Who will advance to the second round?
“Everybody wants another game,” said Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier. “You can create another game on the schedule that is not there.
“That’s the magic of playoff football. Who can extend their season?
“You want to get in and you don’t want to get out.”
Cranford is one of 11 Union County football teams that qualified for the playoffs, which commence this weekend. Six Union County teams will be playing Friday night – Cranford is one of them – and five more on Saturday.
Rosenmeier has led Cranford to at least one playoff victory in each of the last five seasons.
“I’m proud of that,” Rosenmeier said.
Last year’s squad was his second that captured North 2, Group 3 and the first to do so with a 12-0 record.
Cranford is not undefeated this time, but its 7-2 record includes a present six-game winning streak.
Winning at least one playoff game for the sixth straight season will not be easy at all. The fifth-seeded Cougars will play at fourth-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven in their first-ever Central Jersey, Group 3 playoff game.
RFH is the section’s defending champion. According to Rosenmeier, the 6-2 Bulldogs, who have won three straight, have the kind of team that is capable of repeating as champions.
“Quite simple, they’re really good,” Rosenmeier said. “They’re big, physical, well-coached and they are going to do what they do and do it very well. They’ve been very competitive against the teams in the Shore Conference and that says a lot.
“They’re confident and in my mind there’s no doubt that they think they’re the best team in the section.”
Let’s take a look at all 11 matchups involving Union County teams, which includes one defending champion – 2015 North 2, Group 5 winner Westfield.
NORTH 2, GROUP 5: Westfield, Elizabeth, Union.
7-Bayonne (4-5) at 2-Westfield (8-0): Westfield, sparked by senior quarterback Philip Martini and senior defensive lineman Owen Kessler, has the state’s longest winning streak at 21 games. Despite losing several key players to injuries, the Blue Devils have continued to impress. They were upset at home by Bayonne in the first round of the 2011 North 2, Group 4 playoffs, so you know that the Blue Devils will not be taking this Hudson County team, which has lost three straight, for granted. Westfield is a defending sectional champion for the first time since 1977.
5-Elizabeth (4-5) at 4-East Orange Campus (5-3): Elizabeth, led by senior athlete Jahmin Muse, has lost two straight and will seek to snap that slide in Essex County against East Orange Campus.
6-Union (4-4) at 3-Ridge (8-1): Union, guided by senior quarterback Justin Beckett and senior defensive lineman Mike Tverdov, is on a three-game losing streak and will seek to halt it in Somerset County against Ridge. The teams clashed Oct. 21 at Ridge, with the Red Devils leading all the way en route to a 34-21 triumph.
NORTH 2, GROUP 4: Summit.
6-Colonia (5-4) at 3-Summit (7-2): Summit is back home in the playoffs for the first time since reaching the North 2, Group 3 semifinals in 2014. Lifted by the play of senior running back Matt Murdock, the Hilltoppers were the sixth seed and at third-seeded Colonia last year, falling 20-16 in their first-ever N2, G4 playoff game.
NORTH 2, GROUP 3: Gov. Livingston.
6-Gov. Livingston (3-5) at 3-Morris Hills (6-3): GL is in the playoffs in this section for the second time, both under head coach Dan Guyton. The Highlanders are lifted on offense by the play of senior running back Will Nicholson and on defense by senior tackle Dan Tomlinson.
NORTH 2, GROUP 1: Brearley, Roselle Park.
5-Brearley (5-4) at 4-Hoboken (5-4): Brearley is in the playoffs for the fourth year in a row – all in N2, G1 – and for the 11th time in 15 seasons under head coach Scott Miller. The Bears, who last year lost to Hoboken 34-12 in this section’s final at Kean, have a fine junior running back in Khalid Bonnet. The 2016 season will end for one of these two teams.
8-Roselle Park (3-5) at 1-Weequahic (8-0): The Panthers are in the N2, G1 playoffs for the second straight season and for the fourth time in the past five, all under head coach Terry Hanratty. The running game is led by senior David Forstenhausler and the defense by senior lineman Justin Arnold.
CENTRAL JERSEY, GROUP 3: Cranford, Rahway.
5-Cranford (7-2) at 4-Rumson-Fair Haven (6-2): Both of these teams were state champions last year – Cranford in North 2, Group 3 for the second time in five seasons and RFH in this section. Sparked on offense by senior quarterback Brian Oblachinski and on defense by senior lineman Alex Esposito, the Cougars have won six straight and are seeking to win their first playoff game in a Central Jersey section. No Union County team has won a state championship in the playoff era in a Central Jersey section. Cranford is in this section for the first time after making the grade in North 2, Group 3 the past five seasons and winning at least one playoff game all five of those years.
