The high school football season in New Jersey kicks off Thursday, Aug. 30 and in Union County it will commence at 3 p.m. in Berkeley Heights when Mid-State 36 Conference teams Johnson and Governor Livingston clash.
Later Thursday at 7 p.m. New Providence will play at Middlesex in the first scheduled Union County vs. Middlesex County crossover game for the 2018 season.
Plainfield is at Voorhees, also at 7 p.m.
Week Zero games, all 7 p.m. starts, involving Union County teams Friday, Aug. 31 include Linden at Union, Bridgewater-Raritan at Elizabeth and Roselle at Bishop Ahr.
Half of Union County – eight of 16 – opens this weekend, with the other eight to commence next.
No Union County teams will play this Saturday, Sept. 1.
Johnson made the Central Jersey, Group 2 playoffs the last four years, reaching the semifinals in 2015 and 2017. The Crusaders are in the new section South, Group 2 this season.
GL is seeking its first winning season and next playoff victory since the 2008 squad went 7-5 and reached the North 2, Group 2 state championship game in the final year of the old Giants Stadium, falling to Caldwell 22-7.
The Highlanders are situated in North, Group 3.
Johnson is in the Mid-State 36 Conference’s Valley Division and GL is in the Mountain Division.
Johnson defeated GL 41-6 at home last November. The Crusaders own a four-game winning streak over the Highlanders. GL last beat Johnson in 2013 by the score of 24-14 at Johnson.
GL last defeated Johnson at home in 2008 by the score of 15-14 in the season-opener for both. Johnson also went on to reach a sectional state championship game that season, falling to Manasquan 19-14 in the Central Jersey, Group 2 final at Rutgers.
This non-division game the week before school starts – and on an unusual time of 3 p.m. on a Thursday – is a bit different for both Union County squads.
“It is what it is,” fifth-year Johnson head coach Anthony DelConte said. “It doesn’t matter to us. We will play anywhere and anytime. Our kids will be ready.
“If you told us that we would be playing in the parking lot tomorrow at 12, we would be ready to play.”
GL is opening at home at its own Frey Field for the first time since hosting Voorhees in 2014. GL opened at Voorhees in 2015 and 2016 and last year was the home team when it faced Voorhees at Kean University while Frey Field was awaiting the completion of new field turf.
“It’s crazy,” sixth-year GL head coach Dan Guyton said of his team’s early start to the season. “We were kind of forced to make a decision by the state – do we open Week Zero and get a bye or do we open the next weekend and play eight weeks in a row?
“We felt that because of the injuries we’ve had in past years that it might benefit us to have a week off in the season this year.”
For the first time this year there will be state championship games – referred to now as “Bowl Games” – after the sectional state championship games are completed.
The sectional finals will be held the weekend before Thanksgiving for the first time and will be played at the higher seeds. There will be no neutral sites for the sectional finals. They will be back to being played at high school fields for the first time in a long time.
“We haven’t been over .500 in a decade,” Guyton said. “This playoff format is for bigger schools.”
Some teams that reach the “Bowl Games” will end up playing 13 games. Those are teams that begin with a nine-game schedule that usually includes a Thanksgiving Day game
The “Bowl Games” will take place Thanksgiving weekend and then the first weekend in December.
“The game’s in trouble, there are less kids playing it and they’re making it longer,” DelConte said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Some teams that begin with a nine-game schedule have moved up their Thanksgiving Day games, opting not to play on the holiday anymore. That was the case with Linden and Union, which moved their holiday game up to Week Zero this year.
Linden and Union faced each other on Thanksgiving from 1932-1990 and then again beginning in 2002. The crowds are less. Linden opted to host the game on the night before in recent years.
Johnson and GL still have Thanksgiving Day games this year. Johnson has been playing Rahway and GL has been clashing with New Providence for some time now.
“Playing on Thanksgiving is a big rivalry game for us,” DelConte said. “Our guys look forward to it. The alumni and everyone else looks forward to it.
“We take pride in that game. Rahway got us the last two years, so we want to win this year real bad.
“What’s going to be tough is if we don’t make the playoffs we’ll have to wait two-and-a-half weeks to play, which I don’t like. Football teaches you life lessons, so we’re just going to have to power through and get it done.
“It’s like starting early. We just have to make it happen, whatever it is. That’s the way we’re wired. We have no say in what the higher-ups are going to do. I don’t think they’re looking out for the safety and the benefit of the kids. They have their own things they want to fulfill.”
Johnson plays two Middlesex County opponents this year. The Crusaders will be at Metuchen Sept. 15 and will host Spotswood on Oct. 26.
“We have another tough schedule,” DelConte said. “We lose New Providence and Somerville, but it’s still tough.
