WESTFIELD – While Saturday’s undefeated Union County clash between Union and Westfield did not turn out to be a classic game by any means, two things were established.
First, when Westfield is on its game – starting with a defense that is difficult to move the ball against – the Blue Devils are a handful for any team they go up against.
Second, while it appears that Union has made some strides so far this year, the Farmers still have a ways to go – although they are not that far away – in order to obtain the goal they are seeking, that of winning a state championship.
Defending North 2, Group 5 state champion Westfield proved to be the better team Saturday at its own Gary Kehler Stadium, producing a key touchdown late in the first half that extended a one-touchdown lead and then adding a six-minute touchdown drive to start the second half.
Westfield received touchdowns from senior wide receiver Jack Shirk, senior running back Ishmael Glasco and senior quarterback Philip Martini in the first half and an acrobatic one from senior wide receiver Mike Moriarty in the second on its way to a commanding 28-13 win over Union in Mid-State 38 Conference-Watchung Division play.
Westfield improved to 5-0 overall and now leads the Watchung Division standings at 4-0.
Union slipped to 3-1 overall and is now in second place in the Watchung Division, also there at 3-1.
Westfield, which never trailed, also improved its overall state-best winning streak to 18 and regular season winning streak to 15.
The Blue Devils defeated the Farmers in the regular season for the first time since a 37-35 home win in 2011.
“I thought we played a complete game, which is what you have to do in order to beat Union,” Westfield head coach Jim DeSarno said. “We ran the ball and threw it well and we did a nice job up front.”
Martini produced a 17-for-26 effort throwing the ball for 209 yards, including touchdown passes to Shirk in the second quarter and Moriarty in the third. He was intercepted once by Union senior defensive back Adens Georges in the third quarter.
Glasco carried 29 times for 101 yards and one touchdown, his 33-yard TD run down the left sideline in the second quarter giving Westfield the lead for good.
Union senior quarterback Justin Beckett broke through a hole and then free down the left sideline for a 50-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 7-7 in the second quarter. He also threw an eight-yard touchdown pass on the right side to senior wide receiver Hansley Cenescar with just 16 seconds remaining for the game’s final points.
Beckett completed 14-of-27 passes for 184 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, one by Westfield’s Ben Kelly off a tip from Steve Barden in the second quarter and the other by Barden in the fourth.
Beckett carried 12 times for 49 yards, gaining 53 in the first half. Westfield held him to negative yardage the final 24 minutes.
“We had a couple of plays to make and we didn’t and Westfield made some plays, I think that was the difference,” Union head coach Lou Grasso, Jr. said. “I don’t think we made a lot of mistakes. I was happy with the way we competed.
“Westfield is a very good team. We still have a long way to go, but I think we’re right there with them.”
After a scoreless first quarter where both teams were halted during their first two possessions, Westfield came up with the game’s first really big play. Union was driving and in Westfield territory when Beckett saw junior wide receiver Andy Martin one step ahead of his Westfield defender.
Beckett threw the ball up to the left side of the field and then right before the end zone Barden tipped the pass away from Martin and into the hands of his teammate, Kelly, who returned the interception 35 yards to the Westfield 45.
Exactly one play later Martini dropped back to pass and found senior wide receiver Jack Shirk wide open on the left side as Shirk ran down the sideline and into the end zone untouched for the game’s first points.
“We made key plays at key times and those were our first ones,” DeSarno said.
To Union’s credit, the Farmers came right back and tied the game on their next possession. On second-and-seven from the 50, Beckett went right through a hole and then outraced everyone else before he reached the end zone with nine minutes to go before the half.
“We overcame the interception when we tied the game,” Grasso said.
Union limited Westfield to just one first down on its next possession, with senior linemen Mike Tverdov making a fine, one-handed tackle of Moriarty on a reverse right that went for a seven-yard loss.
When Union got the ball back, however, it was a quick three-and-out for the Farmers, including a run for no gain on first down and two incomplete passes.
“We knew our main concern was keeping an eye on their quarterback,” Westfield senior defensive lineman Owen Kessler said. “We had to try to shut him down by not letting him get out of the pocket. We had to make sure that he couldn’t scramble a lot of then throw the deep ball.”
Starting from its own 46, it took Westfield four more plays to take the lead for good when Glasco broke through for his 33-yard touchdown run.
“As a team we didn’t execute,” Tverdov said. “Hats off to Westfield, they made more plays than we did.”
After Westfield produced another Union three-and-out that included the same no gain on a run on first down and incomplete passes on second and third, the Blue Devils took over on their own 45 with 1:59 remaining before intermission.
Westfield, mixing the pass and run quite effectively, reached the Union 1 when Moriarty reeled in a pass on the right side from Martini and was pushed out of bounds by Union senior defensive back Al-Tariq Jones. The play went for 27 yards and gave Westfield first-and-goal at the Union 1 with 19 seconds to go.
Martini then followed his line into the end zone to put Westfield up 21-7 at the half.
Westfield got the ball to start the third quarter and marched 63 yards in 11 plays, taking 6:08 off the clock. Moriarty, with both hands, grabbed the ball off the helmet of the Union cornerback covering him and reached the end zone on third-and-5 from the Union 10.
Westfield was now in total control with a lead of 28-7.
“Scoring right before the half was huge,” Kessler said. “Our clock management in the beginning of the second half was also really good.”
“It came down to us making key plays, our two-minute drill before the half and our six-minute drive in the third quarter,” DeSarno said. “When you play a good team like Union you need to be up by three scores. That was our ability to get the job done right there.”
“We’re not going to hang our heads,” Tverdov said. “We’re going to get right back at it and prepare hard for Franklin.”
NOTES: In the first half, Union had 150 yards of total offense on 57 rushing and 93 passing and Westfield 231 on 76 passing and 155 rushing.
Union has four playoff qualifying games scheduled for the next four Friday nights, including Franklin home, at Ridge, Bridgewater-Raritan at home and at Hunterdon Central.
“We have a much different feeling walking away from here than we did last year,” Grasso said. “One, there’s a long way to go and two, we feel that we’re not that far off.”
Westfield has three playoff qualifying games left, including at Elizabeth this Friday night, Immaculata home in two weeks and then after its bye week a game at Scotch Plains one month from now.
“We have some kids out (Matt Varano, Kyle Shirk and Jake Obsgarten with knee injuries and Brett Spass with a broken hand), so to be 5-0, I will take it,” DeSarno said. “Elizabeth is waiting for us and Immaculata is having a good year. With our depth we need to continue to focus.”
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-WATCHUNG DIVISION
UNION (3-1, 3-1) 0 7 0 6 – 13
WESTFIELD (4-0, 5-0) 0 21 7 0 – 28
WESTFIELD – Jack Shirk 55 pass from Philip Martini, Mike Moriarty kick (W 7-0)
1 play, 55 yards, :10 used
Westfield capitalized on a turnover – an interception by Ben Kelly.
UNION – Justin Beckett 50 run, Mike Matullo kick (7-7)
4 plays, 80 yards, 2:15 used
WESTFIELD – Ishmael Glasco 33 run, Mike Moriarty kick (W 14-7)
4 plays, 54 yards, 2:09 used
WESTFIELD – Philip Martini 1 run, Mike Moriarty kick (W 21-7)
8 plays, 55 yards, 1:43 used
WESTFIELD – Mike Moriarty 10 pass from Philip Martini, Mike Moriarty kick
11 plays, 63 yards, 6:08 used
UNION – Hansley Cenescar 8 pass from Justin Beckett, kick failed
13 plays, 68 yards, 3:00 used