Westfield football attempting to become first repeat N2, G5 champion; Blue Devils face Bridgewater-Raritan for 2nd straight year at MetLife Stadium

On Dec. 3, 2015 second-seeded Westfield, with a record of 11-0, took on top-seeded Bridgewater-Raritan, also with a record of 11-0, in the fourth annual North 2, Group 5 state championship game, played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.
On Dec. 3, 2016 second-seeded Westfield, with a record of 11-0, will take on top-seeded Bridgewater-Raritan, also with a record of 11-0, in the fifth annual North 2, Group 5 state championship game, to be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.
Both repeated as Mid-State 38 Conference division winners this season, Westfield winning the Watchung and BR the Delaware again.
If that’s not déjà vu, then I don’t know what is.
The only thing that would make it more deju vu – perhaps – would be if Westfield wins Saturday’s showdown in Bergen County.
That’s because the Blue Devils held on to defeat the Panthers 10-7 12 months ago, just miles from Manhattan.
Westfield was the first team to repeat as North 2, Group 4 champions in the playoff era, doing so in 1976 and 1977.
On Saturday the Blue Devils will attempt to become the first team to repeat as North 2, Group 5 champs.
Westfield, which has won a state-best 24 straight, has a five-game winning streak over BR, having defeated the Panthers the last five seasons – 2011, 2012 and 2013 in the regular season and 2014 and 2015 in the N2, G5 playoffs.
BR, which has won 22 of its last 23 games with the only loss coming to Westfield, defeated the Blue Devils the first two years of the Mid-State – 2009 and 2010.
Westfield’s present winning streak is half of the school’s record 48-game winning streak the Blue Devils produced from 1968-1973 – which at that time was also the state record.
Since then Randolph passed Westfield at 54 and 58-0-1 during a stretch from the 1986-1991 and then Paulsboro later in the 1990s passed Randolph with the present longest winning streak in the state at 63 games.
Westfield ended BR’s 2014 and 2015 seasons, both in the North 2, Group 5 playoffs. The Blue Devils will seek to do the same for 2016 this Saturday afternoon.
Westfield is 3-1 in state championship games and BR 0-1. The Blue Devils will be seeking their fourth state championship in the playoff era and the Panthers their first. Before the merger of Bridgewater-East and Bridgewater-West high schools in 1995, Bridgewater-East won two state championships in the playoff era – Central Jersey, Group 2 in 1989 and Central Jersey, Group 3 in 1974.
Here’s a look at the three areas of the game for both teams:
Offense: BR’s best first half came at Union Oct. 28 in a 24-14 win, BR’s fourth straight over Union.
If a team could play a perfect first 24 minutes, that’s what BR managed to accomplish in the first half.
The Panthers marched 76 yards in 15 plays and took 8:13 off the clock after receiving the opening kickoff to take the lead for good at 7-0.
After limiting host Union to just one first down, BR got the ball back and then went 75 yards in 11 plays, using up 5:27 to increase its lead to 14-0.
Following Union’s second possession that, again, included just one first down, the Panthers got the ball back and once more managed to move the chains in their favor, going 58 yards in nine plays in a time span of 3:57 to take a 21-0 advantage.
Three BR possessions – which were without a single penalty – totaled 209 yards, while Union’s offense was limited to just 59. At the half, the Panthers, which finished with a game total of 19, had an edge in first downs to the tune of 14-2.
BR had the ball for 17.5 of the first 24 minutes.
All three Justin Davidovicz kicks went out of the end zone following BR’s three TDs.
Senior quarterback Nick Attanasio was almost perfect throwing the ball, completing seven-of-eight passes for 69 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
“It was the best two quarters we played in our life,” Attanasio said.
Attanasio completed a six-yard touchdown pass to junior running back David Usewick for his team’s first score, while Usewick ran in from three yards out for the third. The second TD was a one-yard run by senior running back Ray Bellaran.
Usewick carried 12 times for 82 yards and one score in the first half.
BR could simply do no wrong in a first half that took only 50 minutes to play.
The Panthers methodically marched down the field three times in three tries, mixing the run – from quarterback Attanasio and running backs Usewick and senior Matt Alesandro– with the pass – to wide receivers Donny Kelton and Ricky Tate and tight end Brandon Myers.
