Here we go again.
High school playoff football in UnionCounty is back – about a week later than normal – with many teams seeking to extend their seasons a week.
Will this be the last season that we just crown sectional champions?
We won’t know about possible playoff expansion until it gets voted on again next month.
For now, what UnionCounty teams may have the best chance of playing for championships in December?
Eleven of the 17 football playing schools in the county qualified for the playoffs, with only one doing so with a record under .500.
Can Summit go 12-0 again and repeat as North 2, Group 3 champions?
Could we have a Linden vs. Union matchup in the North 2, Group 5 final?
No UnionCounty team has ever won a Central Jersey section since the NJSIAA went to re-classification in 2003. So could Rahway be the first team to do so by somehow getting past powerhouse Weequahic in Group 2 on its way to the program’s first championship since 1984?
Union County teams that made the playoffs include Union, Linden and Westfield in North 2, Group 5; Scotch Plains in North 2, Group 4; Summit, Cranford and Governor Livingston in North 2, Group 3; Roselle Park, New Providence and Brearley in North 2, Group 1 and Rahway in Central Jersey, Group 2.
Here’s a look at this weekend’s UnionCounty schedule:
INVOLVING UNION COUNTY TEAMS:
Friday, Nov. 15 (7 games)
North 2, Group 5
8-Westfield at 1-Ridge, 7 p.m.
5-Linden at 4-Bayonne, 7 p.m.
7-Watchung Hills at Union, 7 p.m.
North 2, Group 4
8-Scotch Plains at 1-Phillispburg, 7 p.m.
North 2, Group 3
6-Cranford at 3-Palisades Park, 7 p.m.
North 2, Group 1
5-New Providence at 4-Secaucus, 7 p.m.
6-Brearley at 3-Roselle Park, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 16 (2 games)
North 2, Group 3
7-Gov. Livingston at 2-Summit, 1 p.m.
Central Jersey, Group 2
5-Spotswood at 4-Rahway, 1 p.m.
Here’s a look at the quarterfinal round matchups for UnionCounty squads:
NORTH 2, GROUP 5:
8-Westfield (5-3) at 1-Ridge (9-0) – Led by standout quarterback Conor Hughes – one of the top players in SomersetCounty – the Red Devils could be the favorite in this section. Ridge, seeking its third championship in the playoff era, won eight of its nine games by double digits and captured the Mid-State 38 Conference’s Watchung Division title at 6-0. Westfield, which has made the playoffs six times in eight seasons under well-respected head coach Jim DeSarno, last played Ridge in 2008 the year before the Mid-State was formed. Ridge won the North 2, Group 4 quarterfinal at home by the score of 49-13. The Blue Devils are led on offense by quarterback Chris Hogge and running back Eugene Rawles and on defense by end Thomas Anderson.
Westfield’s last playoff championship: 1977 – N2, G4.
5-Linden (5-3) at 4-Bayonne (5-4) – Two years ago Bayonne, coached by former Linden assistant Rick Rodriguez – went to Westfield and upset the Blue Devils in the North 2, Group 4 quarterfinals. Linden, coming off back-to-back big wins over Watchung Hills and Bridgewater-Raritan, would like to get to HudsonCounty and knock off the Bees in similar fashion. Linden’s offense includes high profile players in quarterback Dazzmen Johnson and running back Juwan Dolbrice. Bayonne has a capable target in Damon Jones for quarterback Zymire Gordon to throw to. Both teams have won just one championship in the playoff era, with Linden’s coming in North 2, Group 3 in 1985. Last year, the Tigers were two quarters away from playing in their first state championship game in 27 years.
Linden’s last (and only) playoff championship: 1985 – N2, G3.
7-Watchung Hills (5-4) at Union (6-2) – Watchung Hills has lost three of its last four, with the only win coming over a Scotch Plains team that is presently 2-7. Conversely, Union has won five straight and is hungry to win its first playoff game in five years. Watchung Hills head coach Marc Crisafi, in his fourth year at the helm of the Warriors, was the head coach at Union from 2001-2006, guiding the Farmers to their last state championship game, which was the 2003 North 2, Group 4 contest. A 1983 UHS grad who played for Lou Rettino, Crisafi-coached Watchung Hills teams are 0-2 vs. Union, losing at home in 2010 and at Union in 2011. This is the final year for Union standout senior running back Jamauri Bogan, who wants to finally have success in the playoffs.
Union’s last playoff championship: 1993 – N2, G4.
NORTH 2, GROUP 4:
8-Scotch Plains (2-7) at 1-Phillipsburg (7-1) – Scotch Plains has lost four straight by an average of 40 points and will have to get on a bus and travel all the way to the end of west Jersey to face a Phillipsburg team that is coming off its only loss of the season. Kobe White is a proven running back for Scotch Plains, while the Stateliners are led offensively by quarterback Tyler Troxell and running back Joe Maso.
Scotch Plains’ last (and only) playoff championship: 1990 – N2, G3.