“We knew this was a strong section going in,” Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier said. “There are a lot of good teams in it.
“One of our goals was to make the playoffs and now the next is to advance.”
Cranford, 54-11 since 2011, including 9-3 in the playoffs, had to improve defensively just to win games following a 1-2 start that included a season-opening home loss to much-improved Somerville 41-17 and two weeks later a 40-34 setback at improved Rahway 40-34.
“We had to face facts,” Rosenmeier said. “We were not winning and we had to find out why is that?
“We had to work on getting better because what we were putting out there was not good enough.”
Improvement had to be made in all three areas – offense, defense and special teams.
“The two main areas were offensive line and pass coverage,” Rosenmeier said. “We had a lot of new guys out there that had to learn how to play on a high level, a varsity level, and there was not time to wait.”
Cranford’s signature win is a 37-7 dominance of 5-0 Summit Oct. 14 at Tatlock Field.
“We made some personnel changes and had other guys step up,” Rosenmeier said. “That’s how you do it.”
Cranford and RFH last clashed during Rosenmeier’s first season at the helm of the Cougars in 2005. It was in a consolation game, with both teams not making the grade in CJ, G2 that season.
RFH did not gain enough power points at the cutoff with a 6-2 record, while Cranford did not at 4-4.
They played at Cranford, with RFH on a five-game winning streak and Cranford on a two-game slide. Cranford won 40-13 and then both teams eventually finished the season at 6-4.
8-Rahway (6-2) at 1-Somerville (9-0): These teams met Oct. 7 in the first game played at Rahway’s new turf field at Rahway River Park. Somerville outslugged Rahway 59-35. Perhaps the most improved team in all of New Jersey this year, Somerville won a combined four games the past four seasons, with two of them winless. This is the program’s first winning season since a 5-4 finish in 2011. The Pioneers are averaging an even 50 points, with 454 total. Somerville’s closest margin of victory is 20 points – a 55-35 home win over a North Plainfield team that is presently 1-7 and has lost seven straight. Somerville has scored at least 41 points every game and at least 50 five times. Rahway is led by senior quarterback Zahir Wilder and running backs Terrance Anderson, a senior, and Zion Pendleton, a sophomore.
CENTRAL JERSEY, GROUP 2: Roselle, Johnson.
7-Harrison (5-3) at 2-Roselle (8-0): Another vastly improved team is Roselle, which has the opportunity to play two home playoff games in this section for the second time in three years. The only undefeated team in the section, Roselle has scored 357 points in seven games for an even 51 average. The Rams are led by seniors Gerald Hairston III at quarterback and East Orange Campus transfer Isiah Byrd at running back. Roselle is coached by former East Orange Campus coaches James Williams, the head coach, and Marion Bell the offensive coordinator. At EOC, Bell was the head coach and in charge of the defense and Williams an assistant. For the second time in three years Roselle is two home playoff wins away from reaching the program’s fourth state championship game in the playoff era and first since 1990.
6-Johnson (5-3) at 3-Manasquan (7-1): Johnson qualified in this section for the third straight year under head coach Anthony DelConte. This time the Crusaders, led by senior quarterback Vincent Crisafi and junior running back Joe Turek, did not have to overcome an 0-3 start to do so like it had to in 2014 and 2015. Johnson began 2-1 and is now on a two-game winning streak. The Crusaders advanced to the second round last year with the program’s first playoff win since 2008. Manasquan has won five straight since its only loss, a 21-14 home setback to Middletown South back on Sept. 24. The last time these teams faced each other was in the 2008 CJ, G2 final, with Manasquan coming back in the second half to top Johnson 19-14 at Rutgers.
UNION COUNTY PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
FOR THE FIRST ROUND:
FRIDAY, NOV. 11 (6 games)
North 2, Group 5
6-Union at 3-Ridge, 7 p.m.
5-Elizabeth at 4-East Orange Campus, 7 p.m.
Central Jersey, Group 3
5-Cranford at 4-Rumson-Fair Haven, 7 p.m.
8-Rahway at 1-Somerville, 7 p.m.
North 2, Group 1
5-Brearley at 4-Hoboken, 7 p.m.
8-Roselle Park at 1-Weequahic, 7 p.m.
SATURDAY, NOV. 12 (5 games)
North 2, Group 5
7-Bayonne at 2-Westfield, 1 p.m.
North 2, Group 4
6-Colonia at 3-Summit, 1 p.m.
North 2, Group 3
6-Gov. Livingston at 3-Morris Hills, 1 p.m.
Central Jersey Group 2
7-Harrison at 2-Roselle, 1 p.m.
6-Johnson at 3-Manasquan, 1 p.m.