Union, Linden, Summit, Cranford, Rahway, Roselle Park, New Providence football seek to advance to championship games; Sectional semifinals are this weekend

Tigers, Indians, Cougars will play on road vs. undefeated teams they recently lost to

Union has had enough of losing to Piscataway in the playoffs.

For that matter, so has everyone else who has played the Chiefs in that setting since 2002.

Cranford has had enough of losing to Summit – period – the last five seasons in Mid-State Conference play whether it was a close game or a blowout.

Saturday’s North 2, Group 3 semifinal at Tatlock Field between the UnionCounty rivals will pit the section’s last two champions, with Cranford winning it for the first time in 2011 and Summit for the third time in 2012.

Rahway went to Rumson-Fair Haven in a first round playoff game two years ago and was shut out. The Indians will be going back to MonmouthCounty this weekend to face the Bulldogs again, seeking a much better result against a team that is 9-0 and has won seven of its games by double digits.

RosellePark has never played Shabazz before – what a matchup that should be! Shabazz head coach Darnell Grant, when he was in charge at Irvington, had plenty of experience getting ready to play larger UnionCounty squads such as Elizabeth, Union, Westfield and Linden. Now, for the first time, he will be game-planning for one of UnionCounty’s smallest – but just as dangerous – schools.

New Providence will travel to HudsonCounty to face Hoboken in a battle of the 2010 (New Providence) and 2012 (Hoboken) North 2, Group 1 champions.

Linden gave undefeated Ridge its closest regular season game, falling 20-14 in overtime in Basking Ridge on Sept. 27. The Tigers will be going back to SomersetCounty to try to end a Red Devils season that is 10-0 for the first time.

Cranford will be trying to win at 10-0 Summit.

Rahway will be trying to win at 9-0 Rumson-Fair Haven.

Linden will be trying to win at 10-0 Ridge.

There you have it.

Seven UnionCounty teams are still alive and at least one is guaranteed of playing for a state championship the first weekend in December.


Union County playoff tidbits:


* Union is hosting a semifinal for the first time since 2003.


* Linden has won playoff games in consecutive years for the first time. The Tigers posted their second playoff shutout and first since 1985 when they won 23-0 at fourth-seeded Bayonne Friday night.


* Cranford has won playoff games in three straight seasons for the first time in program history.


* RosellePark defeated Brearley for the first time in three tries in the playoffs and has won playoff games in consecutive years for the first time since 1991-1993.


* New Providence won its North 2, Group 1 quarterfinal for the fourth straight season.


* Summit has reached a sectional semifinal for the third straight year and fourth in five.


* Rahway has reached the Central Jersey, Group 2 semifinals for the fifth time and first time since 2007. The Indians are 5-1 in CJ, G2 quarterfinals, winning in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2013 and losing in 2011.



2013: (1-0) reached North 2, Group 5 semifinals so far

2012: (2-1) reached first North 2, Group 5 final

2011: (3-0) won North 2, Group 4 as 8th seed

2010: (3-0) won North 2, Group 4

2009: (0-1) lost in North 2, Group 4 quarterfinals

2008: (3-0) won North 2, Group 4

2007: (2-1) lost North 2, Group 4 final

2006: (0-1) lost in North 2, Group 4 quarterfinals

2005: (2-1) lost North 2, Group 4 final

2004: (3-0) won North 2, Group 4

2003: (3-0) won North 2, Group 4 as 8th seed

during Dan Higgins first year as head coach

2002: (3-0) won Central Jersey, Group 4

under head coach Joe Kuronyi. Higgins was an assistant.


Nine seasons (2003-2011) in North 2, Group 4

– all under head coach Dan Higgins –

Piscataway went 19-4, reached seven finals and won five.


Piscataway record vs. UnionCounty teams

in N2, G4 playoffs (8-1), in N2, G5 playoffs (0-1).


Here’s a look at the six semifinal matchups including UnionCounty teams, with five of them Friday night at 7 and one Saturday at 1 p.m.:


Friday, Nov. 22 (5 games)

North 2, Group 5

5-Linden (6-3) at 1-Ridge (10-0):Linden has won five of six and three in a row since falling at Ridge 20-14 in overtime on Sept. 27. In that Ridge victory it was senior quarterback Connor Hughes completing a 23-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Bell for the game-winning points. Eighth-seeded Westfield gave top-seeded Ridge all it could handle before the Red Devils prevailed at home by a 35-28 count Friday night. Linden is led by senior quarterback Dazzmen Johnson and junior running back Juwan Dolbrice. Ridge won its second playoff championship in 2003, which came in North 2, Group 3. Linden won its only playoff title in N2, G3, back in 1985. The Tigers have not been back to a championship game since.

Sept. 27 at Ridge: Ridge 20, Linden 14 (OT)

3-Piscataway (6-3) at 2-Union (7-2):Piscataway has won four straight, including a 21-14 home win over sixth-seeded Edison Saturday. In the season-opener for both back on Sept. 15, Edison defeated Piscataway 34-22 in Edison, with head coach Dan Higgins moments later finding out that his father and former Piscataway head coach Tom Higgins Sr. had passed away.