NORTH 2, GROUP 3:
7-Gov. Livingston (4-4) at 2-Summit (9-0) – GL has won three of its last four, with the only setback a tough, three-point decision at home to North Plainfield. Sparked by the play of senior Ryan Jennings and teammates P.J. Jamolawicz, Alex Boyd, Patrick Ragazzo, Patrick Mahoney, Mike Matarredona and Thomas O’Sullivan, the visiting Highlanders won at a 6-1 Bernards team 35-13 Friday night, so they will be confident they can hand Summit its initial first-round playoff loss in three years. The Hilltoppers just completed a program-record fifth straight 9-0 regular season and will begin 2014 with a program-best 45-game regular season winning streak. First-year players for defending champion Summit such as Charlie Terry at quarterback and Colm Dougherty at running back have made this another special season for Summit, which has a Union County-best 21-game overall winning streak. The last time the teams played was in 2011 at Summit, with the Hilltoppers winning 63-21 at Tatlock Field. Summit is 3-0 vs. GL since the Mid-State was formed in 2009. GL’s last win over Summit was a 32-28 decision in BerkeleyHeights in the 2008 North 2, Group 2 semifinals.
GL’s last playoff championship: GL has not won a championship in the playoff era, but has reached finals in 1989 (N2, G1) and 2008 (N2, G2).
Summit’s last playoff championship: 2012 – N2, G3.
6-Cranford (6-3) at 3-Palisades Park (8-1) – Last year in the semifinals, PalisadesPark went to Cranford and came away with a 35-21 victory to prevent a Cranford vs. Summit final. Cranford made the playoffs three years in a row for the second time in program history and now has a chance to win a playoff game in three straight seasons for the first time. Winners of five of their last six, the Cougars are led offensively by quarterback Johnny Oblachinski and running back Luke Christiano and on the line by senior standout Roberth O’Shaughnessy. Two of Cranford’s three losses came to Group 5 schools and the other one to Summit. PalisadesPark bounced back from its only loss – a 45-21 decision at home to HasbrouckHeights – by trimming Ridgefield 34-7 at home this past weekend. Eric Johnson, Taj Huggins and Robert Then are tough running backs to bring down, leading the way in the win over Ridgfield.
Cranford’s last (and only) playoff championship: 2011 – N2, G3.
NORTH 2, GROUP 1:
5-New Providence (6-2) at 4-Secaucus (6-3) – New Providence has outscored its first eight foes by an impressive 278-63 margin, which includes two shutouts. However, losses have come to – for the second straight regular season – Bernards (14-7 at home) and RosellePark (15-13 on the road this past weekend). The Pioneers are led offensively by high-scoring running back C.J. Kliesch. Secaucus, still seeking its first championship in the playoff era, has lost two of its last three. Running back Sean Roesing has a 250-yard rushing effort vs. New Milford.
New Providence’s last playoff championship: 2010 – N2, G1.
6-Brearley (5-4) at 3-Roselle Park (6-2) – The last time these teams faced each other in the playoffs was in back-to-back North 2, Group 1 championship games won by Brearley in 1985 and 1986. Brearley is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and for the first time in this section since 2008. Brearley head coach Scott Miller has now led the Bears to the playoffs nine times in 12 seasons. Stepping up his game with quarterback Sebastian Montesdeoca out with an injury, David Eskin ran for 290 yards and four touchdowns in Brearley’s 34-14 win at Bound Brook Friday night. RosellePark is 6-2 for the second straight season and for the second year in a row defeated New Providence in the regular season, this time by a 15-13 score at home Friday night. Senior running back-linebacker Brian Matthews is one of the best two-way players in UnionCounty, while the Panthers are also led by fellow seniors Jordan Andre at quarterback and Peter Hilburn, Joey Fulinello and Brandon Pugliese defensively. Brearley has outscored nine opponents by a 198-168 margin that includes one shutout, while RosellePark has outscored eight foes 245-112 that also includes one shutout. When the teams met at RosellePark’s Herm Shaw Field on Oct. 11 it was a good one, with RosellePark outlasting Brearley 34-28. Roselle Park has now defeated Brearley two years in a row in the regular season after losing to the Bears 10 straight seasons from 2002-2011.
Brearley’s last playoff championship: 2006 – N2, G1.
Roselle Park’s last playoff championship: 1993 – N2, G1.
CENTRAL JERSEY, GROUP 2:
5-Spotswood (7-2) at 4-Rahway (6-2) – Spotswood has lost its last two – to South River 14-3 at home and at Mater Dei 30-24 in overtime – after a 7-0 start. After a 4-0 beginning, Rahway lost at home to Summit 26-20 and then again at home to WarrenHills 33-27 in overtime. Rahway has bounced back nicely to beat a – at the time – 5-2 Voorhees team 28-0 at home and then went to Roselle this past weekend and downed the Rams 34-7. Spotswood is led by quarterback C.J. O’Connor, who has a capable receiver in Steve Sommer. Rahway senior running back Gabril Gross runs low to the ground and slips by tacklers for plenty of yardage, including two touchdowns vs. Roselle. The Indians are also led by the likes of senior Jeffery Bost at quarterback and junior Tyler West defensively.
Rahway’s last playoff championship: 1984 – N2, G3.