The Linden football team is in a section other than North 2, Group 4 for the first time in a quarter of a century.
The Tigers have not won a state championship since 1985.
Rahway, like a bouncing ball, is back situated in Central Jersey, Group 2 for the eighth time since NJSIAA reclassification began in 2003.
The Indians have not won a state championship since 1984.
For Linden, if the Tigers dream of getting back to a state championship game for the first time in 28 years – they came close last year – and winning their second title in the playoff era they will have to do so in a very challenging North 2, Group 5.
Rahway reached the Central Jersey, Group 2 semifinals four years in a row from 2004-2007 and qualified again in the section in 2011. No Union County school has captured a playoff state title in a Central Jersey section since reclassification began 10 years ago. The Indians will attempt to break that streak this season.
Linden and Rahway were the only Union County football playing schools to move into different sections for the upcoming 2013 campaign.
Linden moved up to North 2, Group 5 and is the smallest school in the section with an enrollment listed at 1284. The Tigers were last in a section other than North 2, Group 4 in 1988 when they were last in North 2, Group 3.
“Initially I was taken back when I heard that,” said Linden sixth-year head coach Deon Candia. “I understand the process. We play a lot of Group 5 schools anyway.”
Linden’s 2013 schedule includes Group 5 schools North Hunterdon, Ridge, Montgomery, Elizabeth, Watchung Hills, Bridgewater-Raritan and Union. All but Montgomery are fellow North 2, Group 5 teams, with Montgomery situated in Central Jersey, Group 5.
“It won’t change anything because of the Group 5s already on our schedule,” Candia said.
Linden has played in two state championship games in the playoff era, falling in the 1983 North 2, Group 3 final and winning the 1985 North 2, Group 3 championship. The Tigers were two quarters away from reaching the North 2, Group 4 final last year before falling at Warren Hills 21-7 in the semifinals.
Linden became the first – and still is the only – team to not qualify in North 2, Group 4 with a 6-2 record at the cutoff date. That happened to the Tigers in 2010. Ironically, Linden qualified last year in North 2, Group 4 with a 2-6 record at the cutoff.
Last year was the first year the NJSIAA allowed teams with records under .500 to qualify.
Linden made it last year as the seventh seed and came back to win at second-seeded Barringer 19-18 in the quarterfinals before falling at sixth-seeded Warren Hills.
Candia’s first game as Linden’s head coach in 2008 was also a one-point win over Barringer, a 7-6 decision at home at Cooper Field.
After being in a section last year with teams such as West Morris, Scotch Plains and Millburn – schools that moved up to that section from North 2, Group 3 – Linden is back in familiar territory, in a section that includes fellow Union County foes Elizabeth, Union and Westfield and Middlesex County power Piscataway.
Linden won at Piscataway 13-12 in the 2006 North 2, Group 4 quarterfinals, handing the Chiefs a rare first round playoff loss since 2003.
Candia’s record at Linden,
he is a 1991 Linden graduate:
2008: (5-5), no playoffs
2009: (5-5), no playoffs
2010: (7-3), no playoffs
2011: (4-6), no playoffs
2012: (4-7), 1-1 in N2, G4 playoffs
Total: (25-26, .490), 1-1 playoff mark
Rahway head coach Gary Mobley has guided the Indians to the state playoffs eight of his first nine seasons at the helm. The exception was in 2009 when the Indians won their final six games to finish 7-3. Rahway narrowly missed qualifying in Central Jersey, Group 2 that season.
Mobley has led the Indians to one championship game, that coming in North 2, Group 3 in 2008. Rahway reached that section’s semifinals in 2010 and quarterfinals in 2012.
With senior Jeffrey Bost back at quarterback, in addition to several other key returners, Rahway could be viewed as one of the favorites this season in Central Jersey, Group 2. Other Union County schools that remained in that section for this year include Johnson, Roselle and Hillside.
Mobley’s record at Rahway,
he is a 1986 Union graduate:
2004: (8-3), 1-1 in CJ, G2 playoffs
2005: (8-3), 1-1 in CJ, G2 playoffs
2006: (7-4), 1-1 in CJ, G2 playoffs
2007: (9-2), 1-1 in CJ, G2 playoffs
2008: (10-2), 2-1 in N2, G3 playoffs
2009: (7-3), no playoffs
2010: (6-5), 1-1 in N2, G3 playoffs
2011: (6-4), 0-1 in CJ, G2 playoffs
2012: (5-5), 0-1 in N2, G3 playoffs
Total: (66-31, .680), 7-8 playoff mark
Mobley is the second most tenured head coach in Union County behind Brearley’s Scott Miller, who has been at the helm of the Bears since 2002 and is now in his 12th season. Plainfield head coach Clinton Jones goes back a bit further than Miller and Mobley if you count his first stint. Jones became the head coach of the Cardinals again last season.
Rahway in Central Jersey, Group 2:
2003: did not make playoffs
2004: reached semifinals
2005: reached semifinals
2006: reached semifinals
2007: reached semifinals
2009: did not make playoffs
2011: reached quarterfinals
Rahway in North 2, Group 3:
2008: reached final
2010: reached semifinals
2012: reached quarterfinals
PHIPPS BACK IN FOLD AT LINDEN
After getting a brief taste of varsity football as a freshman two years ago at Linden, Kyle Phipps decided to transfer to Bergen County national power Don Bosco Prep of Ramsey, where he played last year.
Phipps decided to transfer back to Linden this season for his junior year. He is first cousins with Linden junior running back Juwan Dolbrice, who burst on the scene last year to rush for a team-high 1,021 yards.
Dolbrice (5-10, 180) and Phipps (5-8, 175) have the potential to be one of the top junior running back tandems in Union County this season.
“This is the way things worked out and it helps us in a great way,” Candia said of having Phipps return to the Tiger backfield. “He’s excited to be back home.”
Linden knocked on the door of reaching the program’s third state championship game and first in nearly 30 years last fall. Phipps could be the kind of player that helps lead Linden to that goal this year.
“He came up through our Pop Warner system,” Candia said. “He got some touches for us as a freshman and then went to Don Bosco, which is a different level.
“We always knew what he was capable of. He has a hunger about him. He’s glad to be back playing in his hometown.”
LINDEN’S SCRIMMAGE SCHEDULE:
Aug. 21: North Bergen, TBA
Aug. 27: at Warren Hills and also including Lenape Valley and Morris Hills, 10 a.m.
Aug. 31: Colonia and Lincoln, 10 a.m.
Sept. 6: at Woodbridge, 7 p.m. – GAME
RAHWAY’S SCRIMMAGE SCHEDULE:
Aug. 20: at Barringer and also including Wall, Plainfield, 10 a.m.
Sept. 4: at West Orange, 6 p.m. – GAME