CRANFORD – Last year Cranford came off its first-ever 11-1 campaign.
However, that did not include a state championship.
This year the Cougars are coming off their first-ever 12-0 season.
That did include the program’s second North 2, Group 3 state championship and also second in five seasons.
However, many of the key players from last year’s squad graduated, including two-way linemen Will Fries (Penn State) and Kevin Doran (Marist), defensive lineman Ethan Tom (Susquehanna) and quarterback Jack Schetelich (Villanova).
They were part of a group that continued the success Cranford has achieved the last five seasons.
Cranford is 47-9 (.839) the last five years, which is the second best record of any Union County team (Summit is 50-7, .877) since 2011. The Cougars, who are also 23-1 in their last 24 games and have a 20-game regular season winning streak going back to the 2013 season, have also won playoff games in each of the last five seasons, reached three state championship games in that span and have won two of them.
Of Cranford’s 10 playoff victories, nine have come since 2011.
Cranford’s last regular season loss was Oct. 25, 2013 at Group 5 Ridge 49-28. Its last regular season loss to a fellow Group 3 school was a month earlier at Summit.
Cranford last loss a regular season game at home on Oct. 19, 2012 to Ridge 35-21. Its last regular season loss at home to a Group 3 school was to Summit – just like in 2013 – a month earlier.
Cranford has pretty much had every kind of season imaginable under head coach Erik Rosenmeier – now in his 12th season at the helm of the Cougars.
His first team, the 2005 squad, went 6-4 against a schedule that included Linden, Plainfield, Irvington and Shabazz. His 2006 team finished .500 at 5-5, while his 2008 (3-7) and 2009 (4-6) teams were his only ones that came in under .500.
His 2010 squad started real strong with 43-20 and 35-6 wins on the road against Johnson and Voorhees, but still did not make the playoffs, finishing 6-4.
Rosenmeier’s first six teams did not make the playoffs, but did go 6-0 in sectional consolation games. His next five squads have not only made the playoffs, but won at least one playoff game every year.
This year’s squad seeks to be his sixth straight team that qualifies, this time in Central Jersey, Group 3 for a change.
In addition to hanging tough early on against the Lindens, Plainfields and Irvingtons, finishing .500 and then under .500 a couple of times and then back over .500 but still not making the playoffs, Cranford also has in the bank 10-1, 11-1 and 12-0 seasons that include three state championship games and two state championships, the programs first in the playoff era.
Where this year’s team falls will depend on how quickly the newcomers begin to excel on the varsity level. There are only three returning starters on offense and five on defense.
However, Cranford does have one of the best players in Union County on its roster in the name of senior Ryan Bakie. Opposing coaches started to take notice of Bakie’s talents last year, whether it was his role in Cranford’s spread offense or his tenacity on defense in the Cougar secondary.
“Bakie’s a special kid,” Rosenmeier said. “The way he runs, catches and runs after the catch makes him special.
“On defense he was one of the best if not the best. He’s our free safety roaming the center of the field similar to him playing center field in baseball. You can’t run on him or throw the ball away from him it seems.”
“I think he can be the type of player that Luke Christiano (now playing at Lehigh) was for us as a senior two years ago.”
Bakie has played on sectional championship football and baseball teams at Cranford, with Bakie helping the Cougar baseball team capture this spring’s North 2, Group 3 title for the fifth time this decade.
Asked which sectional title was more fulfilling, Bakie replied: “they were both satisfying.”
Another Cranford kid that played on football and baseball sectional championship teams is this year’s starting quarterback, Brian Oblachinski.
“Brian’s at quarterback for the reason that he’s one of the best athletes on the team,” Rosenmeier said. “He played the position when he was younger and had some time last year on offense at slot and running back.
“He’s throwing the ball better than we’ve expected so far. He also runs with it well.”
Rosenmeier and assistant coach Kerry Drexler are handling the offense this year, with last year’s coordinator – Mark Ciccotelli – now the head coach at North Plainfield.
“Our main area of concern on offense is the line,” Rosenmeier said. “With Fries and Doran there the last three years there was consistency. These guys now need to run block and pass protect.”
On defense, Cranford switched up to a 3-3 by week No. 3 last year – from a 4-3 formation – and remains in the 3-3 at the present moment.
Returning starter Brian McGovern, a senior, is another player Rosenmeier expects continued quality play from. He is also back in the secondary at strong safety.
“Brian sets the tone with his play,” Rosenmeier said. “He’s one of the toughest players, a hard-nosed Cranford kid. He reminds me of a Phillipsburg kid when I lived in Phillipsburg.”
