Roselle Park football wins first road playoff game in 25 years; Hillside captures first road playoff triumph since 1985

Westfield, Elizabeth and Rahway also victorious as 5 Union County teams advance to sectional semifinal contests

PHOTOS BY STEVEN ELLMORE – Roselle Park quarterback Patrick Gergich (No 16) is about to hand off to one of his running backs in Nov.11 playoff game at Glen Ridge.
Roselle Park, in white, won at Glen Ridge 27-21 Nov. 11 in a North 2, Group 1 first-round game. Roselle Park will next play at Shabazz.
Elizabeth, in white, for the second straight season won the 5-at-4 North 2, Group 5 first-round game at East Orange Campus.

Roselle Park played to its ball-control strength early on to build a two-touchdown lead and then after Glen Ridge came back to tie the game the Panthers made a big play in the third quarter that led to a go-ahead touchdown which put Roselle Park in front for good.

Visiting Roselle Park then added to its second lead before host Glen Ridge scored once more to pull to within six.

However, it wasn’t enough for the Ridgers as sixth-seeded Roselle Park held off third-seeded Glen Ridge 27-21 in Saturday’s first-round North 2, Group 1 playoff clash contested at Glen Ridge’s Hurrell Field.

Roselle Park’s fourth road win this year was its first road playoff triumph since the Panthers won at Butler 27-6 in the 1992 N2, G1 final. Roselle Park now has 10 playoff wins, four of them away from home.

Glen Ridge sought its fifth playoff triumph and first since 1982. The Ridgers have captured N2, G1 three times, each instance defeating a Union County team in the final. In 1977 it was Brearley when Glen Ridge needed to win two playoff games, in 1980 it was defending champion Roselle Park and in 1982 it was New Providence, those two seasons the Ridgers went straight to the final.

Roselle Park led 14-0 before Glen Ridge reached the scoreboard with its first touchdown coming in the second quarter. The Panthers had a chance to go up by two scores before intermission before losing a fumble deep in Glen Ridge territory.

“We marched down the field and ate the clock,” Roselle Park head coach Terry Hanratty said. “We tried to do that the entire time.”

With the game tied 14-14 in the third quarter it was a 17-yard pass, Hanratty recalled, completed by quarterback Patrick Gergich to tight end Devin Hilburn that gave Roselle Park a first down at midfield.

The Panthers went on to score a touchdown on that drive to take back the lead at 20-14. Roselle Park scored again to make it 27-14 before Glen Ridge produced the game’s final touchdown.

“To me that was the turning point,” said Hanratty, who has now guided Roselle Park to four of its 10 playoff triumphs. “If we get stopped there it’s a different game. After getting the first down we moved right down the field.”

Roselle Park’s running game included senior Dylan Camilo carrying 22 times for 88 yards and three touchdowns and junior Gary Rexach gaining 80 on 15 attempts, including one score.

Rexach and fellow junior Juan Morales have filled in at fullback after senior captain Vinny Figueredo went down for the season with a knee injury suffered in Roselle Park’s 40-21 Sept. 29 home loss to Union Division rival Brearley.

“We ran the ball up the middle a lot because we knew Glen Ridge was going to take away Camilo running on the edges,” Hanratty said.

Hanratty was impressed with Glen Ridge senior quarterback Tyler Liddy and knew that it would be impossible to completely shut him down.

Gergich completed six-of-seven passes for 117 yards.

Roselle Park scored a touchdown in each quarter.

After a 4-0 start, Roselle Park lost three of four, including last weekend’s 15-14 double-overtime setback at home to division rival Manville.

“It was nice to get back on the winning track,” Hanratty said. “We pulled together and played a full game today.”

The one year that Roselle Park did not scrimmage Glen Ridge turned out to be the first playoff meeting between the teams since Glen Ridge defeated Roselle Park 20-6 at home in the 1980 N2, G1 championship game.

That was a bit before Glen Ridge head coach Duke Mendez’s first of two stints as the Ridgers head coach.

“I have so much respect for Duke Mendez, he’s a top-notch guy,” Hanratty said. “He’s the kind of guy you want to play against.

