Something happened to the Cranford football team this past Friday night that had not happened in almost exactly nine years.
What was so unique about its result at Mid-State 38 Conference-Mountain Division foe Voorhees?
The Cougars were shut out for the first time since September of 2008.
Cranford scored in 93 straight games before falling to the Vikings of northern Hunterdon County 35-0.
The 0-2 Cougars also took a big hit when sophomore quarterback Connor Katz went down with a season-ending broken (throwing) arm injury midway through the second quarter. Senior Dan Curren took over under center the rest of the way.
“He (Connor) was running and actually gained 15 yards, it was a pretty good gain,” Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier said. “When he was being tackled he put his arm out.
“It was a freak thing.”
Cranford’s rising freshman quarterback a year ago, Katz continued to impress the Cranford coaching staff in the pre-season.
“I feel terrible for the kid,” Rosenmeier said. “He certainly worked very hard and won the job as a sophomore. He was coming into his own.”
Katz completed nine-of-10 passes for 125 yards vs. Voorhees before the injury.
“I cut back to the left and got tackled,” Katz said. “When I was going out of bounds I stuck out my right arm, trying to break my fall.
“I felt it, pretty much, right away. I knew something was wrong. I got up right away and jogged off the field.
“I took my helmet off and bent over on the sideline. That’s when our trainer (Dmitry Chervinsky) came over.
“I talked to the seniors first until halftime and that’s when I left.”
Katz was taken to Overlook Medical Center in Summit. He is presently wearing a splint, with the timetable for removal 6-8 weeks. Two years ago in 8th grade while playing football he said that he hurt the same arm in the same place, which required a hard cast for a hair line fracture.
In Cranford’s season-opening 36-16 loss at Somerville Sept. 8, Katz completed 16-of-28 passes for 153 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed for 51 yards. Cranford closed to within 22-16 in the fourth quarter before Somerville closed the game with two more touchdowns.
“We built our offense around his skill set,” Rosenmeier said of the drop-back, pro-style type of signal-caller Katz is. “We were moving in the right direction.
“Sometimes in sports, like in life, you have to learn how to deal with adversity. We were told that his arm should heal fine and he will be ready to go for next season.
“Now we as a team have to move on and start to play much better overall.”
Katz, who also plays baseball and was Cranford’s junior varsity third baseman this past spring, is determined that he may still be healthy again by season’s end to have another opportunity to play once more this year.
“I’m hopeful that I can still play by the end of the year,” Katz said. “Once the splint is off I will see my quarterback trainer (Madei Williams) and begin to build my arm strength back.
“I feel like there’s a chance.”
In the meantime, Katz will continue to support the team the best way he can.
“I will come to practice and help Dan (Curren) and the team and continue to be prepared for the next two years,” said Katz, who has aspirations of playing at the next level. “Dan helped me out so I want to help him anyway that I can.
“Coach Rosenmeier and the other coaches have also been tremendous.”
Katz so looked forward to making the varsity for the first time this year and contributing as best as he could. Although Cranford did not win either of its first two games, he felt he made the most of his initial varsity experience.
“I heard about Friday night lights and it’s true and it was a feeling I will never forget,” Katz said. “Being out there with my teammates is the best.
“I feel we can bounce back as long as we keep believing in each other. Our seniors are doing a great job this week.
“The season’s not over yet. We still have seven games and then hopefully the playoffs after that.”
Voorhees produced its second straight shutout. The Vikings (2-0) opened with a 23-0 win over Governor Livingston at Kean University on Sept. 9. That was the first Voorhees shutout – in 31 games – since a 27-0 season-ending home win over Ridgefield Park on Nov. 15, 2013.
Voorhees was sparked by junior quarterback George Eberle, who rushed for two touchdowns and passed for the other three.
Cranford was shut out for the first time since Sept. 26, 2008 when the Cougars fell at home to Hillside 28-0. That loss put Cranford at 0-3 – for the only time so far under the guidance of Rosenmeier – and was Cranford’s third straight shutout loss to start that season.
Including this year’s uncharacteristic 0-2 beginning Rosenmeier’s 13-season record at Cranford is presently 88-44 (.667).
Cranford has lost its first two games only four times under Rosenmeier and this year is for the first time since 2009, which was the last year the Cougars finished below .500 (4-6).
Cranford has finished below .500 just twice under Rosenmeier, the first time in 2008 (3-7).
Cranford has produced seven straight winning seasons and six consecutive playoff campaigns.
In order to get back on track, the Cougars have a very tough foe this weekend, with a red hot, 2-0 Rahway team the opposition for Cranford’s home-opener Friday night.
