HILLSIDE, NJ — Since Barris Grant took over as the football team’s head coach at Hillside High School, beginning with the 2016 football season, the Comets have produced unprecedented success during that span.
For example, Hillside captured three consecutive sectional state championships and also won a regional title. Hillside’s only sectional state crown that it captured during the playoff era before Grant came way back in 1985.
The win on Saturday, Oct. 7, at its own John Zappulla Field, was another in a long line of special ones for the Comets. Hillside defeated Arthur L. Johnson High School, 42-15, to repeat as the Patriot Silver Division champions of the Big Central Conference.
It was also the sixth straight season that Hillside finished first in the division in which it played.
Three straight sectional state championships is amazing indeed.
Six consecutive division titles is also something that is rare and something that a team should feel very proud about accomplishing.
“Winning the conference championship is one of our goals,” Grant said. “It establishes our culture and sets the tone for our postseason run.”
Hillside was situated in the Mid-State 38 Conference from 2016-2019 and then, with every other Union County football playing school, moved into the newly-aligned Big Central Conference for the 2020 campaign.
Here’s a look at where Hillside finished in division play since Grant and his staff took over in 2016:
• 2016: Mid-State 38 Conference
Valley Division: (2-3) tied for third. Finished 4-6 overall and did not make the playoffs.
• 2017: Mid-State 38 Conference
Valley Division: (4-1), second. Finished 9-3 overall and won Central Jersey, Group 2.
• 2018: Mid-State 38 Conference
Valley Division: (4-0), first. Finished 11-1 overall, repeated as Central Jersey, Group 2 champions and reached its first Regional Championship game.
• 2019: Mid-State 38 Conference
Valley Division: (4-0), first. Finished 12-0 overall, won South Jersey, Group 2 for the first time and then won the South, Group 2 Regional Championship for the first time.
• 2020: Big Central Conference
Division 2B: (3-1), shared first with Bernards (3-1) and Governor Livingston (3-1) high schools. Hillside High School beat Bernards, Bernards beat Governor Livingston and Governor Livingston beat Hillside. Finished 4-2 overall.
• 2021: Big Central Conference
Division 2A: (4-1), shared first with Bernards (4-1) and Delaware Valley (4-1) high schools.
Hillside beat Delaware Valley. Bernards beat Hillside and Delaware Valley beat Bernards. Finished 7-3 overall and reached the Central Jersey, Group 2 semifinals.
• 2022: Big Central Conference
Patriot Silver Division: (4-0), first. Finished 9-2 overall and reached the North 1, Group 3 final.
• 2023: Big Central Conference
Patriot Silver Division: (4-0), first. Presently 4-2 overall and in line to qualify for the playoffs a second straight season out of North, Group 3.
“This being our sixth conference title speaks to the hard work and dedication by my staff and the willingness for my players to be coached hard every day,” Grant concluded.
Hillside’s final two regular season games are at Delaware Valley High School on Friday night, Oct. 13, and then at Carteret High School on Friday night, Oct. 20. The playoffs commence the weekend of Friday, Oct. 27.
At the moment, Hillside stands in eighth place in the section North, Group 3. The top 16 teams in each section qualify for the playoffs.
Last year, Hillside made it to the North 1, Group 3 sectional state championship game, falling at Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan, 28-14.
Photos by JR Parachini