At the nose guard position is senior Alex Esposito.
“He’s a college player who will give kids fits,” Rosenmeier said. “He takes his wrestling and football skills and can make problems for teams in the middle of our defense.”
While Cranford may not have the similar kind of height it showed with players such as Fries and Doran the past few years that’s okay with Rosenmeier.
“We want our kids to be able to move and move fast and get to the football,” Rosenmeier said.
CRANFORD’S SPREAD OFFENSE:
LG Owen McDermott, senior, (6-2, 240)
LT Jack Carroll, junior, (6-2, 215)
C Tommy DeMartino, senior, (5-9, 190)
RG Anthony Ramirez, senior, (6-0, 235)
RT Johnny Weston, senior, (6-0, 225)
QB Brian Oblachinski, senior, (5-9, 165)
TB Brian McGovern, senior, (5-9, 180)
SB Ryan Bakie, senior, (6-3, 200)
SB Connor Fitzsimmons, senior, (5-9, 165)
SB Joshua Cadet, junior, (5-10, 165)
WR Chris Curry, senior, (6-2, 215)
WR Louis Recupero, senior, (6-2, 170)
WR James Wozniak, senior, (5-9, 170)
WR Jake Bradford, junior, (5-8, 155)
PK Valentino Ambrosio, junior, (5-8, 150)
Returning starters (3): Ramirez, McGovern,
CRANFORD’s 3-3 DEFENSE:
NG Alex Esposito, senior, (6-3, 250)
LE Andy Joseph, senior, (5-11, 185)
RE Thomas Armstrong, senior, (6-2, 195)
E John Markase, junior, (5-9, 185)
E Rob Schork, sophomore, (6-2, 215)
LLB Sean Bryson, senior, (5-11, 190)
MLB Pat Hoey, senior, (5-8, 170)
LB Matt Doran, sophomore, (5-10, 175)
RLB Dylan Budnik, junior, (6-2, 205)
CB Joshua Cadet, junior, (5-10, 165)
CB Josiah Cadet, junior, (5-8, 165)
CB Brian Oblachinski, senior, (5-9, 165)
CB Jake Bradford, junior, (5-8, 155)
FS Ryan Bakie, senior, (6-3, 200)
FS Elijah Arroyo, junior, (5-10, 165)
SS Brian McGovern, senior, (5-9, 180)
SS Josh DeChillo, senior, (5-10, 180)
SS Eric Shapiro, senior, (6-3, 195)
P Brian Oblachinski, senior, (5-9, 165)
Returning starters (5): Armstrong, Bryson,
Oblachinski, Bakie, McGovern.
Head coach: Erik Rosenmeier, since 2005.
A 1983 Johnson Regional graduate.
12th season: 77-39 (.664)
Conference: Mid-State 38
Section: Central Jersey, Group 3
Cranford’s last sectional title: 2015
2015: (12-0 and 6-0, first in Raritan Division)
Memorial Field: Field Turf.
Rosenmeier first guided Cranford to six straight
non-playoff seasons (2005-2010) and now seeks to
lead the Cougars to a sixth consecutive playoff
campaign. Cranford is 9-3 in the playoffs – all
in North 2, Group 3 – the last five seasons,
including at least five trips to the semifinals,
three to the final and the program’s first two
state championships in the playoff era.
CRANFORD COUGARS 2016
Sept. 9 Somerville, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 Voorhees, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 at Rahway, 1 p.m.
Sept. 30 North Plainfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 Scotch Plains, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Summit, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 Gov. Livingston, 7 p.m.
Oct. 29 at Hillside, 1 p.m.
Nov. 4 at Delaware Valley, 7 p.m.
2015 CRANFORD COUGARS (12-0)
(A) Cranford 24, Warren Hills 23
(H) Cranford 41, Somerville 14
(H) Cranford 41, Roselle 7
(A) Cranford 42, Summit 0
(A) Cranford 49, Voorhees 24
(H) Cranford 51, Hillside 17
(A) Cranford 28, Delaware Valley 21
(H) Cranford 35, Gov. Livingston 20
(A) Cranford 50, North Plainfield 8
(H) Cranford 56, Voorhees 7
(H) Cranford 48, Ridgefield Park 14
(N) Cranford 50, Chatham 23
Head coach: Erik Rosenmeier,
Section: North 2, Group 3
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Raritan 6-0, champs
Points for: 515
Points against: 178