Battle of unbeatens has Union (2-0, 1-0) at Westfield (1-0, 1-0) Saturday; Standout senior QBs include Andrew Sanborn for Farmers and Hank Shapiro for Blue Devils

Union has not won at Westfield since 2013

Last year Union snapped a four-game losing streak against Westfield, including consecutive North 2, Group 5 semifinal defeats in 2015 and 2016.
On Saturday the Farmers will attempt to beat the Blue Devils at Gary Kehler Stadium for the first time since 2013.
One of three Mid-State Conference-Watchung Division football games on tap this weekend includes a battle of undefeated squads as Union (2-0, 1-0) takes on Westfield (1-0, 1-0) Saturday at 1 p.m. at Westfield’s Kehler Stadium.
The other two Watchung Division battles include Watchung Hills (2-0, 1-0) at Linden (0-2, 0-1) Friday night at 7 at Linden’s Cooper Field and Elizabeth (0-2, 0-1) at Plainfield (1-1, 0-1) Saturday at 1 p.m. at Plainfield’s Hub Stine Field.
Union is seeking to move to 3-0 for the first time since 2016. Three years ago Union was 3-0 and Westfield 4-0 when the host Blue Devils thumped the Farmers 28-13 at Westfield.
“Westfield has always been tough, they adjust on the fly and we need to be ready for a lot of different things,” Union head coach Lou Grasso, Jr. said.
The last two games in the series were played at Union, with Westfield winning 7-6 two years ago and Union coming out on top 21-7 last year. This will be the third straight year we get the quarterback matchup of Union’s Andrew Sanborn and Westfield’s Hank Shapiro, now both seniors.
Sanborn has several targets to get the ball to, with his main threat being senior Rutgers commit Ahmirr Robinson.
“Sanborn to Robinson, I feel, is one of the most lethal quarterback-wide receiver combinations in the entire state,” Westfield head coach Jim DeSarno said.
Union did not score in the second half of the last two matchups, although the Farmers scored enough to take a 21-0 halftime lead last year and eventually beat Westfield for the first time since 2013 and the first time at home since 2012.
The two games played in 2016 and the one in 2015 – all at Westfield – saw Union fall behind early and then the Farmers were unable to catch up. Union has to prevent Shapiro from getting into a rhythm early with his receivers or the same scenario could arise.
“We’re prepared to face adversity,” said Grasso, who is 2-4 including the two playoff defeats against Westfield since he took over at Union in 2013. “We won last year, so, hopefully, this is turning back into a rivalry.”
Union has opened with a 20-12 win over Curtis of Staten Island at Rutgers and followed that up with a 35-0 victory at Elizabeth. The two scores given up against Curtis were the result of a long pass completion on third down and a short field after a turnover.
Union shut out Elizabeth for the first time since the 1992 North 2, Group 4 playoffs and in the regular season for the first time since 1991.
“We’re excited to get out to a quick start, but we still have a lot to improve upon,” Grasso said. “We were a bit sloppy against Elizabeth early with a fumble and running into the kicker, but our defense played really well. I thought our pass coverage was outstanding.”
You could say this is a “bigger” game for Union since the Farmers are chasing what Westfield accomplished three years in a row – and undefeated all three years at that – from 2015-2017. That more specifically was capturing the North 2, Group 5 state championship.
When Westfield won N2G5 for the first time four years ago it was the program’s first state title since 1977.
Union has not won a state championship since winning North 2, Group 4 for the record 10th time in 1993.
For Westfield it was 38 years. Union is now up to 26.
“This is a big game for a ton of reasons,” Grasso said. “We want to beat Westfield to be at their level. Every game is a big game.
“We’re not thinking about the playoffs yet, but this is a big one because they’re solid and they have a lot of explosive parts. For the conference and the county they’re not a team you can look past.”
Grasso called recent losses at Westfield as “nightmare starts.”
“We know they can move the ball consistently,” Grasso said. “We have to avoid giving up the big play. (Tim) Alliegro can run with the ball and we know that Shapiro is a big-time player.
“This will be a tough challenge, a good measuring stick to see where we are. I think it’s a good time in the season to play this game.”
DeSarno was pleased with his team’s opening 28-14 win at home over Linden last Saturday, the first game played on Westfield’s new turf.
“We were so blah in the pre-season, some good and some bad,” DeSarno said. “However, against Linden, we were flying around on defense and really starting to play up to our standards.”
DeSarno, and defensive coordinator Ken Miller, will seek to limit Sanborn by trying to get as much pressure on his as possible. Sounds logical. It won’t be easy.
“He has a cannon of an arm, is fast and can run out of the pocket,” DeSarno said of Sanborn. “He has a deep ball and can hurt you sideline to sideline. They have other weapons too and we saw them against Elizabeth.”
Westfield followed up three straight 12-0 state title seasons last year with a 4-7 finish that included a playoff loss and a consolation victory before closing with a win over Plainfield on Thanksgiving.
“Some of the kids were just not varsity-ready last year, but we had to play them,” DeSarno said. “Now they’re getting there.
“Our big focus is for us to play fast. We need 11 guys getting to the football.”
Shapiro was the quarterback, as a sophomore, of the 2017 state championship team. He will continue at the position in college at Lehigh.
“In my time here he’s my only three-year starter at quarterback,” said DeSarno, at the helm of the Blue Devils since 2006. “Hank is a great leader in everything he does, on the field, off the field, in the weight room, in the locker room. He does things that you can’t coach.
“The kids want to play hard for him.”
One of Shapiro’s primary blockers is Holy Cross commit Declan McCauley, a three-year starter at tackle and captain.
“He’s in great shape, sets and example for our younger players and can really carry the offense on his shoulders,” DeSarno said.
A three-year starter on defense is inside linebacker Will Kessler.
“We moved Will inside midway through last year,” DeSarno said. “He’s really playing at a high level.”
A two-year starter and three-year letter-winner on defense is Colin Freer on the line.
“Colin will play lacrosse at Princeton and is a do-all kind of player,” DeSarno said. “His motor doesn’t stop.”
This is the second of three straight home games for Westfield. The Blue Devils will host Watchung Hills on Sept. 28.
Union will not play a game on its Cooke Memorial Field until Sept. 27 vs. Plainfield.

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