Making the tackle and not giving up the football via a turnover were going to be the keys for Brearley’s success this season according to head coach Scott Miller.
That is what he emphasized two months ago before his 14th season at the helm of the Bears was about to commence.
“We need to tackle better, as simple as that sounds, and we need to hold on to the ball,” Miller said right before the season-opener. “If we do those two things we have a chance to be real good.”
Two months later and Brearley is 9-0 for the third time under Miller’s tutelage. To say that his Bears have tackled better and held on to the ball would most likely be an understatement.
Brearley’s ninth win was a special one Friday night at Ward Field in Kenilworth as a 27-19 triumph over a 7-0 New Providence squad clinched the Mid-State 38 Conference’s Valley Division championship for the Bears.
True to the team philosophy, Brearley did not turn the ball over and came up with four of its own – two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Brearley senior quarterback Sebastian Montesdeoca engineered a fourth quarter, 80-yard touchdown drive that culminated with him throwing a TD pass to senior end Evan Collier to increase Brearley’s lead from 21-19 to 27-19. Then on defense, Montesdeoca intercepted a last-play-of-the-game New Providence pass to clinch the victory.
This is Brearley’s first division title since the Mid-State 38 Conference was formed in 2009.
The Bears (9-0, 8-0) will also not see New Providence (7-1, 7-1) anymore this season because for the first time the Pioneers are situated in Central Jersey, Group 2.
Miller, a 1987 Brearley Regional graduate who played for head coach Bob Taylor, is now also just one win shy of gaining his 100th coaching victory.
Miller, with a record of 99-45-1 (.688), will get his first chance at obtaining victory No. 100 next Friday night when his top-seeded Bears host a first round North 2, Group 1 playoff opponent.
Brearley is the top seed in N2, G1 for the first time since 2008, which was the last year the Bears began 9-0.
Brearley is now two home wins shy of playing for the N2, G1 championship the first weekend in December. The Bears won the crown in the playoff era for the fifth time in 2006 when Miller became the first Union County head coach to guide a team to a 12-0 finish.
This team has that same kind of look and has had it now for awhile.
“Our goal was to compete for the conference and get in the playoffs,” Miller said. “This was just a great showing by our kids. They played their butts off for 48 minutes.”
Brearley led 21-6 at the half against New Providence, but the visiting Pioneers scored the first two touchdowns of the second half to storm back and pull to within 21-19.
“In the first half our game plan on offense worked pretty well and on defense we had a couple of takeaways,” Miller said. “I give New Providence credit because in the second half they made adjustments and we really only had the ball for four or five possessions.”
With just over two minutes left Montesdeoca, a three-year starter, threw a little out-route on fourth-and goal from the New Providence four. Collier, who played his first three years of high school football at Metuchen, caught the pass to extend Brearley’s slim two-point advantage.
“In think we chewed something like six minutes off the clock with that drive,” Miller said.
On New Providence’s last touchdown, the Pioneers went for two, with a pass to the end zone going incomplete.
After Brearley’s final TD, the Bears missed the extra point, keeping the contest a one-possession game.
New Providence drove into Brearley territory on the game’s final possession, only to be thwarted by a Montesdeoca division title producing INT.
Collier, who grew up in Kenilworth, attended middle school there and played Pop Warner football in town, was a huge acquisition for the Bears as a Metuchen transfer.
“He’s a difference-maker,” Miller said. “He really made some nice catches tonight. When we put him out on formations other teams have to worry about him, which helps our running game.”
Last year Brearley qualified for the North 2, Group 1 playoffs, but were plagued by turnovers and exited in the first round.
“Looking back at last year, we really emphasized holding on to the ball,” Miller said. “Going through the season we’ve really taken care of the ball.
“That’s been a key for us during our last three-game stretch. I think we were plus-3 in each game.”
Junior defensive back Richard Ermeus had Brearley’s other interception, while senior linebacker Manny Salado was credited with coming up with one of Brearley’s two fumble recoveries.
NOTES: Brearley is now one of three undefeated Union County teams, Cranford (9-0) and Westfield (8-0) also winning Friday night.
Cranford, 9-0 for the second straight season, will also be the top seed in North 2, Group 3 for the second consecutive year.
The Cougars will begin their 2016 campaign with a 20-game regular season winning streak. Cranford is now 44-9 (.830) since 2011.
The Cougars are also two home playoff wins away from playing in their third N2, G3 final in five seasons.
Westfield is 8-0 for the first time under 10th-year head coach Jim DeSarno, with the Blue Devils most likely to be the second seed for the North 2, Group 5 playoffs.
Westfield has only won two state championships in the playoff era, those coming in the running back Butch Woolfolk-head coach Gary Kehler days of North 2, Group 4 in 1976 and 1977.
DeSarno’s 2015 squad has dominated seven of eight foes so far, with seven double digit wins.
The latest was Friday night’s 33-14 triumph at Hunterdon Central. It was the first time Westfield defeated the Red Devils of Hunterdon County.
Standout senior running back Jack Curry scored three of the Blue Devil touchdowns. Westfield got out to a 13-0 lead and never trailed.
“Our running game got better as the game went along,” DeSarno said.
Westfield has now outscored the opposition by an impressive 276-62 count for the second-best point differential margin among Union County teams – 214. Cranford is first at 227, having scored the most points of any team in Union County with 361.
Westfield has scored the second most points of any Union County team and given up the least.
“No doubt this is fun and exciting for our kids,” DeSarno said. “They’ve worked really hard and our special teams have really been a strong point.
“Our coverage units and return units have been solid. It’s something we don’t overlook and take a lot of pride in.”
Westfield, which has played in only one sectional final since 1977 – that being the 1998 North 2, Group 3 title game – came oh so close last year to upsetting Linden and reaching the N2, G5 final. Westfield lost at Linden 14-6 in last year’s N2, G5 semifinals, holding eventual champion Linden to no points in the second half.
“The kids felt like they could take this to the next level,” DeSarno said. “I saw this as a new team and could never have predicted what we’ve been able to achieve up to this point.
“I like our team. I like the makeup of it.”
While Cranford repeated as the Mid-State 38 Conference’s Raritan Division champion and Brearley won the Valley Division for the first time, Westfield will still need to beat visiting Plainfield on Thanksgiving to capture the conference’s Watchung Division crown for the first time.
This is only Westfield’s second season as a member of the Watchung Division, with the Blue Devils finishing third last year with a 5-2 league mark.
FRIDAY NIGHT UNION COUNTY SCOREBOARD
Brearley 27, New Providence 19 – at Brearley
Roselle Park 57, Manville 12 – at Manville
Westfield 33, Hunterdon Central 14 – at Hunterdon Central
Cranford 50, North Plainfield 8 – at North Plainfield
Johnson 40, Somerville 29 – at Somerville
Roselle 33, Bernards 26 – at Bernards
Dayton 27, Pingry 24 – at Dayton
* Johnson (5-3) clinched a second straight playoff berth in Central Jersey, Group 2 after winning its fifth straight.
* Roselle Park (5-3) will be in the North 2, Group 1 playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
* Dayton (4-5) has won two games in a row for the first time this year.