. “They were my kind of kids. I’m glad that we finished on the high note that we did.”
The 1991 Linden graduate played for McDonald in the late 1980s and 1990. Linden’s state title last fall was only its second in the playoff era and first since the Tigers captured North 2, Group 3 in 1985. Linden also appeared in only its third title game and first in 29 years.
“I always wanted to get back to school,” Candia said. “I didn’t consider myself someone who was going to coach for 15 or 20 years.”
Candia’s record in his seven-season stint at Linden was 42-32 (.568), which included this past season’s Mid-State 38 Conference’s Watchung Division title with a perfect 7-0 league mark.
That was Linden’s first division title since the 1990s. Candia also guided the Tigers to playoff victories in three straight seasons which was a program first.
Linden made the playoffs that last three years of his seven-season stint.
“I fell in love with what I was doing in my hometown,” Candia said. “My goal was to get the program back on track and leave it in better shape than what it was when I started.”
Presently handling discipline – the in-school suspension program – at Linden, Candia will pursue a doctorate in administration, with an eye on becoming a vice principal.
Candia previously taught English at both Linden middle schools, McManus and Soehl.
“I may get back in the classroom to teach English until I get my credentials for vice principal or administration,” Candia said.
Candia’s master’s degree is in elementary education and his undergraduate degree is in criminal justice.
“I want to stay in Linden,” Candia said.
Middlesex County: Tom Roarty, Colonia – Roarty succeeded Ben LaSala as head coach at Colonia in 2013, leading the Patriots to a 6-4 record that season.
Last year he led Colonia to an 11-1 mark, with the only loss coming to Phillipsburg 28-21 in overtime in the North 2, Group 4 championship game at Rutgers.
Roarty has led Colonia to the playoffs both of his first two seasons at the helm, with a playoff record of 2-2.
HILLSIDE’S JOHN ZAPPULLA WILL ALWAYS
BE FONDLY REMEMBERED
He was never the head coach at Hillside, but he was just as instrumental in guiding the young men that played football there.
And for more than half a century!
Honored for his Snapple Bowl service with a plaque – the Outstanding Service Award – at halftime of the 2013 game at Kean, Zappulla passed away last month at the age of 76.
The fall of 2013 was his 51st as an assistant coach at Hillside.
The following are excerpts of a one-on-one interview I conducted with Zappulla during halftime of the 2012 game at East Brunswick:
“I love the game of football and I love the kids,” Zappulla, 73 at the time, said.
Zappulla had missed the previous two Snapple Bowls because of open heart surgery.
In addition to getting back to the game, he was also present at the Union County’s team practices, lending a hand with his coaching expertise.
“This is my 11th Snapple Bowl,” Zappulla said in 2012. “Coach (Scott) Miller gave me a chance to come back.”
Hillside’s present coach – Kendall Ashford – became the 14th head coach that Zappulla worked under. The Hillside head coach before that was John Power, who is now gearing for his second season as head coach at Columbia High.
Zappulla’s first season as an assistant coach at Hillside was in 1963 when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was President of the United States. Hillside’s head coach in 1963 when Zappulla first came aboard was Jim Taigia, who passed away in February of 2008.
Zappulla was able to tell local gridiron fans all about Hillside’s lone playoff championship when the Comets, guided by head coach Jerry Alexander, won at Madison 13-12 in the snow in 1985’s North 2, Group 2 final.
He coached Jim Hopke when Hopke was a player – Hopke was a senior on the 1985 team – and he also coached under Hopke when Hopke was the head coach.
“Jim was an excellent coach and an outstanding player,” Zappulla said.
Zappulla was an ambassador for New Jersey high school football. He spoke, based on volumes of experience, very highly of the product.
“To me it’s equal to any state in the country,” Zappulla said three years ago. “It’s the success of the players that come out of the state.”
Union County not lost only one of its best assistant coaches of all time, but one of its finest gridiron men, period.
Zappulla will certainly be missed.
22ND ANNUAL SNAPPLE BOWL – PLAYED AT KEAN
Middlesex County (14-8) 6 15 3 9 – 33
Union County (8-14) 0 7 6 0 – 13
Middlesex – Chase Fee 5 run, kick failed (M 6-0)
Middlesex – Chase Fee 14 run, Ed Mish kick (M 13-0)
Union – Kyle Phipps 1 run, Andrew Ciccarino kick (M 13-7)
Middlesex – Javon Hicks 30 pass from Mike Gargano,
Joe Castellanos pass from Mike Gargano (M 21-7)
Capitalized on a turnover, a fumble recovery by Kyle Dickerson.
Union – Jayson Gonzalez 1 run, kick failed (M 21-13)
Capitalized on a turnover, an interception by Kevin Trotter.
Middlesex – FG Ed Mish 27 (M 24-13)
Middlesex – Safety, punt fumbled out of end zone (M 26-13)
Capitalized on a turnover, a lost fumble.
Middlesex – Tenny Adewusi 2 run, Ed Mish kick (M 33-13)
LATEST SNAPPLE BOWL SCORE
2015: Middlesex 33, Union 13
MVP – Chase Fee,
At Kean University
SNAPPLE BOWL FACTS
Series lead: Middlesex 14-8
Home team: 9-13
Road team: 13-9
Most points: Middlesex, 463
Least points: Union, 343
Shutouts: 1 – Union (2003)
5-game winning streak:
1- Middlesex (2006-2010)
4-game winning streak:
3-game winning streak:
MIDDLESEX MVPs (14)
Monroe: Khamisi Jackson, 1994
South Brunswick: Kenny Rogers, 1996
Dunellen: Luke Cianello, 1998
Perth Amboy: Jeff LeSeur, 1999
South River: Zack Earvin, 2002
Sayreville: Herbert Nieves, 2006
New Brunswick: Aireil Adams, 2007
Piscataway: James White, 2008
South Plainfield: Michael Burton, 2009
South Brunswick: Mike Muha, 2010
Woodbridge: Cody Zalasar, 2012
Edison: Abdel Ragab, 2013
St. Joseph’s, Metuchen, Matt Olivo, 2014
Spotswood: Chase Fee, 2015
UNION MVPs (8)
Summit: Jamie Allen, 1995
Rahway: Louis Campbell, 1997
Elizabeth: Billy Gilbert, 2000
Linden: Brandon Bracey, 2001
Johnson: Mike Vicci, 2003
Westfield: Jan Cocozziello, 2004
Cranford: Chris Drechsel, 2005
Roselle: Darius Mayers, 2011
WHERE SNAPPLE BOWL
HAS BEEN PLAYED AT
Union: Middlesex is 3-1
Sayreville: tied at 1-1
East Brunswick: tied at 4-4
Kean University: Middlesex is 5-2
South Brunswick: Middlesex is 1-0
In Union County: Middlesex is 8-3
In Middlesex County: Middlesex 6-5