“There are a lot of good teams in the new section we are in, including a returning state champion (Hillside). You just have to be ready to play. The section is tough.”
GL is one of two Union County schools – Cranford is the other – that does not have a Middlesex County crossover matchup.
“Part of it is that there are not many Group 3 Middlesex County schools,” Guyton said.
GL has only seven wins in its series vs. New Providence, but the last four of them have come the last four years on Thanksgiving.
“You see all the people on the hill and all the people in the stands and you can argue that almost the entire community is there when we play on Thanksgiving,” Guyton said. “That’s what high school football should be – community and young men on the field, a great tradition.
“If you’re not playing in a sectional final (or now a “Bowl Game”) it’s the final game for the seniors, which ends up being played in front of an entire town. Then afterwards the players can be with their families and eat turkey.
“It makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Going to GL and playing New Providence on Thanksgiving is one of those special things that our community has.
“People say there is a need to get rid of it. I say it’s the best thing that we have.
“It’s special to have because then the players know the whole season that they will need to continue to practice and improve because there is that game at the end of the year vs. New Providence.
“For me it’s a blessing. Ask any of the players and coaches and they say that they wouldn’t change it for anything.”
NJSIAA PLAYOFFS WILL HAVE NEW LOOK THIS FALL
ROBBINSVILLE, NJ (August 21, 2018) – The NJSIAA football playoffs will have a new look beginning this fall, and it will include a new title partner.
Rothman Orthopaedic Institute will be the title partner for the 2018 and 2019 football playoffs. The agreement begins this fall, which coincides with exciting changes to the post-season, culminating with first-ever intersectional bowl games that will be played exclusively at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.
The new agreement extends NJSIAA’s long-standing relationship with Rothman Orthopaedic Institute, which is a national leader in orthopaedics. Rothman Orthopaedic Institute has previously sponsored the state team and individual wrestling championships, and that sponsorship has also been extended through 2020.
“We’re pleased to be extending our extremely successful relationship with NJSIAA into scholastic football,” said Justin Samra, Director of Marketing at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute. “Rothman Orthopaedics believes in supporting the communities we serve. With our expansion in north and central Jersey this fall, we now can care for the entire state, and we couldn’t ask for a more exciting platform than the high school football and wrestling championships.”
There will plenty of attention focused on this year’s expanded playoffs. Teams will be seeded differently beginning this fall, to better ensure that the best teams qualify. The playoffs will commence the weekend of November 2-3, continue the next two weeks, and conclude with the bowl games and Non-Public finals on the weekends of November 23-24, and November 30 – December 1.
The 20 public school sectional championship games will be played at home fields of higher-seeded teams, but starting this year, the season will no longer end at that point. Instead, the winners of those games will move on to MetLife Stadium, for the first-ever bowl games that will pair North 1 vs. North 2 winners and the Central vs. South winners in each of the five enrollment-based groups. The three Non-Public state championship games will also be part of the MetLife Stadium schedule.
It promises to be an exciting time for fans of high school football in the state, and NJSIAA is pleased to have Rothman Orthopaedic Institute involved in the effort.
“Rothman Institute is a long-time friend of both NJSIAA and our state’s student-athletes,” said Jack DuBois, NJSIAA assistant director. “By sponsoring our premier scholastic sporting events, it further stamps itself as a leader in the realm of New Jersey high school sports.”
The Rothman Institute serves as official team physicians for the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Philadelphia 76ers, along with more than 40 high schools and colleges in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
THIS WEEK’S SCHEDULE
Thursday, Aug. 30 (3 games)
Johnson at Gov. Livingston, 3 p.m.
Plainfield at Voorhees, 7 p.m.
New Providence at Middlesex, 7 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 31 (3 games)
Linden at Union, 7 p.m.
B-Raritan at Elizabeth, 7 p.m.
Roselle at Bishop Ahr, 7 p.m.
Off: Brearley, Dayton, Summit,
Hillside, Rahway, Cranford,
Westfield, Scotch Plains.
THIS WEEK’S PICKS (6)
Johnson over Gov. Livingston
Voorhees over Plainfield
New Providence over Middlesex
Union over Linden
Elizabeth over Bridgewater-Raritan
Bishop Ahr over Roselle
Best bet: Voorhees
Upset special: New Providence
Last year: 82-45 (.646)
Best bets: 12-2
Upset specials: 4-10
TOP 10 FOR 2017:
10-Roselle Park (7-4)
Gov. Livingston (3-7)
Scotch Plains (1-9)
New Providence (1-9)
2017 MID-STATE 38
Raritan: North Hunterdon
Union: Bound Brook
Somerville and Bound Brook repeated.