Union County All-Stars hold on for 13-7 football win over Middlesex County; Snap 4-game losing streak

Linebacker Okomaro of Hillside named MVP; Elizabeth's Burch, Linden's Guillaume score Union County TDs

Sometimes in sports you just have to switch things up just for the sake of switching them up.

You may need to go against conventional wisdom and put people in positions where they will need to learn, need to grow, in order to be successful.

When you put that philosophy into an all-star game setting, you better learn, grow and become successful pretty fast.

So when Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier, with the aid of his entire Cranford staff, chose to handle the Union County defense and Westfield head coach Jim DeSarno the Union County offense this time, those were decisions that were sought to put an end to the dominance displayed the past decade by the host Middlesex County squad.

During the 2015 season, Rosenmeier led Cranford to a 12-0 record that included the second-time North 2, Group 3 champion Cougars averaging 42 points a game. DeSarno also guided first-time North 2, Group 5 champ Westfield to a 12-0 mark that saw his Blue Devils yield just eight points a game.

This time with Rosenmeier and his staff leading the offense and DeSarno in charge of the defense, the Union County All-Stars found a way to break through and come out on top against their Middlesex County All-Star counterparts.

With all the scoring done in the fourth quarter – a Snapple Bowl first – it was the Union County All-Stars holding on for a hard-fought 13-7 triumph in Thursday night’s myCentralJersey.com Snapple Bowl XXIII played for the first time at Woodbridge High School.

Rosenmeier and DeSarno were coaching together in the Snapple Bowl for the third time – the first two times resulted in losses in the 2008 and 2012 contests – and both relished another victory before they each get ready to prepare for their 2016 campaigns.

“Jim and I were 0-2 in this game, so afterwards we declared that we made ourselves 13-0 (for the past year),” Rosenmeier said.

Union County snapped a four-game losing streak and pulled to within 14-9 in the series. Middlesex County had won nine of the previous 10 contests and was seeking a second five-game winning streak.

“It felt good to get off the schneid,” Rosenmeier said.

Union County All-Stars quarterback Ja’Quill Burch of Elizabeth scored on a 14-yard run early in the fourth quarter and then some 10 minutes later running back Guirvenson Guillaume of Linden scored from three yards out to put Union County ahead 13-0.

James Modica caught a 41-yard touchdown pass from Tracy Fudge – both players from Woodbridge High – with just less than three minutes to play and then placekicker Josh Wood of Monroe kicked the extra point to pull Middlesex County to within one score at 13-7.

However, the host team was not successful at executing the ensuing onside kick, which was picked up by Andy Urness of New Providence.

Middlesex County was still able to get the ball back one more time with just over a minute remaining, but its final possession, which began at its own 44, ended when Union County safety Kyle Boyd of Union produced a game-clinching interception.

With defense being the name of this game, it was Osaheni Omokaro of Hillside, a 6-1, 190-pound athlete who was listed as a defensive lineman, who stood out and gained MVP honors. He is the first Hillside Comets player to earn that distinction.

“We moved him to our stack linebacker position,” Rosenmeier said. “We (the Cranford coaches) knew he was talented from scouting him and game-planning for him when we played Hillside last year.”

Omokaro registered two sacks in the first half among his five total tackles.

“By moving him to linebacker we did not want to give Middlesex County any clear idea where he was coming from,” Rosenmeier said. “He made a lot of impact plays early with his sacks and pressures.”

It was reported that Union County held Middlesex County to just 29 rushing yards and 137 passing.

Middlesex County scored at least 30 points in each of the last four games – all victories – averaging 34 points the last four years. The last time Middlesex County was held to just one touchdown was in the 2011 game at Kean University, which was Union County’s last victory prior to Thursday night – a 28-6 triumph.

Rosenmeier coached the Union County offense and DeSarno the defense during their first two Snapple Bowl turns in the rotation.

“Our defense really played well,” Rosenmeier said. “With the defense you have an advantage, with no restrictions on schemes.

“With our whole Cranford staff (including defensive specialist Joe Hubert, who has been coaching with Rosenmeier since 2010) we as coaches didn’t need time to learn new terminology. For us it was just like another Cranford game.

“There was an advantage there, plus the kids did what they needed to do, which was play fast, smart and aggressive.”

Rosenmeier found it more difficult to handle the offensive chores his first two times.

“Offense is a lot more difficult because you’re dealing with execution and that takes more than just a couple of weeks,” Rosenmeier said. “I thought Jim did a great job with our offense and with his plan I thought we started to wear them down.”

NOTES: Cranford punter-placekicker Joe Norton, who will continue playing baseball at Montclair State University, was 1-for-2 on extra point attempts and 0-2 on field goal kicks.

He also attempted to extend one Union County drive with one of his patented fake punt runs, but was stopped just short.

His efficient punting was key to the back-and-forth field position strategy that saw both teams not put a single point on the scoreboard for the first three quarters.

“His punting and the changing of field position was a big part of the game for us,” Rosenmeier said.

Selected as 2015 coaches of the year at halftime were DeSarno for Union County and New Brunswick’s Don Sofilkanich for Middlesex County.

DeSarno guided Westfield to its first state championship since the Blue Devils repeated as North 2, Group 4 winners way back in 1977.

Sofilkanich led his New Brunswick Zebras to last year’s Central Jersey, Group 5 final, where they were defeated by Old Bridge 26-12. New Brunswick closed at 9-2 in 2015.

Rosenmeier was named Union County Coach of the Year for 2011 after leading Cranford to both its first state championship game and first state title in the playoff era – the N2, G3 crown – that season.

South Brunswick is the only school to have two MVPs, with Kenny Rogers honored in 1996 and Mike Muha in 2010.

Snapple Bowl XXIV will be played at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium in Union on July 20, 2017.

 

SNAPPLE BOWL FACTS

Series lead: Middlesex 14-9

Home team: 9-14

Road team: 14-9

Most points: Middlesex, 470

Least points: Union, 356

Shutouts: 1 – Union (2003)

5-game winning streak:

1– Middlesex (2006-2010)

4-game winning streak:

1-Middlesex (2012-2015)

3-game winning streak:

1-Union (2003-2005)

 

MIDDLESEX COUNTY 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 COUNTY MVPs (9)

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

Hillside: Osaheni Omokaro, 2016

 

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

Woodbridge: Union is 1-0

In Union County: Middlesex is 8-3

In Middlesex County: tied at 6-6

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