The last time Hillside was in the playoffs the Comets were coming off a one-point mud-filled regular season setback to arch rival Roselle.
That was the 2008 season, with the Comets – despite the 14-13 loss to Roselle – earning the second seed in North 2, Group 2.
Hillside ended up playing both of its playoff games at Union’s Cooke Memorial Field, which just received field turf.
Hillside took out third-seeded Orange 13-6 in the first round and then lost a heartbreaking 28-21 decision to eventual champion Caldwell in the semifinals.
The contest against Caldwell at Union – played on one of the coldest nights ever for a football game – began with Hillside returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
Unfortunately for the Comets they turned the ball over six times, including four times in the fourth quarter. Despite the miscues, Hillside was right there with the visiting Chiefs, with the game not decided until the very end.
Hillside finished 8-3 that season, led by first-year head coach John Power, a Union graduate who is now the head coach at Morristown. The Comets improved drastically that season after finishing 0-10 for the first time in 2007.
Hillside (5-2) is on the verge of posting its first winning season since that 2008 campaign.
On Saturday at home, the Comets clinched their first playoff season since 2008 and qualified in Central Jersey, Group 2 for the first time.
Right now Hillside is fourth in the power points in CJ, G2, with one more qualifying game to go. It’s a big one – at 4-3 Cranford Friday night.
Cranford needs to win the game to have any shot at sneaking in in North 2, Group 3. The Cougars have made the playoffs the last six years – the first five of those in N2, G3 and last year in CJ, G3.
Hillside doesn’t need to win the game to make the playoffs like Cranford does, but the Comets know that if they do win that should lock up a top-four seed and guarantee Hillside of a first-round game at home.
Hillside has not played a playoff game at home since 2000.
Hillside continued to make strides last year under first-year head coach Barris Grant, posting a 4-6 record.
“We started working last November, as soon as last season ended,” said returning starter Brian Ugwu, a talented 6-3, 205-pound junior running back-linebacker.
Ugwu led Hillside Saturday with three touchdowns in its dominating 49-8 Valley Division home win over Delaware Valley.
“We’re not surprised that we’re 5-2 or have made the playoffs,” Ugwu said. “We have a great coach and he’s led us to nine wins so far and this season is not over yet.”
Hillside has not beaten Cranford since 2009 and has not won at Cranford since 2008.
“Beating Cranford would solidify a home playoff game, so we know what’s at stake,” Ugwu said. “Our juniors this year played a lot as sophomores and we’re working harder than ever. Key players for us have risen up.”
Grant has an extensive coaching background that included being at Shabazz with his older brother Darnell. Last year was his first in Union County territory.
“Our kids are ready for this moment,” Grant said. “This is just another check off on the board.
“Erik (head coach Rosenmeier) does a great job at Cranford. Hillside has not beaten Cranford (in a while). We will prepare just like every week and go out and have fun.”
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
THIS WEEK’S SCHEDULE:
Friday, Oct. 27 (8 games)
Union at Bridgewater-Raritan, 7 p.m.
Ridge at Elizabeth, 7 p.m.
Summit at Rahway, 7 p.m.
Hillside at Cranford, 7 p.m.
Johnson at North Plainfield, 7 p.m.
Gov. Livingston at Delaware Valley, 7 p.m.
Brearley at New Providence, 7 p.m.
Dayton at Bound Brook, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 28 (2 games)
Linden at Plainfield, 1 p.m.
Somerville at Scotch Plains, 2 p.m.
Off: Roselle Park, Roselle, Westfield.
LAST WEEK’S RESULTS:
Friday, Oct. 20 (8 games)
Ridge 37, Union 36 (OT)
Elizabeth 50, Plainfield 0
Watchung Hills 12, Linden 7
Westfield 23, Immaculata 6
Rahway 64, Scotch Plains 24
Cranford 38, Gov. Livingston 0
Somerville 33, Johnson 7
Bound Brook 41, Brearley 33
Saturday, Oct. 21 (4 games)
Summit 55, North Plainfield 30
Roselle 61, Dayton 0
Hillside 49, Delaware Valley 8
Roselle Park 32, New Providence 6
THIS WEEK’S PICKS (10):
Bridgewater-Raritan over Union
Elizabeth over Ridge
Rahway over Summit
Cranford over Hillside
Johnson over North Plainfield
Gov. Livingston over Delaware Valley
Brearley over New Providence
Bound Brook over Dayton
Linden over Plainfield
Somerville over Scotch Plains
Best bet: Johnson
Upset special: Gov. Livingston
Last week: 8-4
This year: 53-31 (.631)
Best bets: 6-2
Upset specials: 2-6
JR’S UNION COUNTY
Roselle Park (5-2)
Gov. Livingston (1-5)
New Providence (0-6)
Scotch Plains (0-7)