“No matter who is at quarterback we have to look at ourselves in the mirror,” Rosenmeier said. “This is an unusual (being 0-2) spot for us.”
Rahway has won at Hillside 35-21 and at home at Rahway River Park this past Friday night over Governor Livingston 42-14. Rahway led 42-0 at the half.
Against the Highlanders junior running back Dashon Moore rushed for three touchdowns and junior quarterback Jakir Robinson – in his first year as the starting signal-caller – completed four-of-five passes for 125 yards and two TDs.
Rahway, which went 7-3 last year and reached the Central Jersey, Group 3 quarterfinals, also has key players in senior wide receiver Keyshawn Cummings and junior linebacker Zion Pendleton.
The Indians have seven returning starters on offense and five on defense.
“We made some strides two years ago and last year, with the exception of Somerville, we won some tight games that we didn’t the year before,” said Rahway third-year head coach Brian Russo. “The kids have developed some confidence and have learned how to practice at our tempo.”
Last year, Cranford committed a couple of costly mistakes in a 40-34 overtime setback to Rahway at Rahway’s Veterans Field. However, the Cougars rebounded to win their next six games and qualified for the first time in Central Jersey, Group 3.
Cummings caught five TD passes in last year’s game from since-graduated quarterback Zahir Wilder and had 11 catches total for 270 yards. Wilder scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime on a one-yard run.
“Last year I thought we played well against Rahway,” Rosenmeier said. “I thought we played well after our (season-opening) loss to Somerville.”
Cranford and Rahway are both back in North 2, Group 3 this season. Rahway is 1-0 in the Mountain Division and in third place behind 2-0 Somerville and 2-0 Voorhees.
“Rahway has got it going again,” Rosenmeier said. “They look good on both sides of the ball and also on special teams.”
Cranford not only has to overcome the loss of a key skill position player, but the Cougars need to get back to doing what has propelled them to great success in recent years.
“We have a next-man-up attitude, no matter the position,” Rosenmeier said. “We aren’t changing what we do.
“We have to play Cranford football, which means being tough, physical and selfless. We’re not playing at the level we need to play at.
“Are we capable? Yes. We haven’t played well enough yet to win.”
Against Voorhees, Cranford was shut out for only the sixth time under Rosenmeier’s tenure and for the first time on the road since a 28-0 setback at New Providence on Sept. 20, 2008.
“It was a good streak and a tribute to Voorhees, let’s not forget them and how well they played,” Rosenmeier said.
In recent years – and Rosenmeier specifically points to the N2, G3 championship game years of 2011, 2014 and 2015 in addition to last year – Cranford survived injuries that could have altered how things turned out.
“We were very fortunate those years that those teams remained healthy,” Rosenmeier said. “Our 2010 team, which finished 6-4 and didn’t make the (CJ, G2) playoffs might have been better than our 2011 (N2, G3 state championship) team had it not been for all the injuries we had that year.”
It will be a tall task in order for Cranford to prevent starting 0-3 for the first time in nine years and halting Rahway from beginning 3-0 for the second straight season.
However, that’s what football, that’s what sports is all about. Let’s see how the Cougars handle it.
“Nobody is going to feel sorry for us and they shouldn’t,” Rosenmeier said. “We know we’re going to have our hands full with a very good Rahway team.
“We held them to just 33 yards rushing last year, but look at what they did to us in other areas.”
NOTES: Cranford has scored in 126 of the 132 games Rosenmeier has been the head coach for, beginning with the 2005 campaign.
Here’s a look at the six times Cranford has been shut out under head coach Erik Rosenmeier’s tenure, now in its 13th season:
Game 2 – Voorhees 35, Cranford 0 – at Voorhees
Game 1 – DePaul 26, Cranford 0 – at Cranford
Game 2 – New Providence 28, Cranford 0 – at New Providence
Game 3 – Hillside 28, Cranford 0 – at Cranford
Game 1 – Rahway 26, Cranford 0 – at Rahway
Game 5 – Brearley 36, Cranford 0 – at Brearley
Rahway (CJ, G2) and Brearley (N2, G1) made the playoffs in their sections in 2007, while Hillside (N2, G2) and New Providence (N2, G1) made the playoffs in theirs in 2008.
DePaul began 2008 with a 6-0 record and then failed to garner enough power points with a 6-2 mark at the cutoff to qualify in Non-Public, Group 3. DePaul closed an 8-2 campaign with home wins over Wayne Valley (its ninth regular season game) and against Paramus Catholic (its sectional consolation contest).