CRANFORD – What’s it like to play football for Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier?
“You learn the importance of being able to execute what you do every day,” senior quarterback Connor Katz said. “He wants you to be you and go out and give it everything you’ve got.”
Senior two-way lineman Patrick Blowe said: “I didn’t play football until I was a freshman because he got me into the sport. My mom was worried and he convinced my mom by telling her the other side, the benefits of being part of a team and working hard toward a goal.”
On Friday’s Seniors Night at Memorial Field it was Katz, Blowe and the rest of not only the senior class, but the juniors, sophomores and freshmen paying tribute to Rosenmeier for the coaching milestone he achieved.
In the sixth game of his 15th season at the helm of the Cougars Rosenmeier gained his 100th victory Friday night. In his only stint as a head coach, Rosenmeier’s record at Cranford is now 100-52 (.658). He is believed to be the first Cranford football coach to gain 100 victories.
Cranford easily dispatched visiting J.P. Stevens 41-0 in its first Union County vs. Middlesex County matchup. In 2021 the Mid-State Conference and Greater Middlesex Conference will merge, with more of these matchups likely to take place on an annual basis.
The Cougars improved to 4-2 and continue to eye a playoff berth as a North, Group 4 school seeking to reach one of the sections.
Also, Cranford improved to 76-26 (.745) since 2010 as the Cougars continue to enjoy their best-ever decade of football.
“It was an honor to be part of this game,” said Katz, who scored the first three touchdowns all on the ground, rushed for 49 yards on nine carries and completed five-of-10 passes for 113 yards and one touchdown. “Coach Rosenmeier is the staple of our program.”
In addition to this year’s Cougars and their coaches, past Cranford players and Rosenmeier’s family were in attendance. A sign that read 100 wins was created using Snickers bars, a favorite of the coach who played his high school ball for Steve Ciccotelli at Johnson Regional, Class of 1983, and then later was an assistant coach on Ciccotelli’s staff at Scotch Plains.
“He’s made me a better person,” Blowe said. “He has shown us ways that football imitates life. He makes you want to be a better football player and also better at everything you do in life.”
When Rosenmeier took over in 2005 he knew that it was going to take a select group of people to make many sacrifices if he was going to take the program to the next level.
“We set out to coach winning football and to do that everyone has to put other people first,” Rosenmeier said. “It requires a lot of hard work from family, staff and the kids.
“This is not just a seasonal thing. You may only play the games during the season, but it’s to the point where there are so many other things that make it 24-7. We tried to use the baseball model here. I felt there was no reason that the football program couldn’t be as successful.”
Weight training year around and encouraging athletes to play other sports are two key elements Rosenmeier always brings up when talking about Cranford athletics.
“We established the weight training for physical education class and encourage all kids to take it,” Rosenmeier said.
Rosenemeier’s first six seasons at Cranford were pedestrian at best. Cranford was 30-30 under Rosenmeier heading into the 2011 campaign and that did not include a single playoff appearance. That came after previous head coach Chris Hull guided the Cougars to the state playoffs in his final three seasons at the helm, 2002, 2003 and 2004.
The 2010 team had the look of a playoff squad, but fell short of gaining enough power points to qualify in Central Jersey, Group 2 that season.
Instead, Cranford had to play a consolation game at season’s end for the sixth straight year. Cranford would go 6-0 in those consolation games from 2005-2010 and in 2010 finished 6-4.
“We started to move forward with that 2010 team,” Rosenmeier said. “We knew there was more work to be done and we had to find a way.”
In 2011 the Cougars were led by many talented players, among them junior quarterback Reggie Green.
“The 2010 team had a lot of injuries and the 2011 team was not picked to win anything,” Rosenmeier said. “We improved as the season went on.”
On Oct. 28 that 2011 season Cranford hosted Summit in a battle of 7-0 squads. Summit came away with a dominating 52-21 triumph.
“We got beat bad that night,” Rosenmeier said. “Fortunately for us that was just one game. We were able to turn it around.”
Cranford bounced back with a regular season-ending 41-7 triumph at home over Delaware Valley. After getting a first-round bye that year in the North 2, Group 3 playoffs because only five teams qualified, the third-seeded Cougars traveled to Colonia to face the second-seeded Patriots, who were 7-1 and winners of seven straight, including a 33-21 home regular season win over Wall the week before.
Colonia’s standout senior running back Greg Jones rushed for 450 yards against that undefeated Wall squad. To say Cranford had to slow Jones down on his home field to advance to its first-ever state championship game was an understatement.
“That’s where defensive coordinator Joe Hubert came in, he joined us the year before,” Rosenmeier said. “He’s been much more than our defensive coordinator. His wisdom as a head coach before at Gov. Livingston has been invaluable. He became another guy who could lead us.”
Cranford held Jones below his rushing average per game that year en route to a 34-7 triumph. The Cougars then topped fourth-seeded Parsippany Hills 27-0 in the section’s title contest at Kean University.
Assistants Ryan Huber and Kerry Drexler have been with Rosenmeier since day one in 2005.
“Their loyalty has been tremendous,” Rosenmeier said.
For Rosenmeier to do what he’s done with the program now for a decade and a half and for the Cougars to be the second-winningest program in Union County this decade is quite an accomplishment. Attributes like dedication, commitment and perseverance come to mind.
Years ago no one would have thought Cranford would ever be good enough to win a state championship like the 2011 squad did or go 12-0 and win another one like the 2015 team did.
“It’s been a group collaboration, a lot of people committed to making the program better,” Rosenmeier said.
NOTES: Cranford has now produced at least one shutout victory for five straight seasons beginning in 2015. Helping preserve Friday’s shutout win was Cranford senior cornerback Luke Pachkowski, who intercepted a third quarter pass on the Cranford goal line and returned it 50 yards.
“We just had our best week of practice,” said Blowe after Cranford fell to Rahway the previous weekend. “We’re tired of losing. We had each other’s backs.”
Cranford (4-2, 3-0) next plays at North Hunterdon (4-3, 2-1) this Friday night at 7. If the Cougars win they will capture the Mid-State Conference’s Raritan Division championship outright at 4-0.
“Our goal is to win every game,” Katz said. “The way to get better as a team is to build off a win.”
Cranford will then wrap its regular season at Mountain Division rival Summit Nov. 2 at 2:30 p.m.
The first round of the sectional playoffs around the state will be scheduled for Nov. 8 and 9.
MIDDLESEX COUNTY VS. UNION COUNTY CROSSOVER
J.P. Stevens (0-7) 00 00 00 00 – 00
Cranford (4-2) 14 07 13 07 – 41
Cranford – Connor Katz 11 run, Diar Dautaga kick (C 7-0)
2 plays, 29 yards, :27 used
Cranford – Connor Katz 1 run, Diar Dautaga kick (C 14-0)
2 plays, 49 yards, :39 used
Cranford – Connor Katz 16 run, Diar Dautaga kick (C 21-0)
3 plays, 35 yards, :49 used
Cranford – Marcus Johnson 46 run, kick failed (C 27-0)
1 play, 46 yards, :14 used
Cranford – Dennis DeMarino 2 run, Diar Dautaga kick (C 34-0)
4 plays, 25 yards, 1:18 used
Cranford capitalized on a turnover – a fumble recovery by Kevin Keogh.
Cranford – Colin Murray 5 run, Diar Dautaga kick (C 41-0)