Union vs. Elizabeth pits the county’s top ranked teams

Photo By JR Parachini
Union captains, from left seniors Doug Carter (13) and Brian Cebien (6).

By JR Parachini,  Sports Editor

UNION- Last year they met for the first of two times in Week Six, withUnioncoming off one of its most heartbreaking defeats – a last-play-of-the-game 37-35 setback atWestfield.

Elizabethcame toUnionthe next weekend, sky high and with a perfect 5-0 mark.

Forty eight minutes of football later and the Minutemen were no longer undefeated.Unionrolled 43-21.

Four weeks later the longtime arch rivals faced each other again atElizabeth’s Williams Field in the North 2, Group 4 quarterfinals. This timeElizabethprevailed by a decisive 25-7 score.

Ten months later the teams are ready to battle each other once more.

Ranked as the top two teams inUnionCountyand also among the top teams in the state,Unionvs.Elizabethhas that Ali-Frazier, Yankees-Red Sox,Michigan-OhioState, Duke-North Carolina feel to it once more.

The two will clash for what might once again be the first of two times tomorrow night at 7 at Williams Field.

Both are coming off strong season-opening victories at home,ElizabethpunishingWestfield45-6 last Friday night andUnionfinishing off Bridgewater-Raritan 48-7 Sunday afternoon in Mid-State 38 Conference-Delaware Division action.

“We have to have a good week of practice and work real hard, no days off,” said Union senior cornerback Brian Cebien, who is also one of four Farmer captains. “We have to have our mindset right and go out there Friday night and compete.”

Having the task of covering BR 6-4 senior wide receiver Tommy Goodberlet, who finished with five catches for 73 yards, but no touchdowns, Cebien was given a good workout before he has to go up against the talented Elizabeth receivers who will be expecting to come down with the ball after receiving passes from one of the best quarterbacks in the state in Temple-bound senior and four-year starter Phillip Walker.The 5-10 Cebien picked off two Donny Stires passes Sunday, the first one he outjumped Goodberlet to get to. The second one he caught in the open field and returned 40 yards for a touchdown.

“Brian is a tremendous player, he’s an unbelievable leader, an inspirational leader on defense and we asked him today to cover their best player and he did a tremendous job,” acting Union head coach Dominic Cuniglio said.

Cebien will have to be as quick and alert tomorrow night against one of the top passing attacksUnionwill go up against.

“We’ll come up with some plans for next week and who knows where Brian is going to be or who he is going to cover,” Cuniglio said. “Brian will be out there leading us.”

“We can’t let them get outside,” Cebien said. “If we (cornerbacks) do our jobs and our safeties do their jobs and our linebackers do their jobs and our D-line does their job we’ll come out with a W.

“It’s going to be the team that works the hardest that comes out on top.”

Union junior running back Jamauri Bogan, as a sophomore second-year starter a year ago, carried 49 times for 359 yards and scored six touchdowns in the 43-21 regular season victory. That was after he gained 284 yards on 34 carries and scored five touchdowns againstWestfield, four TDs coming on the ground and one on a punt return.

Bogan carried 49 times again for 255 yards, but scored just once on a one-yard run in the 25-7 playoff defeat.Unionwas hampered in that game by three turnovers and 11 penalties for 85 yards.

Bogan finished with 2,260 yards, an average of eight yards-plus per gain, and 27 touchdowns last year en route to being namedNew Jersey’s Gatorade Player of the Year.

Against BR, Bogan carried just 16 times for a game-high 99 yards. He carried four times for 58 yards and hisone score- a 40-yard touchdown run – on Friday night and 12 more times for 41 yards Sunday.

Senior quarterback Doug Carter, a three-year starter behind center, completed 10-of-14 passes for 259 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, looking very sharp against the visiting Panthers. He completed passes to tight end Justin Hayes, running backs Jabree Robertson and Bogan and wide receiver Darnell Boyd.

Unionis trying to be more balanced in its offensive approach so far this season under Cuniglio, who came aboard last year as the offensive coordinator.

“Elizabethis an unbelievable football team,” Cuniglio said. “We had an opportunity after the thunder and lightning here Friday night to go over there and catch the second half.

“They’re a tremendous football team. Coach (John) Quinn does an unbelievable job over there with them. They have unbelievable players.”

Walkerpassed for a touchdown and scored a touchdown in the playoff win last November.

“He’s gotten a lot better,” Cuniglio said. “He was great last year, but he’s even better this year. He’s faster, stronger, it seems like he has a grasp of that offense better now over there and he knows where he’s going with the ball. His reads are better.

“He’s an A-1 player. He’s kind of the head that makes that offense roll. We not only have to stop him, but the entire team. We’re going to try to come up with some different things. We’re just hoping we can come out and compete, that’s the most important thing.”

With Carter forUnionandWalkerforElizabethon the field, you will see quarterbacks capable of taking the game over with their throwing. Carter took a step up in his solid performance againstBR.

“He’s come a long way from last year,” Cuniglio said of Carter. “Last year he was learning the offense and learning the reads and learning the things that it took to become a great quarterback. I knew that he had it in him.

“He devoted his time in the off-season to being a student of the game and understanding the offense even better and you saw it today.”

OfUnion’s first four of six TDs vs. BR, three came on passes thrown by Carter.

“As an offensive coordinator you always try to be a balanced team,” Cuniglio said. “We were pretty close to balanced today. We want to be balanced.

“We don’t want to be one-dimensional, but whatever the defense gives us is what we’re going to take.”

Bogan and Carter talked about a more balanced offense afterUnion’s game-scrimmage and how they can help compliment each other.

“We did a great job of distributing the ball both ways,” Bogan said of the team’s effort vs.BR.

Union’s best game last year was its win overElizabethand, arguably, its worse game was its playoff loss to the Minutemen.

“With more of a balance you feel like you can put up a little more points and do a little better than last time,” Bogan said. “When we go play them we’ll do what we have to do to win the game. Whatever they give us we’ll take and do what we have to do to counter what they do.”

Already in Week Two this is a game you can sink your teeth into. We have two of the state’s top teams and the top two teams inUnionCounty. One time, specifically the 1989 and 1990 seasons, the loser of this game did not make the playoffs and finished with just one loss back in the days of nine regular season games and only four teams making the playoffs in each section.

There is still plenty of the season to be played after tomorrow night, but the winning team will be that much closer to making the playoffs and will also gain an advantage in the division standings.

“I think it’s very exciting for the state ofNew Jerseyto haveUnionandElizabethback to where they used to be,” Bogan said. “We both have dynamic players.  We both can’t wait until we play each other.”

To top it off, the teams will be facing each other as members of the first North 2, Group 5 section. In the playoff era that began in 1974,Unionhas won North 2, Group 4 a record 10 times – 10-2 in the final – andElizabethis next with seven championships – 7-1 in the final.

“This is going to be a very exciting game,” Carter said. “Everybody is fresh because it’s only the second week of the season.”

Bogan and Carter have a great deal of respect for Elizabeth, especiallyWalker.

“He’s phenomenal,” Bogan said. “We’ve just got to get ready for a big game.”

“He’s one of the best athletes in the state ofNew Jersey,” Carter said.