The win over Edison Saturday was the 100th for Dan Higgins, with his record now at 100-24, including a very impressive 22-5 playoff mark.

Preparing to face Union for the first time in five years, 22-5 was also the playoff mark of legendary Union head coach Lou Rettino, who passed away in March of 1996 from stomach cancer. Rettino’s 22-5 record included 10-2 in North 2, Group 4 finals and 12-3 in N2, G4 semifinals. When Rettino coached, only four teams qualified in each section, thus there were only two rounds.

Rettino guided Union to 10 state championships during his 19-season tenure (1977-1995) there.

Higgins’ 22-5 record includes 9-2 in the quarterfinals (7-2 in N2, G4 and 2-0 in N2, G5), 8-0 in the semifinals (7-0 in N2, G4 and 1-0 in N2, G5) and 5-3 in the finals (5-2 in N2, G4 and 0-1 in N2, G5).

Under Higgins, Piscataway is 3-0 vs. Union in the playoffs, including N2, G4 wins in the 2003 final at the old Giants Stadium 29-7, in the 2004 quarterfinals at Piscataway 41-0 and in the 2008 semifinals at Piscataway 27-3. That’s three wins by a combined 97-10 count, which includes one shutout and only one touchdown allowed.

Union is one win away from reaching its first state championship game in 10 years – since the 2003 N2, G4 final vs. Piscataway. Since Union last won a state championship, which was a still record 10th in N2, G4 in 1993, the Farmers have been to only two championship games, the first being the 1996 N2, G4 final where they were shut out by Montclair 20-0 at the old Giants Stadium.

Union’s 28-0 win over seventh-seeded Watchung Hills Friday night was its first playoff triumph in five years.

“You feel good about any win you get,” said Union standout senior running back Jamauri Bogan, who led all rushers with 176 yards on 28 carries, including two touchdowns. Bogan is Union’s all-time leading rusher with more than 5,000 yards. The Western Michigan commit is now one win away from playing in a state championship game in what would be his last game for Union.

“Winning this game (against Watchung Hills) was huge, but it’s not sweet until you get there (to the championship game),” Bogan said.

Union pitched its first playoff shutout in 21 years, fifth overall and second this season, led by star senior tackle Uchenna Egwuonwu, who started playing on defense this year after playing just on the offensive line a year ago.

Union held Watchung Hills to only 25 yards of offense in the first half and to only two first downs total the entire game, both not coming until the fourth quarter.

“We’ll have to work even harder for our game this week,” Egwuonwu said. “This (vs.Watchung Hills) was our best defensive effort of the season.”

Union first-year head coach Lou Grasso Jr. earned his first playoff victory vs. Watchung Hills, which extended Union’s winning streak to six games.

“We had to win this game (vs. Watchung Hills) or our five-game winning streak wouldn’t have meant anything,” Grasso Jr. said. “The competition only gets tougher when you advance.

“Now we’re playing for a spot in the championship game.”

Another Barnwell is now starring for the Chiefs after standout Nadir graduated last year and is presently playing at Rutgers. Freshman running back Elijah Barnwell carried the ball 24 times for 180 yards vs. Edison and became the first Piscataway freshman to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. Barnwell enters the Union game with 1,114 yards rushing so far this season.

In the North 2, Group 4 playoffs, Piscataway was 3-0 vs. Union.

Here are the scores:

2008 semifinals at Piscataway:Piscataway 27, Union 3

2004 quarterfinals at Piscataway:Piscataway 41, Union 0

2003 final at Giants Stadium:Piscataway 29, Union 7


North 2, Group 1

3-Roselle Park (7-2) at 2-Shabazz (7-2): Roselle Park is in the N2, G1 semifinals for the second straight season, last year downing New Providence 21-13 at home to advance to the final for the first time since 1993. The Panthers have won three straight. Shabazz, which has won four in a row, was defeated in last year’s Central Jersey, Group 2 semifinals, falling at Carteret 20-14. The Bulldogs are led by running backs Dashon Myers and Aquil Young and quarterback Zaire Fogle. The Panthers are guided by the stellar play of two-way senior standouts Brian Matthews, Jordan Andre, Peter Hilburn, Brandon Pugliese and Joey Fulinello.

5-New Providence (7-2) at 1-Hoboken (7-3):New Providence bounced back from a tough 15-13 loss at RosellePark to win at fourth-seeded Secaucus 39-20 Friday night. The Pioneers, led by senior running back C.J. Kliesch, will be going back to HudsonCounty to try and knock off defending champion Hoboken. The Red Wings are led offensively by senior quarterback Donte Bass, who rushed and passed for touchdowns in his team’s 34-7 home win Friday night over eighth-seeded Ridgefield.


