WESTFIELD – The host Blue Devils employed what I will call the “007 Offense” in taking down Union County football rival Union once again.
You could say that Westfield likes its Martini Shirk, not stirred.
That’s because it was the air show of senior quarterback Philip Martini throwing the ball down field to senior wide receiver Jack Shirk that proved Union’s undoing.
Three times Martini connected with Shirk for touchdowns in the first half – covering 19, 65 and 68 yards.
Those scores stood up as Union County’s best defense nearly pitched a shutout en route to a commanding 21-7 win.
Second-seeded Westfield’s victory over sixth-seeded Union in Saturday’s North 2, Group 5 semifinal played at Gary Kehler Stadium might not have been a Blue Devils masterpiece, but it was good enough to get Westfield back to the N2, G5 final.
Westfield, which improved to 10-0 and will next move to 11-0 with an expected win at Plainfield on Thanksgiving, will once again take on an 11-0 Bridgewater-Raritan team in the final.
The game is scheduled to be played Saturday, Dec. 3 at 1 p.m. at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.
Westfield held on to defeat BR 10-7 at MetLife on a Thursday night in last year’s championship game, with the Blue Devils winning North 2, Group 5 for the first time and capturing the program’s first state championship in the playoff era since 1977.
BR was making its first appearance in a state championship game last year. This is the ninth time the Panthers have qualified for the playoffs.
Westfield also defeated BR 24-14 at home in the first round of the 2014 N2, G5 playoffs.
Westfield, winners now of 23 straight overall and 14 consecutive games (including playoffs) at home, was making its third straight appearance in the N2, G5 semifinals.
Westfield repeated as the Mid-State 38 Conference’s Watchung Division champion this year and BR repeated as the Delaware Division champ.
“Bridgewater-Raritan is a really good team,” Westfield head coach Jim DeSarno said. “It’s a credit to our league and both towns that you can have two teams that built their way to this.”
Martini connected with Shirk eight times for 205 yards and three touchdowns. Shirk caught five balls for 177 yards in the first half.
“We lost (senior) Mike Moriarty last week, so Jack had to take on a little more,” DeSarno said. “When he’s out there catching the ball and doing his thing it’s special to see.”
Martini, who connected on 12-of-21 passes for 242 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, had a bit of a rough beginning. Two of his initial passes were thrown right at Union defensive backs which could just not hold on to the ball.
“The game started off a little sloppy for us,” DeSarno said. “To his (Martini) credit he grinded it out.”
Union’s lone score came in the third quarter when senior running back Al-Tariq Jones, who scored four touchdowns in Union’s 41-38 double overtime first round win at Ridge, broke free down the left sideline for an 80-yard score.
Before that Jones was held to just 27 yards on 12 carries. He finished with 106 yards on 14 rushes.
Westfield has given up just 92 points in 10 games so far and for the second straight year has the No. 1 scoring defense of any Union County team.
“We had to stop 2 (Union quarterback Justin Beckett) and 6 (Jones),” Westfield defensive coordinator Ken Miller said. “We felt good going in. Our defensive line is the best in the state.”
That unit includes senior Owen Kessler, senior Nicholas Maher, senior Jeffrey Gagum and senior Jake Vall-Llobera.
Union, which fell to 5-5, only rushed for 126 yards and if you take away the one 80-yard run by Jones it was 46 yards on 26 carries.
Beckett completed 5-of-12 passes for 49 yards and two interceptions in the first half and was 2-of-8 for just 22 yards in the second.
Westfield’s linebackers include junior Drew Ortiz, junior Shea Elliott and junior Jake Dayon, with senior Ben Kelly, junior Steven Barden and junior Adam McDaniel in the secondary. Barden had Westfield’s second interception.
“We had a great scheme vs. their zone read and were able to take that away,” Miller said. “We practice hard.
“All of our linebackers are coming back and our secondary really locked down their receivers today.”
In the second quarter Union had a chance to cut Westfield’s 14-0 lead when it had the ball in Blue Devils territory. However, an interception by McDaniel in the Westfield end zone set up Westfield’s final score.
An interception by Union senior Rowland Miller in the Union end zone set up the lone Farmer touchdown.
“They made more plays than we did,” Union head coach Lou Grasso Jr. said. “Sometimes it’s not an easy game and it doesn’t go your way.”
Senior linebacker Bryce Wilson had an interception for Union in the second quarter following Westfield getting the ball back on a kickoff the Farmers failed to pick up and return.
Union limited Westfield’s running game of running backs Vall-Llobera, Juandre House and Jake Kaplan to just 62 yards on 27 attempts.
“I was proud that we gave a good account and didn’t let the game get away from us like in the past,” Grasso said. “Westfield was the better team.”
Big-time defensive plays in the game included a sack of Beckett for an 11-yard loss by Dayon, Union senior defensive end Mike Tverdov batting down a pass and also recovering a fumble, a sack for a two-yard loss by Union senior end Zakee Sally, another Union sack of Martini by senior defensive end Chris Bournes and Sally for a four-yard loss, a sack by Gagum of Beckett for a 15-yard loss and a sack by Kessler for an eight-yard setback.
NOTES: Union lost consecutive sectional semifinal games on the road to the same team for the first time since falling at Phillipsburg 56-14 in 2005 and at Phillipsburg 42-20 in 2006 in North 2, Group 4 play.
Union and Westfield are both scheduled to play on Thanksgiving – Thursday, Nov. 24.
Union will host Linden (5-4) at 10:30 a.m., with the winner to clinch a winning season. Union will seek to avoid a second straight 5-6 finish.
Westfield seeks a fifth straight win over Plainfield (1-8) when the two will clash at Plainfield’s Hub Stine Field beginning at 11 a.m.
NORTH 2, GROUP 5 SEMIFINAL AT GARY KEHLER STADIUM
6-UNION (5-5) 00 00 07 00 – 07
2-WESTFIELD (10-0) 07 14 00 00 – 21
WESTFIELD – Jack Shirk 19 pass from Philip Martini, Aidan Boland kick (W 7-0)
6 plays, 53 yards, 2:58 used
WESTFIELD – Jack Shirk 65 pass from Philip Martini, Aidan Boland kick
2 plays, 64 yards, :51 used
WESTFIELD – Jack Shirk 68 pass from Philip Martini, Aidan Boland kick
3 plays, 80 yards, 2:00 used
Westfield capitalized on a turnover – an interception in the Westfield end zone by Adam McDaniel.
UNION – Al-Tariq Jones 80 run, Mike Matullo kick (W 21-7)
1 play, 80 yards, :14 used
Union capitalized on a turnover – an interception in the Union end zone by Rowland Miller.