Two of the Mid-State 38 (really 37 since Pingry left) Conference’s hottest football teams are Johnson and Linden.
Johnson is 4-0 for the first time since 2006.
Linden (3-1) just defeated Elizabeth in the regular season for the first time since 2010.
Linden, winners of three straight, has this weekend off before another huge game at Bridgewater-Raritan looms Oct. 13.
Valley Division leader Johnson, who just won at Delaware Valley 49-21, is hosting Hillside this Friday night and will then have next weekend off before hosting Mountain Division first-place squad Somerville.
Johnson is 2-0 at home and on the road and has outscored the opposition 151-44. The Crusaders have won all four games by double digits and have scored the most points of any Union County team.
The only Union County team that has given up less points is the county’s other undefeated squad – Westfield. The Blue Devils have only given up 28 points and their starting defense only three touchdowns.
Three of Johnson’s final four Central Jersey, Group 2 qualifiying games are at home. The Crusaders are presently second in the section’s power points.
“Up to this point we’ve done a nice job,” fourth-year head coach Anthony DelConte said. “The kids are working hard and we’ve been able to execute and take care of business.”
Johnson’s schedule lined up so that they would open playing all five division opponents first. The Crusaders will host Hillside this Friday night at 7 at Nolan Field, seeking to clinch the Valley Division championship.
Hillside comes in at 3-1 overall and 3-0 in the Valley Division. The Comets are seeking to finish over .500 and make the playoffs both for the first time since 2008. Also situated in CJ, G2, Hillside has never qualified in that section.
Although Johnson made the grade in CJ, G2 for the third straight season last year and Hillside didn’t, it was Hillside that got the best of Johnson 27-23 at Hillside.
“They didn’t get our best game,” DelConte said. “We know that (head coach) Barris (Grant) will get them ready to go again.”
Hillside just produced one of the program’s best road wins in some time by holding on to defeat defending Valley Division champion Roselle 14-12 at Rahway River Park.
“Hillside did a nice job against us last year,” DelConte said. “They shut down our back and did and made the necessary second-half adjustments.
“We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times. We made more mistakes than they did and they deserved to win the game.”
Friday night’s game is also for the Unico Bowl trophy, awarded to the team that wins a best-of-five series. The teams have split their last four meetings, with Hillside winning in 2013 and 2016 and Johnson in 2014 and 2015.
“We still have not played anywhere near our potential,” DelConte said. “We’re still trying to figure out some things.
“We have improved every week, which is a good sign. We know we will have to bring our ‘A’ game again Friday night.”
Six different players scored Johnson’s seven touchdowns vs. Delaware Valley, with the Crusaders jumping out to a 28-0 lead and never looking back. Standout senior running back Joe Turek had two and Brandon Rapp, Sebastian Iakouchevitch, Mike Bruno, Lorenzo De Paz and Mike Casalino one. Bruno also had a touchdown pass and Casalino was a perfect 7-for-7 on his extra-point kicks.
Turek – one of Union County’s top running backs – leads the team in rushing with 670 yards on 75 carries (9 per attempt) and in touchdowns with eight.
Both of Hillside’s touchdowns vs. Roselle were scored by junior Brian Ugwu in the first half, while junior placekicker Hugo Carrico made both extra points. Senior Marvens Lormejuste threw a touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jordan Gray in the first quarter and then Lormejuste scored on a one-yard run in the fourth, but the ensuing, game-tying two-point pass failed.
HILLSIDE VS. JOHNSON THE LAST 4 YEARS,
WITH UNICO BOWL TROPHY ON THE LINE FRIDAY NIGHT:
2016: Hillside 27, Johnson 23 – at Hillside
2015: Johnson 34, Hillside 15 – at Hillside
2014: Johnson 35, Hillside 7 – at Johnson
2013: Hillside 30, Johnson 27 – at Hillside
While Brearley senior running back Khalid Bonnet was scoring six touchdowns in Roselle Park to lead his team to a big road victory against a 4-0 squad last Friday night, at the same time Linden junior running back BJ George was lighting up the scoreboard at Linden’s Cooper Field.
