WESTFIELD – Playing mistake-free football on offense, defense and special teams will usually get you to the next playoff round.
Also leading a charmed life certainly doesn’t hurt.
That’s what it was like for host Westfield Saturday as the Blue Devils scored the first of their six touchdowns on the game’s ninth play from scrimmage and never looked back.
All the visiting Union Farmers could do was continue to scratch their heads as it seemed like every time they turned around Westfield was celebrating six points.
Fans of Westfield football, the present Westfield players and coaches and even the cheerleaders and band waited a long time for the Blue Devils to cement their place in history.
Westfield did so – emphatically – Saturday afternoon as the second-seeded Blue Devils went on to produce a highly-decisive 44-14 victory over sixth-seeded Union in the North 2, Group 5 semifinal played at Gary Kehler Stadium.
Westfield will face top-seeded Bridgewater-Raritan (11-0) in the Dec. 3 final at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, kickoff scheduled for 8 p.m.
BR, with a playoff record of only 5-7, will be playing in its first final.
NORTH 2, GROUP 5 CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES:
2015 – Westfield vs. Bridgewater-Raritan – at MetLife Stadium
2014 – Linden 27, Elizabeth 20 – at MetLife Stadium
2013 – Ridge 48, Union 13 – at Rutgers University
2012 – Elizabeth 37, Piscataway 33 – at Kean University
Westfield was ahead by two touchdowns with more than half of the first quarter to go. The Blue Devils led by three TDs entering the second quarter.
Westfield led 34-0 with 10:07 still to go before halftime.
Taking advantage of Union turnovers and missed coverages, Westfield was on its game from the start, while Union simply wasn’t.
Westfield’s first TD took only two plays of its first possession, its second took just one play after a strip and fumble recovery return, its third came on the fifth play of its fourth possession – still in the first quarter – its fourth came on just the second play of possession No. 5 and the fifth was a pick-6 interception return of 25 yards by the same player who had the fumble recovery that led to Westfield’s second score – senior Jacob Kurstedt.
“Union came in hot and had just won a big game on the road last week,” said Westfield 10th-year head coach Jim DeSarno, who in his fourth attempt in a sectional semifinal – and first at home – guided the Blue Devils to the section’s championship game. “At 34-0 I was still nervous, I can’t lie.”
“You can’t make the mistakes we made against a team like them, they’re too good,” third-year Union head coach Lou Grasso Jr. said. “Westfield’s a good team that kicked our butt. We’ll live and learn.”
Westfield senior running back Jack Curry carried the ball 26 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns, but by no means was he the lead story.
Westfield’s defense, which has yielded the least amount of points of any team in Union County at 90, continues to excel and did a fine job of bottling up Union junior running back Jeron Whitfield, who was held to just 36 yards on 16 carries.
Westfield senior linebacker Steven Barmakian (No. 33) had his name called by the announcer all afternoon after he made or was in on tackle after tackle.
Westfield senior quarterback Zach Kelly threw for three touchdowns – two to Jelani Pierre and one to JD Marner – including a clutch throw on fourth down for the final Blue Devil TD. Kelly also had a huge run on that final touchdown-scoring drive, which halted important momentum Union gained midway through the third quarter.
“It was a shock to be up by that many points that quickly,” Kelly said. “Union is always so close to us.”
Although the Farmers pulled to within three scores with some six minutes still to go in the third quarter, it was pretty much all downhill for Union, which sought to return to the North 2, Group 5 final for the second time in three seasons.
Instead, Westfield reached its first North 2, Group 5 title contest and will be playing in its first state championship game in 17 years since reaching the North 2, Group 3 final in 1998.
Oh and, by the way, Westfield is 10-0 for the first time since Gary Kehler directed the Westfield quarterback to hand the ball off to future pro running back Butch Woolfolk. The Blue Devils were last 10-0 during Woolfolk’s senior season of 1977.