Central Jersey, Group 2

4-Rahway (7-2) at 1-Rumson-Fair Haven (9-0):Rahway has been dominant in a three-game winning streak that has seen the Indians outscore the opposition by a 109-27 count. Both of these teams had an easy time in home quarterfinal round wins, with Rahway ousting fifth-seeded Spotswood 47-20 Saturday and Rumson-Fair Haven downing eighth-seeded Bordentown 41-8 Friday night.

The Indians are led on offense by senior quarterback Jeffery Bost and senior running back Gabril Gross. Defensively, players to keep an eye on include senior Stephan Watkis-Davis on the line, senior Donte Raymond and junior Tyler West at linebacker and senior Jeffery Reyes at cornerback.

Rumson-Fair Haven is led offensively by quarterback Chase Caruso, running back Charlie Volker and wide receiver Sam Shaud. 

Rahway has not won a state championship since capturing North 2, Group 3 for the third time in the playoff era back in 1984. The Indians were last in a final in 2008, which was also in N2, G3.

Rahway is in the CJ, G2 semifinals for the fifth time and seeking its first win in this section in this round.

“A lot of us played on Pop Warner championship teams four years running,” said Bost, who completed eight-of-10 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns in the first half vs. Spotswood. Bost also ran for two scores vs. the visiting Chargers. “Now we want to win a championship here.

“We played at Rumson in the playoffs my sophomore season. We know Rumson is undefeated and that they’re pretty good.”

Rahway was 4-0 before losing leads entering the fourth quarter in consecutive home defeats to Summit 26-20 and WarrenHills 33-27 in overtime.

“Those two losses were good for us,” Raymond said. “Our heads were too high. We’re more humble now.

“For Rumson, we’ll watch film, practice hard, focus and lock in.”

Rahway 10th-year head coach Gary Mobley has an 8-8 playoff record with the Indians since his first year at the helm in 2004, with several of those victories coming on the road, including two in 2008 that led to the North 2, Group 3 championship game that season.

“We feel good about our team and feel that we match up with just about any opponent,” Mobley said.

2011 CJ, G2 quarterfinal at Rumson: Rumson 29, Rahway 0


Saturday, Nov. 23 (1 game)

North 2, Group 3

6-Cranford (7-3) at 2-Summit (10-0):Cranford has won six of seven since being soundly defeated at Summit 48-14 on Sept. 27. The only loss in that stretch was at undefeated Ridge 49-28, with the Red Devils the top seed in North 2, Group 5.

As a result of Summit’s win over Cranford, the Hilltoppers were able to repeat as Raritan Division champions at 6-0, while the Cougars finished second at 5-1.

Summit has won a Union County-best 22 straight games overall and will begin its 2014 season with a program-best 45-game regular season winning streak after going 9-0 in the regular season for the fifth straight year.

Against Cranford nearly two months ago, Summit scored all seven times it had the ball in the first half, with receivers open down field on just about every play. Cranford simply could not catch up to Summit’s no-huddle offense.

Summit senior quarterback Charlie Terry completed 8-of-10 passes for 144 yards and four touchdowns before the first quarter came to a close as the Hilltoppers led 28-7 going into the second.

Terry completed 10-of-15 first-half passes for 200 yards and his four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Summit also carried the ball 16 times for 227 yards in the first half. Colm Dougherty gained 143 yards on nine carries and David Connelly 45 on three. Terry carried the ball three times for 36 yards.

Andrew Masterfano had three catches for 67 yards and one touchdown, Chris Zanelli two for 33 and two TDs, Sean Andrews three for 61 and Connelly one for 33 yards and one score. Senior Dan Childers had one catch for six yards.

For Cranford in the first half, Donovan Walker carried the ball 10 times for an even 100 yards and one score.

While, perhaps, not many thought Summit would be that decisive in victory over Cranford in late September, the same amount of people might not have thought that the Cougars would beat an 8-1 PalisadesPark team on the road by the score of 47-21 Friday night.

Avenging last year’s 35-21 home loss to PalisadesPark in the semifinals which prevented a Summit-Cranford final, Cranford senior quarterback Johnny Oblachinski had a playoff game to remember, rushing for four touchdowns and throwing three TD passes in Friday night’s rout. Cranford, also sparked offensively by Luke Christiano and Jack McCaffery, scored three touchdowns in the second quarter to take the lead for good.

In his team’s quarterfinal round win at home over Governor Livingston 34-14 Saturday, Terry completed 13-of-16 passes for 157 yards and four touchdowns. Dougherty carried 12 times for 88 yards.

Summit is seeking to play in its third straight state championship game and fourth in five years, while Cranford is seeking to play in its second overall and second in three years.

In Mid-State Conference play the last five seasons, Summit is 5-0 vs. Cranford.

Here are the scores:

2013:Summit 48, Cranford 14 – at Summit

2012:Summit 30, Cranford 27 – at Cranford

2011:Summit 52, Cranford 21 – at Cranford

2010:Summit 17, Cranford 13 – at Summit

2009: Summit 49, Cranford 7 – at Cranford