UNION – The Farmers came closer last year against Union County rival Westfield – within exactly a single point.
This year there was no way they were walking off the field without a victory.
Union, minus one of its key offensive weapons, was still able to reach the end zone three times in the first half.
Although the Farmers did not get back inside the end zone in the second half, they were more than up to the task of limiting the visiting Blue Devils in quarters three and four.
This time – for the first time in five years – it was Westfield walking off the field seeking to rebound next week after a defeat.
Lifted once again by junior quarterback Andrew Sanborn, who ran for a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass, Union defeated Westfield 21-7 in Friday night’s Mid-State Conference-Watchung Division clash at Cooke Memorial Field.
“We came out here confident,” Sanborn said. “It was a lot of years since Union beat Westfield and it was about time to break that. We all wanted to win this game very badly. It meant a lot to us.”
Union defeated Westfield for the first time since 2013 and at home for the first time in exactly six years.
Union won its fourth straight for the first time since winning seven in a row in 2013, the last year the Farmers played in a state championship game (North 2, Group 5 final).
Union is now 5-1 overall – its best start since beginning 2009 at 7-0 – and improved to 3-1 in the Watchung Division. The Farmers will seek to go 6-1 for the first time since 2003 when they play at Hunterdon Central (3-2) next Friday night.
Westfield slipped to 2-3 overall and 1-2 in the Watchung Division. Linden leads the Watchung at 4-1 and like Union is 5-1 overall. Union is the only team to beat Linden.
Westfield, coming off a 37-game winning streak that was snapped in its opener at Linden, lost consecutive games for the first time since 2013.
Sanborn got loose for a 53-yard touchdown run on Union’s first possession and then completed a touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Jalen Carter later in the first quarter that covered 70 yards.
Union was without senior wide receiver Isaiah Stewart, who was sidelined with an ankle injury he sustained during Thursday’s practice.
Union’s third touchdown came in the second quarter, a four-yard run by senior back Jacqu’e Cook.
“We just wanted to come out and play our best and do our jobs,” Sanborn said.
Union almost went up by four scores before Sanborn was intercepted in the end zone near the conclusion of the second quarter. Sanborn was also intercepted twice in the second half. Coming up with the picks for Westfield were senior Griffin Aslanian (one in each half) and senior Emmett Smith.
“Some of those passes were underthrown,” Sanborn said. “I get happy feet at times. I have to stay calm.”
Westfield got the ball first in the second half and went down the field for its only score, set up by a long pass play at left. Junior running back Tim Alliegro scored from two yards out to pull the Blue Devils to within two scores.
Aslanian’s second pick thwarted a Union drive with 5:19 left in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth, Westfield had first-and-goal at the Union 11. Later on fourth down from the eight junior quarterback Hank Shapiro sought a receiver in the middle of the end zone. Instead, Union junior defensive back Christian Murrell was there to produce one of Union’s three interceptions.
“Christian stepped in for Isaiah and had a really big game for us,” Union head coach Lou Grasso, Jr. said. “He’s been working real hard. That was nice to see.”
Murrell returned the interception to the Union 34 before he was brought down.
In Union’s next attempt to answer Westfield’s only score, Sanborn had a pass picked off by Smith, who raced down the right sideline all the way to the Union 20.
With still 7:17 remaining, Shapiro hooked up with one of his wide receivers, who caught a pass in the left corner of the end zone against single coverage. However, the receiver pushed off first and Westfield was called for offensive pass interference.
Westfield’s next possession, which began on its own 42, was halted by a Union interception by Cook.
“We were able to move the ball pretty well and I was happy with that,” Grasso said.
This was the third straight game between these Union County foes that at least one team did not score in the second half. In their 2016 North 2, Group 5 semifinal, Westfield did not score in the third and fourth quarters of a 21-7 win. In last year’s game both teams did not score in the second half, with Westfield holding on for a 7-6 win. For the second straight year Union did not score in the second half, but this time it didn’t matter. The Farmers produced enough offense in the first half to come away with a hard-fought victory.
NOTES: Union realizes that a victory at Hunterdon Central next week could keep the Farmers at home for quite a while. Union’s final two regular season games are at home against Watchung Hills (presently 0-6) Oct. 19 and vs. Bridgewater-Raritan (1-5) Oct. 26.
Should Union get to 8-1 by the end of the month there’s a good chance the Farmers could remain at home for all three rounds of November’s sectional playoffs.
“Hunterdon Central is good,” Grasso said. “We don’t look past anyone. We know we have another tough game next week.”
Including victories in its final two games last year, Union has now won seven of its last eight.
“Being 5-1 is exciting, but we have bigger stuff ahead,” Grasso said. “This is not the time at all to be satisfied.”
REMAINING REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:
Oct. 12 at Hunterdon Central (3-2)
Oct. 19 Watchung Hills (0-6)
Oct. 26 Bridgewater-Raritan (1-5)