“We were confident,” Attanasio said. “We just stuck to our game plan.
“We knew Union was good and had some big kids and one of them (Mike Tverdov) going to Rutgers, but our offensive line played amazing.”
Running room was opened east and west and up the middle, while Attanasio’s targets were open straight ahead as well as at both sidelines.
“It was definitely our best first half,” said BR’s 10th-year head coach Scott Bray. “It couldn’t have been scripted any better.”
Westfield was sparked by the senior quarterback-wide receiver combination of Philip Martini to Jack Shirk – three times – in ousting Union in the semifinals. For the first time in program history, Westfield defeated Union twice in the same season.
Westfield has overcome season-ending injuries to senior running backs Matt Varano first and Ishmael Glasco second.
Westfield faced Union and then Plainfield on Thanksgiving without senior placekicker and wide receiver standout Mike Moriarty, also out with an injury.
Martini has completed 116 of 190 passes for 1555 yards, including 22 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
Shirk has caught 46 passes for 782 yards and 11 TDs.
“We lost (senior) Mike Moriarty last week, so Jack had to take on a little more,” Westfield 11th-season head coach Jim DeSarno said after the Union semifinal playoff victory. “When he’s (Shirk) 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 in the Union playoff win, had a bit of a rough beginning. Two of his initial passes were thrown right at Union defensive backs who 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.”
Juandre House and Jake Vall-Llobera, who both scored touchdowns vs. Plainfield, are capable running backs.
Defense: The key play in BR’s semifinal playoff win over Elizabeth was a turnover after BR pulled to within 7-3 following a 20-yard field goal from solid senior kicker Justin Davidovicz.
The fifth-seeded Minutemen were 2:17 away from taking that 7-3 lead – or even a bigger one – into the locker room at intermission.
However, BR junior linebacker Chike Nwankwo had other ideas when he came upon Elizabeth senior quarterback Jahmin Muse.
Nwankwo was able to wrestle the ball away from Muse while Muse was spinning to gain yardage. Senior free safety Ricky Tate was there to recover the fumble for the Panthers, giving them a first down at the Elizabeth 19 with 2:09 to go in the second quarter.
The turnover led to BR scoring its first touchdown and, instead, the Panthers taking a 10-7 lead at the half.
It was the first of three big plays Tate was the integral player on.
“Chike had him (Muse) from behind,” Tate said. “The ball was just there for me to pick up.”
“Chike slid over, did his job and made a great tackle,” BR 10th-year head coach Scott Bray said. “It was such a big play, to continue our momentum into the second half.”
Tate’s final big play came in the fourth quarter which was an interception at the BR 14 to halt an Elizabeth possession.
BR junior linebacker Lawrence Nice produced two sacks and junior middle linebacker Justin Bryant had one interception in the team’s 24-14 win at Union.
BR has allowed just 108 points in 11 games.
Westfield has given up just 106 points in 11 games so far and for the second straight year has the No. 1 scoring defense of any Union County team. Westfield was No. 2 in 2014.
“We had to stop 2 (Union quarterback Justin Beckett) and 6 (Union running back Al-Tariq Jones),” Westfield defensive coordinator Ken Miller said following the Union semifinal playoff win. “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 rushed for only 126 yards and if you take away the one 80-yard touchdown 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. McDaniel and Barden came up with interceptions for the Blue Devils, with McDaniel’s leading to his team’s third score.
“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.”
Containing Attanasio is going to be among the top keys for Westfield’s defense.
“He can run and he can throw the ball and he’s a handful,” Miller said.
Special teams: BR has one of the best kickers in the state in senior Justin Davidovicz, who is the team’s placekicker and punter. Davidovicz has made 14 of 20 field goal attempts, including one from 43 yards. His kickoffs usually go out of the end zone.
Aidan Boland, a junior, has been Westfield’s placekicker the last two games, making six-of-seven extra point attempts and a 20-yard field goal vs. Plainfield.

