Cranford Cougars step in to keep the football program rolling

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CRANFORD, NJ – Players step in here and keep the program rolling.
Many of them also excel in other sports, which the coaching staff feels is huge.

They’re ready to compete, which is what a team needs if it is going to succeed in terms of producing wins ahead of losses.

In between a season-opening home loss to a pretty good North Hunterdon Regional High School team and a season-ending second-round playoff loss, also at home and to a quality opponent in West Essex High School, Cranford High School went 7-1 last year, the only setback in that stretch coming to parochial school St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Edison.

No, Cranford did not follow the 2021 season with another state championship, but the Cougars still finished 7-3 in 2022 and were a contender.

Cranford has produced a winning season every year since 2010. The Cougars have qualified for the state playoffs every year since 2011. No other program in Union County can say that.

“It’s a new feeling and a new team, but we’re ready to go,” said senior halfback-linebacker Ryan Carracino. “We work hard and demand the best from ourselves. We know the tradition. We’re always out to give our best effort.”

Head coach Erik Rosenmeier is in his 19th season at the helm of the Cougars. With Scott Miller no longer coaching at David Brearley High School, Rosenmeier is now the longest tenured head coach in Union County, one year ahead of Jim DeSarno, who began at Westfield High School in 2006.

“I can’t believe how fast the time has gone,” said Rosenmeier, who took over as head coach in 2005.

Rosenmeier still recalls his first game as if it were yesterday.

“We beat Hillside 33-22 at Hillside,” Rosenmeier recalled.

“I’ve come to love Cranford High School and the feeling from the community,” he added. “The kids in town play for our team in town. I’m here for as long as they will have me.”

When talking about an area of dominance, Rosenmeier does not immediately pontificate about offense, defense or special teams.
“Our biggest strength is that most of our guys play one way,” he said. “It allows us to wear teams out, overcome injuries and it makes practice very competitive with offensive starters going up against defensive starters.”

Representing the Cougars

• Andrew Wozniak, No. 7, senior, HB-LB
• Ryan Carracino, No. 38, senior, HB-LB
• Sean Riley, No. 14, senior, WR
• Ben Fossella, No. 78, senior, OL

Taking over at quarterback is junior Tyler Veltre after Liam Godwin played the position last season as a senior for one year.

“Last year, we were not really young; we just had some seniors without a lot of experience,” Rosenmeier said. “This year, we have five to six juniors that are talented. They will have to step up and play at a high level.”

In November, Cranford came within a touchdown of getting back to the North 2, Group 3 state championship game.

“I really wasn’t all that disappointed with the loss to West Essex, because I felt we got better every week of the season, following our opening loss to North Hunterdon,” Rosenmeier said. “We just fell short against West Essex.”

Rosenmeier said he is high on his defense, which continues to be schooled by longtime coordinator Joe Hubert. “I’ve been impressed right from the start,” Rosenmeier said.

For the third year in a row, Cranford will open against North Hunterdon, the first game of the season scheduled for Friday, Sept. 1, at North Hunterdon. Cranford came back by two touchdowns late to tie the game and then beat the Lions 43-37 in single overtime on a Colin Murray rushing touchdown up the middle in the 2021 opener. North Hunterdon returned to Cranford’s Memorial Field in September of last year and beat the Cougars 34-7.

“We took it upon ourselves last year to see what we were capable of doing after the North Hunterdon game,” Carracino said.

North Hunterdon went on to capture the North 2, Group 4 sectional state championship last year and then fell in the first Group 4 semifinals. The Lions went 11-2 and won their third state championship in the playoff era.

“They were good and we knew that,” Rosenmeier said. “We expect to be in another battle with them right from the start.”

2023 Cranford Cougars

• Friday, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m., at North Hunterdon Regional High School
• Friday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m., Summit High School
• Thursday, Sept. 14, at 7 p.m., Woodbridge High School
• Friday, Sept. 22, at 7 p.m., at St. Thomas Aquinas High School
• Friday, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m., Rahway High School
• Friday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m., at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School
• Friday, Oct. 13, at 7 p.m., Linden High School
• Friday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m., at North Brunswick Township High School

Photos by JR Parachini