Union football seeks first state championship in 20 years; Summit out to repeat in N2, G3

Former Roselle Park head coach John Wagner will lead Point Pleasant Beach in only the program's second title game and first in 31 years

PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - It's been 20 years since Union won a state championship.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – It’s been 20 years since Union won a state championship.

For one team, it tasted (non-alcoholic, of course) champagne (or Gatorade) just 12 months ago.

For the other, it’s now been exactly 20 years since a celebration took place.

For one coach, it’s also been 20 years since he led a team to the promised land.

That’s the Union County menu for this championship football weekend that kicks off Friday night and concludes Sunday.

Summit is out to repeat – for the first time – as North 2, Group 3 champions. The Hilltoppers repeated as N2, G2 champs in 1993 and 1994, which is the only time they have won consecutive championships in the playoff era.

Union is out to win North 2, Group 5 for the first time after winning N2, G4 a record 10 times. However, the last Farmer championship came way back in 1993 on a muddy field in Randolph when they 3-peated as N2, G4 champions for the second time.

Summit, the second seed, will face fourth-seeded Parsippany Hills Friday night at 7 at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium in Union in the North 2, Group 3 championship game. Summit blanked Palisades Park in last year’s final, which was contested at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. Summit also won N2, G3 in 1976 and 1980 and lost in the final in 1986.

Union, also a second seed, will face top-seeded Ridge Sunday morning at 10 at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway in the North 2, Group 5 title contest. Elizabeth, led by senior quarterback Philip Walker, came back in the final minute to defeat Piscataway 37-33 in last year’s first N2, G5 final, which was played on a Friday night at Kean.

In between on Saturday morning at 10 at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township, third-seeded Point Pleasant Beach will be guided by former Roselle Park head coach John Wagner when it faces top-seeded Shore in the Central Jersey, Group 1 final. Wagner was the head coach at Roselle Park for 25 seasons from 1981-2005 and is the school’s winningest football coach with 150 victories, including North 2, Group 1 playoff championships in 1992 and 1993 when the Panthers finished 11-0 both seasons. Wagner came back to coaching in 2011 when he took over at PPB.

Here’s a look at all three championship games:


Friday, Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. at Kean

North 2, Group 3 final

4-Parsippany Hills (9-2) vs. 2-Summit (11-0): Parsippany Hills is in the N2, G3 final for the second time in three seasons. The Vikings are 0-3 in playoff championship games, with losses to Wayne Hills in the 2005 (46-0) and 2006 (23-12) North 1, Group 3 finals and to Cranford 27-0 in the 2011 N2, G3 championship game at Kean. Sparked by the outstanding play of defensive linemen Michael Weiss and Stephen Hill, Parsippany Hills kept top-seeded and West Essex out of the end zone late in their semifinal, with the host Knights missing a 33-yard field with 27 seconds left. The underdog Vikings escaped North Caldwell with a 20-17 upset, ending a West Essex campaign at 10-1. Summit is 11-0 and in a championship game for the third straight season, but for the first time led by seniors Charlie Terry at quarterback and Colm Dougherty at running back. Summit, which defeated Parsippany Hills 30-13 at home in last year’s semifinals, is 55-2 since the beginning of the 2009 season and will begin its 2014 campaign with a 45-game regular-season winning streak.

Interesting fact: Summit and Parsippany Hills lost the last time they played at Kean, which was two years ago and less than 24 hours apart. On a Friday night, Summit was defeated by Madison 47-7 in a battle of 11-0 teams and the last two – up until that point – N2, G2 champions in the North 2, Group 2 championship game. The next morning on the same field, Parsippany Hills fell to Cranford in the N2, G3 final.

Summit, in its third straight final and fourth in the past five seasons, has lost just once in regulation time since 2009, which was its defeat to Madison at Kean two years ago. Its other loss was at home in overtime to Orange in the 2010 N2, G2 quarterfinals.

Summit was 1-9 in 2005 – winning only its season-ending consolation game – and was 0-10 for the only time in program history in 2006.

Years Summit won playoff championships: 1976, 1980, 1988, 1993, 1994, 2009, 2012.

Years Parsippany Hills won playoff championships: None.