“He’s old-school and a pleasure to coach against.”

Roselle Park will next play at second-seeded Shabazz Friday night at 7. The teams last clashed in the semifinals in 2013, also at Shabazz, with the Bulldogs coming away with a 35-22 victory.

Shabazz won its lone state championship in the playoff era the next season in 2014 when present mentor Darnell Grant won his first title as a head coach.

“Darnell and I coached middle school basketball against each other,” Hanratty said.

Hanratty is a 1990 Elizabeth graduate and Grant a 1991 Irvington grad.

“Shabazz is very athletic and they have a lot of guys,” Hanratty said. “We’re hoping that we can hold on to the ball. Anything can happen, that’s why you play the game.”

After a tough Friday night where it went 1-3, Union County football produced a best-case scenario 5-1 record in six Saturday playoff games.

Winners included Westfield, Elizabeth, Rahway, Hillside and Roselle Park. Summit’s season is complete at 6-4 after the host Hilltoppers fell to Rahway 45-37. Rahway led 38-8 at the half.

Two weeks ago in a non-division Mid-State 38 Conference game played at Rahway River Park, Summit came away with a 34-14 victory.

Union County is guaranteed of having at least two teams reach state championship games. Third-seeded Johnson will host seventh-seeded Hillside Friday night at 7 at Nolan Field in the Central Jersey, Group 2 semifinals.

Johnson last reached a final in 2008 when the Crusaders fell to Manasquan 19-14 in the CJ, G2 title game played at Rutgers.

Hillside is in the CJ, G2 playoffs for the first time and on Saturday captured only its second road playoff win in program history and first since 1985. Hillside won at 9-0 South River 28-7 for its first playoff win since 2008.

It was Hillside’s first road playoff win since the Comets won at top-seeded Madison 13-12 in the 1985 N2, G2 championship game.

Johnson defeated Hillside 22-13 at home back on Oct. 6. Johnson won the Mid-State’s Valley Division title for the first time at 5-0, while Hillside finished second at 4-1.

Johnson (8-1) has won eight games for the first time since 2006, while Hillside (7-3) has won seven for the first time since 2008.

Next Saturday at Gary Kehler Stadium in Westfield it will be top-seeded Westfield (9-0) hosting fifth-seeded Elizabeth (5-5) in a North 2, Group 5 semifinal.

Two-time defending champion Westfield has reached the N2, G5 semifinals for the fourth consecutive season and possesses the state’s longest winning streak, now at 34.

It is not Westfield’s longest winning streak, however. The Blue Devils won 48 straight from 1969-1973, which at the time was the state record. Paulsboro now has the state record of 63, attained from 1992-1998.

On Oct. 14 in one of three Saturday games played at Rutgers, Westfield defeated Elizabeth 13-6, which was considered a Westfield home game. Westfield won at Elizabeth 13-7 last year.

Westfield’s last loss was at Linden 14-6 in the 2014 N2, G5 semifinals. The Blue Devils last loss to Elizabeth in 2012 and were last defeated at home by the Minutemen in 2008.

Westfield will be hosting a N2, G5 semifinal for the third year in a row.

Rahway last reached a sectional final in 2008 when the Indians were defeated by Phillipsburg 20-6 in the North 2, Group 3 title game at Rutgers. Rahway won at Roxbury and then at West Morris to reach that final.

Rahway last won a state championship in 1984 (N2, G3), Johnson in 2002 (N2, G2), Hillside in 1985 (N2, G2, its only one in the playoff era), Roselle Park in 1993 (N2, G1), Westfield in 2016 (N2, G5) and Elizabeth in 2012 (N2, G5).

 

UNION COUNTY SEMIFINAL SCHEDULE:

 

Friday, Nov. 17 (3 games)

North 2, Group 3

5-Rahway at 1-West Essex, 7 p.m.

North 2, Group 1

6-Roselle Park at 2-Shabazz, 7 p.m.

Central Jersey, Group 2

7-Hillside at 3-Johnson, 7 p.m.

 

Saturday, Nov. 18 (1 game)

North 2, Group 5

5-Elizabeth at 1-Westfield, 1 p.m.

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