Union and Cranford football teams expected to earn top seeds in sections

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Union and Cranford, the two best football teams in Union County, as expected garnered top seeds in their sections.

Rahway, at the last minute, snuck in, while Scotch Plains–Fanwood fell out.

In all, 10 of Union County’s 17 football-playing schools qualified for the state playoffs, which commence around the state on Friday, Nov. 5.

Of the seven Union County schools that didn’t qualify, Jonathan Dayton, Governor Livingston and Arthur L. Johnson, as of Tuesday, Nov. 2, did not have a consolation game scheduled for this weekend.

The four that do include Roselle Park at North Arlington on Nov. 5, time not yet announced at press time; Keansburg at Roselle on Nov. 4 at 6 p.m.; Monroe at Plainfield on Nov. 5, time not yet announced at press time; and St. Joseph’s Metuchen at Scotch Plains–Fanwood on Nov. 5, time not yet announced at press time.

Union, ranked among the top 20 teams in the state, has won eight in a row, all of them by double digits. The Farmers (8-1) had two shutouts in that span and one other time did not yield a touchdown. Union has outscored its last four opponents 182-35 and has scored at least 42 points in every one of those victories.

The Farmers have, arguably, the top player in the state in senior wide receiver/defensive back/kick returner Davison Igbinosun, who decommitted from Rutgers earlier in the season and now lists Tennessee as one of the schools he is pursuing.

Union is the top seed in North 2, Group 5, for the second straight season, not counting last year, when there were no playoffs at all, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, the Farmers won the section for the first time, to capture the program’s first state championship in 26 years.

Union now has a chance to repeat as a state champion for the first time since the Farmers three-peated as North 2, Group 4, champs in 1993.

Union has not lost since opening on Saturday, Aug. 28, at Ocean City High School with a mistake-filled 31-28 setback to South Jersey power Millville. The Farmers, Union County’s highest-scoring team, have outscored nine foes 332-102.

Cranford, at 8-0, is the only undefeated Union County squad. The Cougars, who have outscored eight opponents 330-154, are 8-0 for the first time since 2015, when they captured North 2, Group 3, with a record of 12-0. The first time the Cougars won the section was in 2011, doing so with a final record of 10-1.

Cranford is the top seed once again in North 2, Group 3, and will host Bergen County foe Demarest on Friday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m. in first-round action. One of Cranford’s best-ever baseball teams, the 1999 squad that finished 28-3, played Demarest in a Group 3 semifinal contested at Watchung Hills. Demarest came away with a 6-1 victory over the Union County tournament and North 2, Group 3, state champion Cougars in head coach Dennis McCaffery’s first season at the helm.

Cranford has been sparked by the play of many, with seniors Shane Van Dam at quarterback and Colin Murray at running back showing electric stuff at the most opportune times.

Rahway began its season, with a very young team no doubt, 0-3. The Indians lost all three games by double digits, lost them all at home, and were outscored 121-47.
To say the Indians turned their season around would be the understatement of the 2021 Union County football campaign.

Rahway (4-4) closed its regular season by rebounding to win four of its last five, including the 40-21 upset on Saturday, Oct. 30, at 6-1 Big Central Conference-crossover rival Hillside.

“That was our Super Bowl,” Rahway head coach Brian Russo said.

The stretch began with an impressive 34-13 win at Carteret and then continued with a 27-7 home triumph against Warren Hills, with senior running back Zaon Laney scoring three one-play possession touchdowns in the second half.

Rahway was on the outside looking in heading into last weekend, and the Indians trailed 21-20 at halftime on Saturday, Oct. 30, but the big win against Hillside propelled them to the fifth seed in South, Group 3. Laney starred for Rahway once more, this time rushing for a 62-yard touchdown on the first play of the game. In Rahway’s 35-28 win at South Plainfield on Friday, Oct. 22, Laney tied his career-high by scoring three of Rahway’s five touchdowns.

“Zaon came in this season in unbelievable shape after running track last year. Credit his track coach, Dan Johnson,” Russo said. “He also excels on defense and special teams. Zaon is as durable as they come.”

Rahway’s only setback since starting 0-3 is a 42-0 loss at Donovan Catholic on Friday, Oct. 15, a game the Indians picked up to give them an eight-game slate.

Rahway will be facing Somerville for the second time this season, this time at fourth-seeded Somerville on Friday, Nov. 5. On Friday, Sept. 17 at Rahway, the Indians were thumped 45-7 by Somerville. Rahway expects, with the momentum the Indians have, to be much more competitive this time vs. the BCC’s Division 3 champion.

“We know that we will be a big underdog against Somerville, but we have gotten better every week and we will fight until the very end,” Russo said.

When Rahway won at Hillside, it was Hillside’s first loss at home since the Comets opened its 2017 season with a 35-21 setback to, you guessed it, Rahway. Hillside had won 21 straight at home before the loss on Saturday, Oct. 30, to the Indians.

“We didn’t play that well in the first half and were still only down by one at halftime,” Russo said. “Kyle Hall had a big interception for us early in the second half and Khadir Love later, which both led to scores. Our defense really picked it up and played at another level.”

Hillside (6-2) had given up only 75 points in its first eight games and was winners of its last seven. Rahway scored 40 points against Hillside, which was more than half of what the Comets yielded in all seven of their previous games combined.

New Providence, 8-1 and winners of six straight, is the only other Union County school situated in a South Jersey section. The Pioneers are the fifth seed in South Jersey, Group 2, and will play at fourth-seeded Delaware Valley on Friday, Nov. 5.

Hillside is the only Union County school in a Central Jersey section, the fourth seed in Central Jersey, Group 2. The Comets will host fifth-seeded Overbrook on Saturday, Nov. 6, at 1 p.m. in first-round play. Overbrook is where former New York Giants running back Ron Dayne played. Dayne, who graduated from Overbrook in 1996, went on to win the Heisman Trophy in 1999 during his collegiate playing days at Wisconsin.

Hillside is the only Union County school set to play on Saturday, Nov. 6, with the other nine ready to go Friday, Nov. 5.

The sectional semifinals are Nov. 12-13 and the sectional finals are Nov. 19-20.

Regional championship games will be played the first weekend in December.