That is also the last year Westfield won a championship in the playoff era and only the second overall. Westfield captured North 2, Group 4 in 1976 and 1977 for its only playoff titles. The playoffs began in New Jersey in 1974. Westfield won the 1976 one at home and the 1977 one at the old Giants Stadium during its second year of existence.
Union, which had a three-game winning streak snapped and fell to 5-5, scored on fourth-and-goal from the Westfield one-yard line inside the final minute of the first half, with junior quarterback Justin Beckett being pushed through. In the third quarter, Beckett completed a 62-yard touchdown pass over the middle to senior wide receiver Kyle Boyd.
At that point Union cut the lead to 34-14 with 5:45 to go in the third.
“Our kids fought and it was commendable,” Grasso said. “When you get to this game there is really no room for error.
“The first quarter was a worst case scenario for us.”
On Westfield’s next possession after Union scored its second touchdown, Curry was stopped for a one-yard loss on the first play of the drive.
Union was now playing with confidence and seeking to get a quick stop to try to score one more time before the fourth quarter to start to make the game really interesting.
However, Kelly had other ideas. On the next play Kelly completed a nine-yard pass to Marner and then two plays later Kelly broke contain and found room on the right side for a huge 35-yard gain to the Union 32.
“I wanted to use my legs more to take the pressure off Jack,” Kelly said. “I got a cut back and broke it.”
“That play was a killer,” Grasso said.
“Zach played well,” DeSarno said. “He can move and run. We needed that kind of play right there to fight them off.”
Westfield came so close to playing in last year’s North 2, Group 5 final, falling at eventual champion Linden 14-6 in the semifinals. Westfield shut out the Tigers in the second half and almost forced overtime.
“This is a totally different team,” DeSarno said.
NOTES: Westfield has now won 11 straight games overall and will next host Plainfield Thursday morning on Thanksgiving. If Westfield wins the Blue Devils will not only be 11-0 for the second time in program history, but they will also win the Mid-State 38 Conference’s Watchung Division title outright with a perfect 7-0 league mark.
Westfield has scored at least 40 points five times this year and has done so in four of its last five games.
Union will wrap its season at Linden Wednesday night, with the Farmers seeking to triumph to clinch a winning campaign.
Linden, last year’s North 2, Group 5 champion, is 4-5 and will be seeking to avoid a sub-.500 year.
NORTH 2, GROUP 5 SEMIFINAL AT GARY KEHLER STADIUM
6-UNION (5-5) 0 7 7 0 – 14
2-WESTFIELD (10-0) 21 13 7 3 – 44
WESTFIELD – Jelani Pierre 69 pass from Zach Kelly,
Michael Moriarty kick (W 7-0)
2 plays, 76 yards, :39 used
WESTFIELD – Jack Curry 3 run, Michael Moriarty kick (W 14-0)
1 play, 3 yards, :06 used
Westfield capitalized on a turnover – a fumble recovery by Jacob Kurstedt
WESTFIELD – JD Marner 19 pass from Zach Kelly,
Michael Moriarty kick (W 21-0)
5 plays, 29 yards, 2:18 used
WESTFIELD – Jack Curry 59 run, kick failed (W 27-0)
3 plays, 67 yards, 1:24 used
WESTFIELD – Jacob Kurstedt 25 interception return,
Michael Moriarty kick (W 34-0)
UNION – Justin Beckett 1 run, Jordan Marroquien kick (W 34-7)
12 plays, 58 yards, 5:16 used
UNION – Kyle Boyd 62 pass from Justin Beckett,
Jordan Marroquien (W 34-14)
2 plays, 60 yards, :41 used
WESTFIELD – Jelani Pierre 18 pass from Zach Kelly,
Michael Moriarty kick (W 41-14)
9 plays, 80 yards, 3:25 used
WESTFIELD – FG Michael Moriarty 32 (W 44-14)
10 plays, from Union 49 to Union 15, 6:17 used