The winningest Union County program the last five seasons and the only one to reach three state championship games and win two of them in that span is in the early stages of familiarizing itself with a different section.
The NJSIAA moved Cranford out of North 2, Group 3 and into Central Jersey, Group 3 for the first time. Cranford is one of 15 schools situated in the section for the upcoming 2016 football season.
Cranford is the only one of the 17 football playing schools in Union County to change classification this year.
Cranford was situated in N2, G3 since 2011 after its final year in Central Jersey, Group 2 in 2010. The Cougars were also situated in North 2, Group 4 once playoff football began in New Jersey in the mid-1970s.
“I’m not really surprised since we’re so close geographically,” said Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier, at the helm of the Cougars since 2005. “There’s a fine line.”
Rosenmeier has guided Cranford to the state playoffs each of the last five seasons – all in North 2, Group 3. His playoff record is 9-3, which includes a 2-1 record in the N2, G3 final and at least one playoff win the last five years in a row.
“Once the state went to five groups we remained in North 2, Group 3,” Rosenmeier said. “This section (CJ, G3) will also be a challenge.
“It’s Shore Conference-heavy and we’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for the Shore Conference. You also have teams in it like Carteret and teams like Ewing from their conference and the central part of the state.
“It certainly will be a new challenge for us, with new teams for us and really good teams as there were in North 2, Group 3. My kids and my staff are looking forward to it.”
Cranford is one of two 2015 sectional champions that enters the section from a different one. The other is Shore Conference school Raritan, which captured Central Jersey, Group 2 a year ago with a final record of 7-5 that included a five-game losing streak in the middle of the season.
The section’s defending champion – Rumson-Fair Haven – defeated Red Bank Regional in last year’s championship game. Both of those schools are in the section again for 2016.
In Cranford’s slightly different Mountain Division schedule out of the Mid-State 38 Conference, opponents Somerville, Rahway and North Plainfield are also in CJ, G3. Rahway moved into the section two years ago.
Cranford captured the Mid-State’s Raritan Division title the last two years, winning the crown both times with undefeated league records.
The change in Cranford’s schedule this year features the Cougars playing Rahway and Scotch Plains once again and no longer facing Warren Hills and Roselle.
Cranford last played Scotch Plains in 2013 and Rahway in 2011.
“Our schedule is a bit different, but everything old is new again,” Rosenmeier said. “This is a schedule similar to the ones we had in 2008 and 2009.”
Cranford played Rahway in 2008 in its final season before the Mid-State and then in its first season in the Mid-State in 2009 picked up Scotch Plains again and remained playing Rahway for another three seasons.
“The focus is still size with consideration being given to geography,” Rosenmeier said. “The Mid-State is a good conference and has been since the beginning, even when we couldn’t win a game in it.”
In Cranford’s first season in the Mid-State 38 Conference in 2009 (there were actually 39 schools in the conference that year) the Cougars finished last in the Mountain Division at 0-5 and were 4-6 overall.
In winning the conference’s Raritan Division crown the past two years, Cranford went 6-0 in league play in both 2014 and 2015.
CENTRAL JERSEY, GROUP 3 (15 schools): Carteret, Cranford, Ewing, Hopewell Valley, Lawrence, Matawan, Monmouth, North Plainfield, Ocean Township, Rahway, Raritan, Red Bank Regional, Rumson-Fair Haven, Somerville, South Plainfield.
CRANFORD PLAYOFF HISTORY:
NORTH 2, GROUP 4 (1 appearance):
1975 semifinals: Livingston 44, Cranford 0 – at Livingston
NORTH 2, GROUP 3 (6 appearances):
2002 quarterfinals: Shabazz 14, Cranford 6 – at Shabazz
2011 quarterfinals: received a bye
2011 semifinals: Cranford 34, Colonia 7 – at Colonia
2011 final: Cranford 27, Parsippany Hills 0 – at Kean University
2012 quarterfinals: Cranford 37, South Plainfield 12 – at Cranford
2012 semifinals: Palisades Park 35, Cranford 21 – at Cranford
2013 quarterfinals: Cranford 47, Palisades Park 21 – at Palisades Park
2013 semifinals: Summit 35, Cranford 14 – at Summit
2014 quarterfinals: Cranford 46, North Plainfield 6 – at Cranford
2014 semifinals: Cranford 35, West Essex 7 – at Cranford
2014 final: Parsippany Hills 20, Cranford 13 – at MetLife
2015 quarterfinals: Cranford 56, Voorhees 7 – at Cranford
2015 semifinals: Cranford 48, Ridgefield Park 14 – at Cranford
2015 final: Cranford 50, Chatham 23 – at Kean University
NORTH 2, GROUP 2 (1 appearance):
2003 quarterfinals: Cranford 28, Voorhees 21 – at Cranford
2003 semifinals: Rutherford 27, Cranford 24 – at Rutherford
CENTRAL JERSEY, GROUP 2 (1 appearance):
2004 quarterfinals: Rahway 20, Cranford 13 – at Cranford
2016 UNION COUNTY
UNION – North 2, Group 5
ROSELLE PARK – North 2, Group 1
BREARLEY – North 2, Group 1
DAYTON – North 2, Group 1
GOV. LIVINGSTON – North 2, Group 3
SUMMIT – North 2, Group 4
-2nd straight year (was previously in N2, G3 in 2014)
ELIZABETH – North 2, Group 5
HILLSIDE – Central Jersey, Group 2
LINDEN – North 2, Group 5
– 4th straight year (was previously in N2, G4 in 2012)
RAHWAY – Central Jersey, Group 3
– 3rd straight year (was previously in CJ, G2 in 2013)
ROSELLE – Central Jersey, Group 2
CRANFORD – from North 2, Group 3 to Central Jersey, Group 3
JOHNSON – Central Jersey, Group 2
WESTFIELD – North 2, Group 5
PLAINFIELD – North 2, Group 5
– 3rd straight year (was previously in N2, G4 in 2013)
SCOTCH PLAINS – North 2, Group 4
NEW PROVIDENCE – Central Jersey, Group 2
– 2nd straight year (was previously in N2, G1)