Westfield head coach Jim DeSarno: “Bridgewater-Raritan is a really good team. It’s a credit to our league and both towns that you can have two teams that built their way to this.”

Bridgewater-Raritan head coach Scott Bray: “Being 11-0 again is a testament to these kids. After the kids we lost to graduation the focus became on them and they have taken it this far.”

Westfield head coach Jim DeSarno’s record at Westfield:
2006-2016 – 11 seasons
80-36 (.690) – includes 8-7 playoff record in nine playoff seasons

Bridgewater-Raritan head coach Scott Bray’s record at BR:
2007-2016 – 10 seasons
56-49 (.533) – includes 6-5 playoff record in six playoff seasons

DeSarno is 5-2, including the playoffs, head-to-head vs. Bray.

Westfield vs. Bridgewater-Raritan since 2006:
2015: Westfield 10, Bridgewater-Raritan 7
– N2, G5 final at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford
2014: Westfield 24, Bridgewater-Raritan 14
– N2, G5 quarterfinals at Westfield
2013: Westfield 40, Bridgewater-Raritan 10 – at BR
2012: Westfield 37, Bridgewater-Raritan 12 – at Westfield
2011: Westfield 22, Bridgewater-Raritan 7 – at BR
2010: Bridgewater-Raritan 19, Westfield 13 – at Westfield
2009: Bridgewater-Raritan 23, Westfield 14 – at Westfield
2008: Did not play
2007: Did not play
2006: Westfield 35, Bridgewater-Raritan 18
– North 2, Group 4 consolation at Westfield
Tony Maglione was in his last year as BR’s
head coach in 2006.

(A) Westfield 30, Linden 0
(H) Westfield 35, Ridge 21
(H) Westfield 37, Franklin 10
(A) Westfield 40, Watchung Hills 14
(H) Westfield 28, Union 13
(A) Westfield 13, Elizabeth 7
(H) Westfield 35, Immaculata 13
(A) Westfield 46, Scotch Plains 7
(H) Westfield 48, Bayonne 0
(H) Westfield 21, Union 7
(A) Westfield 30, Plainfield 14
Dec. 3 Bridgewater-Raritan, 1 p.m.
MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford
Head coach: Jim DeSarno,
11th season
Section: North 2, Group 5
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Watchung 6-0, outright champs
Record: 11-0
Home: 6-0
Away: 5-0
Neutral: 0-0
Points for: 363
Points against: 106
Shutouts: 2
Overtime: 0-0

(H) Bridgewater-Raritan 21, Hunterdon Central 10
(A) Bridgewater-Raritan 30, Hillsborough 10
(A) Bridgewater-Raritan 30, Phillipsburg 7
(H) Bridgewater-Raritan 37, Montgomery 6
(H) Bridgewater-Raritan 52, North Hunterdon 31
(A) Bridgewater-Raritan 21, Linden 0
(H) Bridgewater-Raritan 27, Franklin 0
(A) Bridgewater-Raritan 24, Union 14
(A) Bridgewater-Raritan 27, Elizabeth 21
(H) Bridgewater-Raritan 42, Columbia 0
(H) Bridgewater-Raritan 23, Elizabeth 9
Dec. 3 Westfield, 1 p.m.
MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford
Head coach: Scott Bray,
10th season
Section: North 2, Group 5
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Delaware 5-0, outright champs
Record: 11-0
Home: 6-0
Away: 5-0
Neutral: 0-0
Points for: 334
Points against: 108
Shutouts: 3
Overtime: 0-0

2016 NORTH 2, GROUP 5
1-Bridgewater-Raritan. 2-Westfield.
3-Ridge. 4-East Orange Campus.
5-Elizabeth. 6-Union.
7-Bayonne. 8-Columbia.
Friday, Nov. 11
Bridgewater-Raritan 42, Columbia 0 – at BR
Elizabeth 42, East Orange Campus 13 – at ECO
Union 41, Ridge 34 (2OT) – at Ridge
Saturday, Nov. 12
Westfield 48, Bayonne 0 – at Westfield
Friday, Nov. 18
Bridgewater-Raritan 23, Elizabeth 9 – at BR
Saturday, Nov. 19
Westfield 21, Union 7 – at Westfield
Saturday, Dec. 3
At MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford
2-Westfield vs. 1-Bridgewater-Raritan, 1 p.m.

2015: Westfield 10, Bridgewater-Raritan 7
At MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford
2014: Linden 27, Elizabeth 20
At MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford
2013: Ridge 48, Union 13
At Rutgers University, Piscataway
2012: Elizabeth 37, Piscataway 33
At Kean University, Union

2015: North 2, Group 5
Westfield 10, Bridgewater-Raritan 7 – at MetLife Stadium
Westfield was the 2 seed and Bridgewater-Raritan the 1.
1998: North 2, Group 3
Morristown 37, Westfield 14 – at Giants Stadium
Morristown was the 1 seed and Westfield the 3.
1977: North 2, Group 4
Westfield 33, Barringer 12 – at Giants Stadium
Westfield was the 2 seed and Barringer the 4.
1976: North 2, Group 4
Westfield 14, Plainfield 0 – at Westfield
Westfield was the 1 seed and Plainfield the 3.

2015: North 2, Group 5
Westfield 10, Bridgewater-Raritan 7 – at MetLife Stadium
Westfield was the 2 seed and Bridgewater-Raritan the 1.

1989: Central Jersey, Group 2
Bridgewater-East 14, Rumson 7 – at Rumson
Bridgewater-East was the 4 seed and Rumson the 3.
1974: Central Jersey, Group 3
Bridgewater-East 20, Carteret 6 – Atlantic City
Bridgewater-East was the 2 seed and Carteret the 1.