Sunday, Dec. 8 at 10 a.m. at Rutgers

North 2, Group 5 final

2-Union (8-3) vs. 1-Ridge (11-0): Here you have Union in a championship game for the first time in 10 years and seeking its first title in 20, led by the program’s all-time leading rusher, Division 1-AA (Western Michigan) commit Jamauri Bogan, who has gained over 1,000 yards all four years and has his total over 6,000, including 2,260 as a sophomore when he was named New Jersey’s Gatorade Player of the Year.

The Farmers will be going up against Ridge head coach Bill Tracy, who is a 1986 UHS graduate who played with the best player ever to come out of the program – fellow 1986 graduate Tony Stewart.

Tracy will be the last head coach to game plan for Bogan in a high school game that is not an all-star one.

Tracy is the only head coach to guide Livingston to a championship in the playoff era, leading the Lancers to the 2008 North 1, Group 4 championship after defeating Hackensack 28-8 in the final.

Tracy then led Ridge to the 2009 North 2, Group 4 final his first year at the helm of the Blue Devils.

The Farmers won six straight before being cautious in a 27-8 setback at Linden Wednesday night. Ridge is led by senior quarterback Conor Hughes and is attempting to finish 12-0 for the first time. The Red Devils have won nine games by double digits and are 5-0 vs. Union County opponents, including regular season wins over Linden, Plainfield and Cranford and playoff victories over Westfield and Linden.

The best player on the field Sunday? You can start with Bogan and Hughes and go from there.

Union is playing at Rutgers for the first time since falling to Montclair 13-7 in a 1999 N2, G4 semifinal. Union was halted at the Montclair one-yard line when time expired.

Union last played in a championship game in 2003 when the Farmers were defeated by Piscataway 29-7 in the N2, G4 final at Giants Stadium. In the game immediately after that – contests played on a warm, but very windy Thursday night in East Rutherford after they were snowed out the week before – Ridge blanked Scotch Plains 27-0 in the N2, G3 final. Piscataway won that night as an eighth seed and Ridge as a seventh seed.

That is the only time Ridge won a playoff championship on the field. Its other playoff title came in 1987 when the Red Devils were the only team to qualify in Central Jersey, Group 2, declared that section’s champion that season.

Ridge is in its second final in five seasons and fourth (on the field) overall. The Red Devils were last in a championship game in 2009 when they were defeated by Phillipsburg 34-7 in the N2, G4 final at Kean.

Union’s last two title games were decisive defeats at Giants Stadium in 1996 – to Montclair 20-0 – and in 2003 – to Piscataway 29-7.

This is 35-year anniversary of Union’s first of a record 10 playoff titles won in North 2, Group 4 – the Farmers blanked Plainfield 27-0 in the 1978 N2, G4 final at Giants Stadium.

Interesting fact: Union first-year head coach Lou Grasso, Jr. – who played collegiately at Rutgers and was formerly an assistant coach at Union before landing his first head coaching stint at Roselle (where he was also previously a head coach) – will try to join his father – Lou Sr. – as father and son championship game-winning head coaches. Lou Grasso Sr. – the head coach at Roselle for 25 seasons from 1979 to 2003 – guided the Rams to the 1989 North 2, Group 2 championship when they won at Madison 20-0 in the final. He also led Roselle to the 1990 N2, G2 final, falling at Hanover Park 51-14. Grasso Sr. led Roselle to its only championship in the playoff era.

One other father and son combination that I know of that led teams to playoff championships include John Bauer Sr. (1983, 1986-1989) and John Bauer Jr. (1990) at Randolph.

Lou Grasso Jr. just graduated from Colonia High in June of 1993, six months before Union won its last championship, which was a come-from-behind 19-16 win at Randolph in the 1993 North 2, Group 4 championship game. That was also Randolph’s first home loss in eight years – since the 1985 regular season.

Union has never won a playoff championship with as many as three losses.

Years Union won playoff championships: 1978, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1991, 1992, 1993.

Years Ridge won playoff championships: 1987 (declared), 2003.


Saturday, Dec. 7 at 10 a.m. at TCNJ

Central Jersey, Group 1 final

3-Point Pleasant Beach (9-2) vs. 1-Shore (10-1): These teams just played Friday night at Shore for the Shore Conference’s B-Central Division title, with Shore coming out on top 31-0 to finish 5-0 to PPB’s 4-1 mark.

Shore’s 10th straight victory snapped PPB’s seven-game winning streak.

Shore’s only loss was its first game to visiting Rumson-Fair Haven 13-6 back on Sept. 14. Rumson is playing Weequahic in the Central Jersey, Group 2 championship game Saturday at Kean.