George carried the ball 27 times for 306 yards and scored four touchdowns to lead Linden past Elizabeth 42-21 in Watchung Division action. George rushed for over 200 yards in the second half after the game was tied 14-14 at intermission.
Linden snapped a six-game regular season losing streak against Elizabeth.
Although Linden fell behind 14-0 in the first half, the Tigers never felt like they were out of it against a team they had not beaten in the regular season in seven years.
George, quickly emerging as one of the top juniors in North Jersey, was a difference-maker when the game counted most.
“He had an amazing day,” third-year head coach Al Chiola said. “He carried us in the second half.
“Our quarterback Zion Marshall got us through the first half after we were down 14-0 early.”
Linden followed up a solid season-opening effort at Westfield in which the Tigers fell 12-7 by scoring 131 points in three games for a 44-point average during their three-game winning streak.
“A big part of me wishes we weren’t off this weekend so we could just keep our momentum going,” Chiola said. “The kids are playing at a high level and with a lot of confidence.
“On the other hand, we just came off a very physical game against a team we haven’t had a lot of success against recently, so this will be a time to heal for us before we play another really good team in Bridgewater-Raritan.”
Linden’s defense allowed 48 points in a 55-48 shootout win at Ridge. However, after giving up two first-half scores to Elizabeth, the unit did not give up any more, pitching a shutout in the second half. Elizabeth’s final touchdown vs. Linden came on a defensive fumble recovery.
“Our defense allowed nothing from the second quarter on,” Chiola said. “Our pride took a hit in the Ridge game, but our defensive coordinator Anthony Reinoso told the kids it was just one game and to put it aside.
“They went back to work. Elizabeth’s speed caught us by surprise at first, but then we settled down.”
Chiola praised his entire defensive unit for its performance in holding down an Elizabeth team that scored 42 points the week before in a 42-26 Watchung Division home triumph over a 2-0 Union squad.
“Our ends, seniors Kahlil Rowe-Woods and Juan Ramirez, were great,” Chiola said. “They have outstanding motors and never quit.
“Our linebackers (Maurice) Garner and (Nashaun) Holmes are very tough. The whole unit plays hard. It’s sort of a bend-but-not break mentality.”
Linden is on its way to making the playoffs for the first time since winning North 2, Group 5 for the first time in 2014. Linden defeated Elizabeth 27-20 in the final played at MetLife stadium in East Rutherford.
After Bridgewater-Raritan on the road Oct. 13, Linden has qualifying games remaining at home against Watchung Hills and then at Plainfield and at Franklin. Those three teams have a combined record of 1-13, with the lone win – by Franklin – over another 0-4 team, Montgomery.
Linden has never won North 2, Group 4. The lone state championships for the Tigers in the playoff era came in North 2, Group 3 in 1985 and in North 2, Group 5 in 2014.
While Linden’s offense was shut out at Westfield – the lone Tiger touchdown was scored on the opening kickoff, an 85-yard return by junior Zhyeir Myers – there was plenty of positives to take from the team’s first 48 minutes.
“No. 1, the kids proved that they can compete with anybody,” Chiola said. “No. 2, they never quit. When we were down against Elizabeth they never doubted that they could come back.”
Chiola also said that George is running at a different level than a year ago. George running track in the spring has helped immensely.
“BJ’s stronger and faster,” Chiola said.
Linden’s offensive line provided the necessary room for George to run free vs. Elizabeth in the final 24 minutes.
“They opened up small holes for BJ and the rest of our backs,” Chiola said.
LINDEN VS. ELIZABETH IN REGULAR SEASON SINCE 2010:
2017: Linden 42, Elizabeth 21 – at Linden
2016: Elizabeth 23, Linden 10 – at Elizabeth
2015: Elizabeth 25, Linden 7 – at Linden
2014: Elizabeth 28, Linden 19 – at Elizabeth
2013: Elizabeth 36, Linden 20 – at Elizabeth
2012: Elizabeth 42, Linden 0 – at Linden
2011: Elizabeth 27, Linden 14 – at Elizabeth
2010: Linden 49, Elizabeth 20 – at Linden