When a team with playoff aspirations that is also seeking to produce another winning season is getting ready for its home-opener, the last thing it wants to do is look at its 0-2 record.
However, it’s there.
Linden can ignore it and go about its business or the Tigers can use it as the ultimate motivation for this weekend’s Watchung Division foe, Watchung Hills.
The Warriors will be coming to Cooper Field Friday night with a 2-0 record for the first time since 2013. Watchung Hills, 0-10 a year ago, last won as many as five games in 2013 and last produced a winning season in 2012.
To say that 2-0, with home victories over North Hunterdon 27-0 and Watchung Division foe Plainfield 35-12, is new to the Warriors would be an understatement.
On Friday Watchung Hills (2-0, 1-0) will play at Linden (0-2, 0-1) in a key Mid-State Conference-Watchung Division clash for both. Kickoff at Cooper Field is set for 7 p.m.
This is only the second time this decade that Watchung Hills has the opportunity to begin a season 3-0.
“They smell blood in the water,” fifth-year Linden head coach Al Chiola said.
Meanwhile, Linden has opened with losses at Donovan Catholic 35-0 and at Westfield 28-14, two opponents a bit more challenging than North Hunterdon and Plainfield to say the least.
After opening last year with a 14-7 single overtime loss at Watchung Division rival Union, the host Farmers tied the game in the final minute to send it to OT, Linden reeled off seven straight wins. The Tigers then closed with a regular season setback at Ridge followed by an upset playoff loss at home to Cranford.
So now with a four-game losing streak dating back to last season, the Tigers want to end that with a big Watchung Division victory over an undefeated team in their home-opener Friday night.
“Right now we’re trying to correct our errors,” Chiola said. “We limited some against Westfield, although our defense was on the field longer than what we would have liked.”
Linden knows it won’t be easy. Although the Tigers handled Watchung Hills on the road last year to the tune of 35-7, the last time the Warriors came to Linden in 2017 they were 1-5 and upset the Tigers, who were 3-2, by the score of 12-7.
“They wanted it more that game,” Chiola said. “Our kids overlooked them and we didn’t play well. We used that as motivation last year when we went there to play them.”
Guided by former New York Giants football player Rich Seubert, who was promoted from assistant to head coach in 2016, the Warriors were led last Friday night by Jack Taub, who rushed 19 times for 195 yards and three touchdowns. Anthony Leone had three tackles, two of them for sacks.
Linden senior quarterback Zion Marshall completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jaden Pierre late vs. Westfield for the second Tiger touchdown and the team’s first on offense so far this season.
“It was important for us to get on the board offensively,” Chiola said. “Westfield’s defense was real tough. They were flying around and they’re always great against the run. They look like they may be back on building on the tradition they set before last year.”
Senior inside linebacker Nashawn Holmes scored off a 45-yard fumble recovery in the third quarter for Linden’s first points of the 2019 season. Senior outside linebacker Sameer Scott came up with an interception in the second quarter.
“Our kids came out much harder against Westfield and still fought to the end,” Chiola said. “We hoped to have come away with at least a split for our first two games. I told our kids that we would have one of the toughest schedules around early. We just didn’t play well enough.
“We have to play mistake-free football this weekend.”
Three of Linden’s next four games are at home. Offensively, this might have to be the game where the Tigers get untracked to build some momentum.
“We need to simplify things,” Chiola said. “We need to put our kids in the best position to succeed.”
NOTES: Watchung Hills began the last three seasons 0-2.
Linden is 5-2 vs. Watchung Hills this decade, with the teams not facing each other in 2014 and 2015.
WATCHUNG DIVISION STANDINGS:
Union (1-0), overall record: 2-0
Watchung Hills (1-0), overall record: 2-0
Westfield (1-0), overall record: 1-0
Plainfield (0-1), overall record: 1-1
Linden (0-1), overall record: 0-2
Elizabeth (0-1), overall record: 0-2
GAMES THIS WEEKEND:
Friday, Sept. 20
Watchung Hills at Linden, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 21
Union at Westfield, 1 p.m.
Elizabeth at Plainfield, 1 p.m.