Shore has only given up 65 points in 11 games (5.91 average) and has yielded only two scores in three games. The Blue Devils gave up a season-high 14 points in a 21-14 home win over Metuchen Sept. 21.

Shore has not allowed more than one score (touchdown) in its last five games.

PPB third-year head coach John Wagner will be coaching in a championship game for the first time in 20 years. He last did so in 1993, guiding his high school alma mater (Roselle Park, class of 1969) to a second straight N2, G1 title when the Panthers defeated arch rival New Providence 10-7 in overtime at home in the final.

Wagner is 2-2 in championship games, with losses to neighborhood rival Brearley in the N2, G1 finals in 1985 on the road and 1986 at home and wins in N2, G1 finals at Butler in 1992 and at home over New Providence in 1993.

To say he has helped turn around a fledgling PPB football program would be an understatement.

From 2003 to 2010, the records produced by the Gulls included:

2003: (4-6)

2004: (3-7)

2005: (2-8)

2006: (3-7)

2007: (1-9)

2008: (3-7)

2009: (1-9)

2010: (2-8)

That’s a total of 19-61 (.238)

So far in three seasons, Wagner and his staff have guided PPB to records of 8-3 in 2011, 10-1 in 2012 and 9-2 so far in 2013.

That’s a combined record of 27-6 (.818), which includes three winning seasons, three playoff seasons, at least one playoff win in three straight seasons, the 2012 Shore Conference’s B-Central Division championship with a perfect 5-0 league mark and the program’s second appearance in a state championship game.

Wagner has guided the Gulls to more wins in his three seasons at the helm than the previous eight combined.

Interesting fact: PPB, like Parsippany hills, has not won a championship in the playoff era. The only other championship game the Gulls played in was in 1982 when they fell at top-seeded Middlesex 25-13 in the CJ, G1 final. PPB, as the third seed, won at second-seeded Green Brook 29-22 for its first playoff victory.

PPB has an overall playoff record of 5-10 in 11 playoff seasons. Wagner has led the Gulls to the playoffs three of those 11 times, with a playoff record of 4-2 so far. Two years ago he led PPB to only its second playoff victory and first in 29 years.

Shore has won five championships in the playoff era and has a record of 5-4 in championship games.




7-4 – (4-3 in N2, G2 and 3-1 in N2, G3)

1976: North 2, Group 3

Summit 40, West Essex 0 – at West Essex

1980: North 2, Group 3

Summit 10, Rahway 7 – at Giants Stadium

1986: North 2, Group 3

Randolph 12, Summit 7 – at Randolph

1988: North 2, Group 2

Summit 12, Dover 6 (OT) – at Dover

1992: North 2, Group 2

Dover 22, Summit 0 – at Dover

1993: North 2, Group 2

Summit 26, Mendham 21 – at Summit

1994: North 2, Group 2

Summit 26, Mendham 8 – at Mendham

1995: North 2, Group 2

Johnson 21, Summit 6 – at Summit

2009: North 2, Group 2

Summit 28, Orange 19 – at Giants Stadium

2011: North 2, Group 2

Madison 47, Summit 7 – at Kean University

2012: North 2, Group 3

Summit 30, Palisades Park 0 – at MetLife Stadium




10-4 – (all in N2, G4)

1978: North 2, Group 4

Union 27, Plainfield 0 – at Giants Stadium

1979: North 2, Group 4

Union 35, Livingston 14 – at Giants Stadium

1981: North 2, Group 4

Elizabeth 21, Union 0 – at Giants Stadium

1982: North 2, Group 4

Union 14, Montclair 7 – at Montclair

1983: North 2, Group 4

Montclair 14, Union 10 – at Union

1984: North 2, Group 4

Union 34, Montclair 13 – at Union

1985: North 2, Group 4

Union 13, Montclair 8 – at Bloomfield

1986: North 2, Group 4

Union 15, Roxbury 6 – at Roxbury

1987: North 2, Group 4

Union 17, Roxbury 14 (OT) – at Roxbury

1991: North 2, Group 4

Union 24, Randolph 14 – at Union

1992: North 2, Group 4

Union 21, Randolph 7 – at Union

1993: North 2, Group 4

Union 19, Randolph 16 – at Randolph

1996: North 2, Group 4

Montclair 20, Union 0 – at Giants Stadium

2003: North 2, Group 4

Piscataway 29, Union 7 – at Giants Stadium