Cranford Cougars are heading for high school football playoffs

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CRANFORD, NJ — The Cranford High School Cougars are preparing to play Wayne Hills High School for the first time, as they seek to defend the North 2, Group 3 championship they captured last year for the third time.

For the first time, the football state playoffs in New Jersey commence in the month of October, playing down to overall public school group champions, also for the first time.

Cranford, the second seed in North 2, Group 3 this time, hosts seventh-seeded Wayne Hills (4-4) on Friday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m., in a first-round contest at Memorial Field in Cranford. The Cougars won the section last year as the top seed, winning all three rounds at home.

Cranford produced a regular-season win for the ages on Friday, Oct. 21, at Memorial Field. The visiting North Brunswick Township High School Raiders went to Cranford undefeated at 7-0, ranked No. 11 in the state and No. 2 in the Big Central Conference behind only 7-0 Phillipsburg High School, and were in the No. 1 position in the United Power Rankings for all South, Group 5 schools.

Cranford, seeking to bolster its playoff position in North, Group 3, did just that by producing a convincing 34-14 triumph to improve to 6-2 with its fourth straight victory. The Cougars never trailed against their undefeated Group 5 foe.

As a result, both Cranford and North Brunswick received No. 2 seeds in their playoff sections, the Cougars in North 2, Group 3 and the Raiders in Central, Group 5.

“It was a really good win; the kids played well,” Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier said. “It was our most complete game this year on offense, defense and special teams. North Brunswick is a really explosive team, and to hold them to just two touchdowns, our kids did a great job.”

Those were the first points Cranford yielded in a month. Prior to facing North Brunswick, for the first time the Cougars shut out three opponents in a row.

The Raiders tied the game at 7-7 on a short touchdown run in the first quarter and then brought the score to 27-14 in the fourth quarter on another touchdown run of less than 10 yards. Frankie Garbolino had both scores.

However, that was it for a North Brunswick unit that came in averaging 30 points a game.

Standout senior linebacker Shane Kanterman paced Cranford on defense with nine total tackles. Ryan Lynskey had two and also the game’s only interception.

“Shane, at the ‘mike’ linebacker, had a big game, and junior Joey Brodbeck did a great job in man coverage at corner for us against some big guys,” Rosenmeier said. “They stayed away from Liam Godwin’s side.

“Our defense has played really well, including the St. Thomas game.”

Cranford’s last loss was at home to Edison’s St. Thomas Aquinas High School, 27-24, on Friday, Sept. 23. Both teams that defeated Cranford — the other was North Hunterdon Regional High School in the season opener — made the state playoffs in their sections with 8-1 records.

“You have to play good defense to win,” Rosenmeier said. “We had a different structure, with new players at key positions.”

Putting together the game plan on defense and teaching those players where to be on the field since 2010 has been defensive coordinator Joe Hubert, who previously was the head coach at Governor Livingston High School, where he also coached track and field.

“We had eight new guys who are not new guys anymore,” Rosenmeier said. “Joe is a treasure for us. It’s no coincidence our success starting in 2010 is when he got here.”

Cranford has produced a winning season every year now since 2010, 13 in a row, and the Cougars have made the playoffs every year since 2011, 11 straight now. There were no playoffs in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Joe is our head coach on defense,” Rosenmeier said. “He’s an experienced head coach, a great defensive mind and a tireless worker when it comes to coordinating the defense.

“It’s his baby. The kids have confidence in everything he does. He has the wisdom that all coaches and kids seek.”

While North Brunswick knew not to try to throw the ball where Godwin was playing in Cranford’s secondary, the Raiders could not stop Godwin when he ran the ball. Cranford’s senior quarterback rushed for a game-high 134 yards on 26 carries and reached the end zone once in each of the four quarters.

Lynskey scored Cranford’s other touchdown, which put the Cougars up 20-7 at intermission.

Cranford rushed for 246 yards total, while limiting North Brunswick to a season-low of just 20.

“We were very good on defense and were able to move the ball pretty consistently on offense, running it and taking it to the spots where we wanted to go,” Rosenmeier said. “Our main strategy was to control the ball offensively as much as we could so that we could keep their high-scoring offense on the sideline. Our offensive line and H-backs really stepped up, which allowed us to move the chains.”

With the playoffs looming and everyone wanting to know where Cranford was going to end up, the Cougars concentrated only on an opponent most people picked to defeat them.

“This wasn’t about the playoffs,” Rosenmeier said. “It was about measuring ourselves against a really good team. That was the focus all week.

“We just knew that this was a great opportunity for us. It’s a stand-alone victory against a highly ranked team.”

Notes: Cranford has won North 2, Group 3 three times: 2011, 2015 and 2021. Last year’s North 1, Group 3 state champion, West Morris Central High School, is the top seed in North 2, Group 3 this time.
In last year’s North, Group 3 regional championship game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, West Morris defeated an 11-0 Cranford squad, 56-14.

If Cranford defeats Wayne Hills, the Cougars will then host either third-seeded West Essex High School or sixth-seeded Paramus High School in a semifinal on Friday, Nov. 4. West Essex hosts Paramus on Friday, Oct. 28.

Should West Morris and Cranford win their first-round and semifinal round games at home, then Cranford will play at West Morris on Friday, Nov. 11, for the sectional championship.

West Morris (9-0) is led by standout senior running back Stefano Montella, who leads the state in rushing with 1,744 yards. Montella will continue playing in college in the Ivy League at Brown University, where linebacker will be his position.

North 2, Group 3 Playoffs

Seeding: No. West Morris, No. 2 Cranford, No. 3 West Essex, No. 4 Montville, No. 5 Warren Hills, No. 6 Paramus, No. 7 Wayne Hills, No. 8 Hackettstown.

First Round, Friday, Oct. 28

Hackettstown High School (5-3) at West Morris Central High School (9-0), 7 p.m.

Warren Hills Regional High School (4-4) at Montville Township high School (6-3), 7 p.m.

Wayne Hills High School (4-4) at Cranford High School (6-2), 7 p.m.
Paramus High School (5-3) at West Essex High School (5-3), 7 p.m.

Semifinals: Friday, Nov. 4, at higher seeds.

Finals: Friday, Nov. 11, at highest seed.

Defending champion: Cranford.

The winner of this section advances to the first Group 3 semifinals, scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 18-19 at Franklin High School.

Cranford Cougars, 6-2

• Sept. 2 (H): North Hunterdon Regional High School 34, Cranford High School 7.

• Sept. 9 (A): Cranford High School 42, Summit High School 23.

• Sept. 16 (A): Cranford High School 35, Woodbridge High School 28.

• Sept. 23 (H): St. Thomas Aquinas High School 27, Cranford High School 24.

• Sept. 30 (A): Cranford High School 35, Rahway High School 0.

• Oct. 7 (H): Cranford High School 28, Scotch Plains–Fanwood High School 0.

• Oct. 14 (A): Cranford High School 31, Linden High School 0.

• Oct. 21 (H): Cranford High School 34, North Brunswick Township High School 14.

• Oct. 28 (H): Wayne Hills High School, 7 p.m.
Head coach: Erik Rosenmeier, 18th season.

Section: North, Group 3.

Conference: Big Central.

Division: United Gold (3-1, second).

Record: 6-2.

Home: 2-2.

Away: 4-0.

Neutral: 0-0.

Points for: 236.

Points against: 136.

Overtime: 0-0.

Shutouts 3.

Photos by JR Parachini