There’s no way to sugarcoat it.
The last three times Union football played in a state championship game it turned out to be a disaster for the Farmers, on and off the field.
Tonight Union is seeking to capture its first state championship since 1993. Hard to believe, in many ways, that it’s been 26 years since the Farmers last celebrated their ultimate goal.
The baseball team was last state champs in 2002. Even the basketball team has been a state champion, 1997, since the football team last won.
In this my 29th season of covering Union football I’ve been fortunate enough to have covered the last six state championship games Union reached.
My first three years covering the Farmers Union was nearly unbeatable, producing a 32-1 record from 1991-1993 that included three straight North 2, Group 4 state championships. The only blemish was Union losing its home-opener in 1993 to Irvington 26-21, with the Farmers just missing scoring the winning touchdown in the game’s final possession.
Union got to the playoffs in 1991 and beat Elizabeth and Randolph at home. The Farmers got to the playoffs again in 1992 and beat Elizabeth and Randolph at home once more for a second consecutive 11-0 finish. They got to the playoffs again in 1993 and this time won at Elizabeth and then at Randolph to three-peat with a 10-1 final record.
Union last celebrated a state championship on Saturday, Dec. 4, 1993, a come-from-behind 19-16 win at Randolph sparked by two second-half touchdowns scored by senior fullback Jacyn McPhail. Randolph was beaten at home for the first time in eight years.
That was nearly 9,500 days ago.
Union also finished as the Star-Ledger’s No. 1 ranked team in the state at the end of all three of those seasons.
At that point Union had won North 2, Group 4 in the playoff era 10 times. The next closest team was Elizabeth with three.
That was the end of the glory days at Union as far as the Farmers winning state championships.
Union went 8-1-1 the very next year, but lost at home to eventual champion Montclair in the first round. The 1995 team lost its first road game in seven years, at Linden on the playoff cutoff date weekend, and did not make the playoffs for the first time since 1989, finishing 7-2.
Lou Rettino passed away March 22, 1996. John Johnston, a coach from Pennsylvania, was hired.
Union, at 6-2 and having lost to Elizabeth for the first time since 1989, went back to Elizabeth and beat the top-seeded and 8-0 Minutemen 36-24 in the semifinals behind senior quarterback Nick Ferroni and senior running backs Corey Ferguson and Leonard NiiMoy.
However, the final on a Friday night at Giants Stadium saw Union lose to Montclair 20-0. Some fans in attendance protested with signs the Johnston hiring that night because of things he was alleged to have said while coaching in Pennsylvania.
It took Union seven years to get back to the North 2, Group 4 final with the Farmers reaching the championship game again in 2003 under third-year head coach Marc Crisafi, a 1983 Union graduate who played on Union’s 1982 state championship team.
Union defeated Bridgewater-Raritan 14-12 at home in the semifinals. BR was the only team that defeated Union in the regular season.
So the 10-1 and second-seeded Farmers scored first against eighth-seeded Piscataway and then the game was still tied 7-7 early in the fourth quarter that Thursday night at Giants Stadium.
All of a sudden a game which appeared that it might be headed to overtime turned into a 29-7 Piscataway triumph. A skirmish broke out along the right side of the Piscataway sideline near game’s end that brought punishment to several involved.
Union did not reach another state championship game again for another 10 years.
In present head coach Lou Grasso, Jr’s first season as head coach in 2013 Union thumped Piscataway 47-24 at home in the semifinals.
Then after Union lost at Linden 27-8 on Thanksgiving the Farmers themselves were thumped by Ridge 48-13 in that season’s North 2, Group 5 state championship game played on a Sunday morning at Rutgers.
Union, after winning seven straight state championship games from 1984-1993, has been outscored 97-20 in the last three state championship games it has appeared in.
Tonight the Farmers get another chance at state championship No. 11 and at home on a Friday night for the first time against the Clifton Mustangs. Clifton has not won a state championship since 2006, its only won captured in the playoff era. The Mustangs won 15 sectional titles before playoff games began in 1974.
Two programs with a ton of championship history seek to add another one to their collections.
You can bet Cooke Memorial Field will be rocking tonight!