UNION – There was a time when dinosaurs roamed up and down Morris Avenue, devouring everything in their path.
There was also a time before the internet and when we didn’t have to get frisked when attending a sporting event that the Union Farmers used to still win state championships.
That time was the early 1990s, more than a quarter of a century ago now, and it is a reminder of what Union football used to be.
The script many times read nine or eight regular season wins followed by two more playoff triumphs to reach the ultimate goal.
Union’s last three state championships came consecutively in 1991, 1992 and 1993 and were all wins over Randolph in those North 2, Group 4 finals. When the 1991 season commenced Union had not won a state championship since 1987. That was four years. Then that seemed like an eternity.
Now it’s been 26. Hard to believe? You might have to be the judge. There are many factors including having to win three playoff games and the section the Farmers are in is completely different than
it was back then.
On Friday night top-seeded Union (11-0) will host third-seeded Clifton (7-3) in this year’s North 2, Group 5 state championship game. It’s the first time in six years that Union has reached a state title contest and only the fourth time since Union won its last state championship.
Union will host a state championship game for the first time since it was last 11-0 back in 1992. This time Union will host a state championship game at home for the first time on a Friday night.
One of Union’s assistant coaches was a prominent senior player on Union’s 1992 squad that repeated as North 2, Group 4 champions with a second consecutive 11-0 finish.
Carmen Marano Jr., Union Class of 1993, played on two of Union’s record 10 North 2, Group 4 state championship teams in the playoff era. Under legendary head coach Lou Rettino Union won all 10 in just a 16-season span from 1978-1993. Rettino’s playoff record during his 19-season (1977-1995) tenure at Union was 22-5, 10-2 in the final and 10-3 in the semifinals.
Marano, who played collegiately the first year Monmouth had a team in 1993 for still head coach Kevin Callahan, is in his 22nd season as a Union assistant football coach.
Marano was one of Union’s starting two-way linemen when the Farmers defeated Randolph 21-7 at Cooke Memorial Field on Saturday, Dec. 5, 1992, which is the last time Union won a state championship game on its home field. It was also Marano’s final high school game.
“I had an ACL injury (four minutes into Union’s semifinal home win over Elizabeth) and was able to go one way that game,” Marano said.
That season Union had its Thanksgiving Day game in between playoff dates. After beating Elizabeth to advance to the final, Union moved its home game against Scotch Plains from Thursday (Thanksgiving) to Saturday.
The Farmers came back to win the game in the fourth quarter 20-13 to remain undefeated at 10-0. Randolph surprisingly lost the night before against Livingston to fall to 9-1.
The year before Union ended Randolph’s then 59-game (58-0-1) unbeaten streak by coming back in the second half at home to top Randolph 24-14 in the 1991 North 2, Group 4 final. That was Randolph’s first loss since October 25, 1986, a 14-13 setback at Seton Hall Prep. Randolph went to Union for the first of three consecutive years in the playoffs in 1990 and beat Union 6-0 in the semifinals.
In early December of 1992 Union was seeking to beat Randolph a second straight season for the program’s ninth state title since 1978.
“I wasn’t able to practice that week,” Marano said. “Coach Rettino started me at the defensive tackle spot and we were able to pull off the win. I played defensive line and switched in on offense.”
You can go on YouTube and see that 1992 championship game. Back then there was no such thing as field turf and the uniforms over the shoulder pads didn’t always cover a players’ entire mid-section.
“It’s like we’ve come full circle here with everything we’ve done to try to bring back the glory days of Union and this team has taken it and really run with it,” Marano said. “They’ve done a heck of a job.”
Union has a senior in Andrew Sanborn who as a three-year starter behind center became one of only nine quarterbacks in state history to surpass 6,000 career passing yards. However, he is just as dangerous running with the ball.
Union’s running game is enhanced by senior Christian Murrell and junior Diante Wilson in addition to all-purpose performer Desmond Igbinosun, one New Jersey’s most explosive juniors.
“We like to run the ball,” said Marano, Union’s offensive line coach. “We have Andrew Sanborn who likes to throw it around, but, ultimately, our identity is to run the ball down someone’s throat and be real physical. Like that Union team (1992) we’re a very physical team that likes to run the ball.”
Back in 1992 all state championship games, or at least most, were played on Saturday afternoons. If you were a team like Union that played your home games on Friday nights it didn’t matter. The state scheduled both rounds for Saturday afternoon.
Union’s last state championship was won at Randolph 19-16 on Saturday, Dec. 4, 1993, close to 9,500 days ago. Union handed Randolph its third straight loss in a state final and it was also the first time in eight years that Randolph lost a game on its home field.
Move forward to 2019 and Union is now facing a Clifton team that also has a glorious past filled with many championships like Union. However, all but one of them came before the playoff era that began in 1974. Clifton’s only state championship in the playoff era came in 2006 when the Mustangs captured North 1, Group 4 under the guidance of head coach Ron Anello.
So there you have it. Clifton has not won in 13 years and Union in 26.
On Friday night we will see which team will snap a long streak of not lifting up the trophy it works so hard to get.