UNION COUNTY, NJ — As the halfway point of the regular season approaches, there are now just four undefeated teams remaining in Union County, with one each in four of the five group sizes.
Rahway High School and Hillside High School are both 3-0 for the first time since 2019, David Brearley High School is 3-0 for the second straight season and the third time since 2018, and Arthur L. Johnson High School is 3-0 for the first time since 2017.
Below is where each of those teams places in the group section they are in:
• Rahway (3-0), North, Group 4: The Indians are fourth in this North group.
• Hillside (3-0), North, Group 3: The Comets are third in this North group.
• Arthur L. Johnson (3-0), South, Group 2: The Crusaders are 13th in this South group.
• David Brearley (3-0), North, Group 1: The Bears are fourth in this North group.
Hillside has been one of the best teams in the state since the beginning of the 2017 season.
Hillside went 9-3 and captured the Central Jersey, Group 2 state championship in 2017, which was only the second state title in program history in the playoff era and the first since 1985.
Hillside won Central Jersey, Group 2 again in 2018, this time with an 11-0 record, and then fell in its regional championship game to close 11-1. The Comets then won South, Group 2 for the first time in 2019, at 11-0, and closed 12-0 by winning its regional championship game.
The Comets were then placed back in Central Jersey, Group 2, reaching the semifinals in a 7-3 season. Including this year’s 3-0 start, Hillside is 46-9 since 2017. That includes three straight state championships, a program-best 12-0 finish and one regional championship.
Hillside is not satisfied. The Comets want more.
This year Hillside will be cast in the North 2, Group 3 or North 1, Group 3 playoffs for the first time, provided the Comets continue to win.
While most see Hillside at 8-0 heading into its playoff scenario, the next five opponents for the Comets will not be easy ones, as they square off at home against New Providence (2-2), away at St. Thomas Aquinas (3-1), away at Johnson (3-0), at home against Delaware Valley (3-0) and at home against Carteret (3-1).
“They’re not exactly pushovers,” Hillside head coach Barris Grant said.
Hillside began with a 35-20 win at Bernards High School, with Bernards now 3-1 and on a three-game winning streak since, and then went to Metuchen High School and rolled 45-0. In its home opener at John Zappulla Field on Saturday, Sept. 17, the Comets posted another shutout, this time blanking Roselle 28-0 in Big Central Conference–Patriot Silver Division play.
“It’s been a real test for our kids so far,” Grant said. “We lost (Muwaffaq) Parkman in the first quarter of the Bernards game, so Kyon (Simonson) had been carrying us on the ground. Our defense has battled and managed to put up back-to-back shutouts.”
Parkman has since returned to the backfield. Barris said he is close to being back to 100 percent.
“With our experienced players, we also have some youth,” Grant said.
Grant cited senior linebacker Zaimir Hawk, senior end Quanir Clark and junior lineman Ibn Muhammad as stepping up as leaders on defense.
Senior quarterback Caleb Salters, a three-year starter, has so far completed 29 of 47 passes for 442 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Salters has also carried the ball 15 times for 103 yards and one score.
“He’s been lights out,” Grant said.
While Hillside has outscored three foes by a combined score of 108-20 and has given up only two touchdowns and two field goals so far, Grant knows his team is capable of so much more.
“We haven’t played a complete game yet,” Grant said. “We have missed some opportunities. This would be a good week to put it all together.”
Grant said Hillside had three touchdowns called back in each of its three games.
“It seems like we have two penalties a drive,” Grant said. “Our guys are doing a good job of making plays, but we want to be able to sustain a drive better. We need to stay away from drops and minimize penalties.”
Arthur L. Johnson High School, seeking its first winning season and first playoff season, both since 2017, when the Crusaders were a field goal away from playing in the Central Jersey, Group 2 state championship game, has been the most dominating team in Union County so far. The Crusaders have outscored their three foes by an impressive 122-6 margin, with two shutouts and a 40-point scoring average.
“Our kids are just doing what they are coached to do,” Arthur L. Johnson head coach Anthony DelConte said. “We had to change our mentality to begin to turn this thing around. One game at a time is where it begins.”
Of the four undefeated teams, only Hillside is playing at home. Rahway and Arthur L. Johnson will both be playing teams that are 0-3 and desperate for a win, Summit in Rahway’s case and Roselle in Arthur L. Johnson’s.
“The regular season, especially now, with the added playoffs, goes by in the blink of an eye,” Grant said. “You’ve got to be prepared and completely focused.”