Rahway at Cranford Sept. 21 has makings of fine Union County grid clash; Host Cougars seeking 3-0 start

Visiting Indians coming off 35-7 triumph at 2-0 Voorhees

PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Rahway’s offense is led by returning senior quarterback Jakir Robinson (No. 5).
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Cranford seeks a 3-0 start, facing its toughest opponent so far this year – that team being Rahway on Sept. 21.

When Cranford hosted Rahway last year the Cougars were 0-2 and in desperate need of a victory if they were to qualify for the playoffs for a seventh straight season.
Cranford (2-0, 2-0) hosts Rahway (1-1, 1-1) again Friday night at 7 in a Mid-State 36 Conference-Mountain Division clash at Memorial Field.
Last year Rahway was 2-0, with two double digit victories. One of them, over Hillside, came against a team that ended up winning a state championship.
The first half at Memorial Field did not go so well for the host team playing its home opener. Cranford previously lost by double digits to Somerville and Voorhees on the road, getting shut out by the latter. Both of those teams reached state championship games, with Somerville winning.
Losing to Voorhees 35-0 meant that Cranford was shut out for the first time in nine years after scoring in 93 consecutive games.
So entering the third quarter against Rahway, Cranford found itself trailing the Indians by the score of 14-0. Cranford was 24 minutes away from being 0-3 for the first time since 2008. They were also in danger of being shut out for a second straight week after not being shut out since September of 2008.
“We had given it our best shot in the first half and Rahway was better,” Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier said. “They stopped us on offense and made a couple of big plays on our defense.
“I told our kids that although we were down it was only 14-0. We played pretty well on defense. We had to go out and play better.”
Cranford’s 24-14 comeback victory actually started with the very first play of the third quarter. The Cougars kicked off, with senior Valentino Ambrosio sending the ball through the end zone for a touchback.
Then a minute in Rahway turned the ball over and Cranford took advantage of the miscue by driving for its first touchdown – and points – in two weeks.
“We kicked off to start the second half and then got a turnover and scored,” Rosenmeier said. “Then we kicked off again, held them, got the ball back and scored again.
“Then we kicked off again, they didn’t score, we got the ball back and we went ahead for the first time in the third quarter.”
Cranford went on to win six of seven and qualify again in North 2, Group 3. The Cougars lost in the first round and finished 6-4.
Two weeks later, after a 28-21 home loss to Voorhees, Rahway won at favored Somerville 27-6, handing the eventual Central Jersey, Group 3 state champions their only loss of 2017.
“We had a turnover on a silly mistake, not picking up the fumble, and then lost momentum,” Rahway head coach Brian Russo said of the beginning of the second half at Cranford a year ago.
“Their kicker kept on kicking the ball deep and it was a snowball effect. We dug a hole that we could not get out of.”
Rahway quarterback Jakir Robinson had some cramp issues that kept him out of the game in the beginning of the second half. Cranford was without starting quarterback Connor Katz, out with an arm injury. The Cougars rushed for 365 yards.
“Jakir was able to come back in,” Russo said. “We couldn’t stop their running game. That seemed to turn their season around.
“Their coaches do a nice job and they have a solid program. They have a bunch of seniors we’ll have to contend with this time, including No. 34 (defensive lineman Rob Schork) who presents a lot of problems.”
Robinson was quite efficient in Rahway’s 35-7 win at 2-0 Voorhees last Friday night. He completed six-of-14 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns – two to junior split end Mark Bails and one to junior tight end Brayden Pierre-Louis.
“Jakir did everything right in the off-season,” Russo said. “He’s a product of the weight room, a football player, who spent time there in the winter and spring to work on his body and arm.
“He’s a very selfless player who is not looking to pad numbers. If we run the ball he is good with that. He’s a very smart football player.”
Senior running back Zion Pendleton carried the ball 18 times for 202 yards and one touchdown vs. Voorhees. Fellow senior back Dashon Moore gained 110 on 16 attempts and scored once.
“We wanted to run the football and also made a couple of plays through the air,” Russo said. “We ran the ball efficiently between the tackles and at the perimeters.
“We had some touchdowns called back, so our main concern right now is eliminating penalties and to be more disciplined.”
Katz threw for 95 yards in Cranford’s 35-0 home-opening victory over Gov. Livingston last Friday night.
“Their quarterback throws the ball well and to a lot of players,” Russo said. “They make big plays.
“We will have to go in there and execute and have our seniors lead the way.”
Junior slotback Michael Kalnins and senior tailback James Shriner rushed for two touchdowns each and sophomore Marcus Johnson for one.
“Obviously, we’re happy to be 2-0,” Rosenmeier said. “We still have a lot of things to work on.
“We need to be more consistent in our play, stopping unforced errors such as turnovers and penalties. They really hurt us in our second game and in our first game also.”
Rahway and Cranford began playing each other again two years ago. Rahway won the 2016 game 40-34 in single overtime at Veterans Field. That was Rahway’s last regular season home game at Veterans Field before the Indians began playing on their brand new field turf field at Rahway River Park.
“Rahway is always fast, always physical and they have a lot of guys that can make plays,” Rosenmeier said. “Their quarterback (Jakir Robinson) can hurt you with his feet and his arm.
“(Zion) Pendleton is all over the field, given opportunities to get the football and do some serious damage. Whenever he gets the ball in his hands he’s a threat to go all the way. (Dashon) Moore is also very fast.
“They have a good-sized team that can hurt you a lot of ways on the offensive side of the ball.”
With Katz at quarterback this time Cranford will have the appearance of being a bit more balanced themselves offensively.
“When we had our best teams we were balanced,” Rosenmeier said. “That’s something we want to work towards. We’ve been fairly balanced so far.
“We’ll still take what the defense gives us, but we have the ability to move the ball in the air and on the ground.”
Katz has led a Cranford offense, so far, that has produced 77 points in its first two games, despite some miscues.
“Connor has done a real nice job,” Rosenmeier said. “The turnovers in our second game are more on me than on him, especially the second one. He’s done a lot of nice things.
“I always say that it’s difficult to run our offense, there’s a lot of pressure to run the show. Connor has practiced really well this week and throughout the season.”
No doubt Schork is once again proving to be a force to be reckoned with on defense.
“He’s a very difficult matchup for anyone on the line,” Rosenmeier said. “He’s dominant at times, plays fast and is big. He can make plays on the run game and he had an interception in our last game.
“We’re able to play a lot of guys one way, which in the long run – hopefully – will pay dividends for us. The strength of our team is the amount of guys we have playing well for us.
“Like I said I’m glad to be 2-0. We’re coming along both on offense and defense. We need to continue to do so to have a chance to be good.”
Rahway opened at home with a 42-31 loss at Somerville, a division foe Cranford will play in two weeks.
“We watched that game on film and I think Rahway outplayed Somerville a good portion of the game,” Rosenmeier said. “They ran Wildcat against them the whole night.
“Rahway had some success moving the ball on them. It was a competitive game the whole time.
“We know that we’ll have our work cut out for us Friday night.”
NOTES: Rahway’s 7-4 season last year that saw them reach the North 2, Group 3 semifinals – falling at eventual champion West Essex – included the Indians playing six of nine regular season opponents that went on to make the playoffs.
Rahway concluded another winning season by beating Johnson on Thanksgiving.
Although Rahway lost to an 0-2 team – Cranford – the Indians ended up beating two state champions in Hillside (CJ, G2) and Somerville (CJ, G3). Rahway also played another team that reached a state championship game – Voorhees -which lost to West Essex in the N2, G3 final.
Cranford is seeking a ninth straight winning season and an eighth consecutive playoff campaign.