Three months ago Linden hosted a quad scrimmage that included Colonia, Montclair and Columbia.
Little did second-year Linden head coach Al Chiola and first-year Columbia mentor Gary Mobley realize that their teams would be involved in an unusual situation the final week of regular season play before the playoffs.
Columbia, with a record of 1-7 that includes a six-game losing streak, has qualified for the North 2, Group 5 playoffs for the second straight season, clinching the eighth and final berth.
That means the Cougars will be traveling to Somerset County to face top-seeded Bridgewater-Raritan (8-0) in next weekend’s N2, G5 first round play.
Linden is presently ninth in the power point standings in N2, G5. It’s been reported that the best the Tigers could do with their eighth and final qualifying game this weekend is tie Columbia for the section’s final berth provided they beat 0-7 Franklin at home and then get all the residual points coming to them.
Linden checked that out with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Tuesday and was told it’s accurate. Linden was also told that Columbia presently has 66 power points and that Linden has 57.
The thing is, if Linden wins it will be a third straight victory for the Tigers, evening their record at 4-4.
Meanwhile, Columbia is scheduled to wrap its regular season at home against Montclair (4-3) Friday night.
Columbia may be entering the N2, G5 playoffs with a 1-8 record and seven-game losing streak, while Linden has a better than average chance of having three more wins than the Cougars and a record of at least .500, although since 2012 teams no longer need to be at least .500 to qualify.
It’s a tough pill for Linden to swallow, especially considering the Tigers played BR very respectable at home Oct. 14 before falling 21-0. BR led 7-0 at the half.
Six of Columbia’s seven losses have come by double digits and the Cougars have been outscored by 170 points.
The first tiebreaker is strength of schedule. Both Linden and Columbia have played good teams with winning records and not-so-good teams with poor records. What helped Columbia was that it played a parochial school – Seton Hall Prep – and received a large number of power points from that game under this year’s revised power point system that rewards teams for playing parochial schools that are a member of the new North Jersey Super Football Conference.
“First of all I would like to say that Gary (Mobley) will have his kids prepared vs. Bridgewater-Raritan and I wish him the best of luck,” Chiola said.
With the success that Mobley had at Rahway, given time, there’s a good chance he will succeed at Columbia as well. However, it is unlikely that his first team at Columbia is going to upset BR to attain the program’s first-ever playoff victory in just five attempts.
Mobley’s sixth season at Rahway – in 2009 – he had a team that was 5-3 at the cutoff, but didn’t have enough power points to qualify in Central Jersey, Group 2, which came one year after he guided the Indians to the 2008 North 2, Group 3 state championship game. Rahway won its consolation game and then defeated Johnson on Thanksgiving to conclude at 7-3 and finish with a six-game winning streak.
Linden can have a similar finish this season. If the Tigers beat Franklin, they will improve to 4-4 and will then be looking at a sectional consolation home game against – most likely – one-win Watchung Hills – which Linden already beat – or one-win Dickinson of Jersey City. The Tigers will wrap their season at holiday rival Union on Thanksgiving morning.
Linden will now be playing to finish with a winning season of 6-4. If The Tigers are able to pull that off, they will conclude with a five-game winning streak.
“It’s a real shame that the first tiebreaker is what it is,” Chiola said. “Why can’t the first one be head-to-head and then the second one be if a team is .500 over a team with a losing record?”
In the recent past Linden has experienced not qualifying with six wins and then making the grade with only two.
In 2010 Linden felt the sting of being the very first team not to qualify in North 2, Group 4 with a 6-2 record at the cutoff.
Then in 2012, the first year the NJSIAA allowed teams to qualify with records under .500 and also when the expansion to Group 5 sections was realized, Linden snuck into the N2, G4 field with only its second win coming at the cutoff.
“We were 2-6 that year (at the cutoff), but there were not any teams that didn’t get in with a 4-4 record,” said Chiola, who has been coaching at Linden since 2007.
Linden actually earned the seventh seed in N2, G4 in 2012, while Ferris of Jersey City was the eighth seed with a 3-5 record. None of the teams below Linden and Ferris had a better record than either of them.
“We seem to be the poster boy for everything that is wrong with the power points,” Chiola said. “If we win Friday, it’s not only that there would be a tie, but one team would be .500 and the other well below.”
Unfortunately for Linden, the Mid-State 38 Conference schedule is made in advance and they are not able to add a school such as Seton Hall Prep to it. Columbia was not in that situation as well with Seton Hall Prep. Columbia has been playing Seton Hall Prep for years.
“Columbia has a quality win over East Orange (which is 5-2 and also playoff-bound in N2, G5), but I don’t think the state saw this coming,” Chiola said.
While Linden will finish with more wins than Columbia this year, the only real highlight the Cougars have over the Tigers is the fact that their one win so far is over a team with a winning record. Linden’s final opportunity to beat a team with a winning record this year will be Union only if the 4-3 Farmers win at Hunterdon Central this Friday night.
“I don’t have a problem with teams making it with losing records to fill the brackets,” Chiola said. “But 1-7 vs. 4-4 if we get there and the reason is strength of schedule? I don’t know.”
Linden’s results include losses to BR (8-0), Westfield (7-0), Ridge (7-1) and Elizabeth (4-4). Wins have come against Scotch Plains (0-8), Watchung Hills (1-7) and Plainfield (0-8).
Columbia’s results include a Week 2 win at East Orange (5-2) and losses to Bloomfield (6-1), West Orange (5-3), Morristown (1-7), Livingston (3-5), Seton Prep (2-6), Randolph (5-3) and Morris Knolls (5-3). Montclair is 4-3.
No doubt Columbia has played a few quality teams, but as far as if they win a tiebreaker based on strength of schedule with three less losses than Linden, it’s not as if they have played Don Bosco Prep, Bergen Catholic, St. Joe’s, Montvale and St. Peter’s Prep all season long.
“Right now we’re preparing real hard to give Franklin our best to try to get to 4-4 and then take it from there,” Chiola said.”
Linden, which won four of its last six games including its final two to finish 5-5 in Chiola’s first season at the helm a year ago, has been playing better of late, with 62 points total the last two weekends.
“We always just try to get better,” Chiola said. “Even in our losses to Elizabeth and Bridgewater-Raritan our kids have responded well.
“We’ve had much better team unity the last two weeks.”
State championship basketball player Joey Krempa had a fine game under center for the Tigers last weekend. In Linden’s 41-12 home win over Plainfield the senior quarterback completed 11-of-16 passes for 157 yards and three touchdowns.
“We’ve had some adversity this year and the kids have risen,” Chiola said.
LINDEN TIGERS (3-4)
(H) Westfield 30, Linden 0
(A) Linden 38, Scotch Plains 7
(H) Ridge 34, Linden 12
(A) Elizabeth 23, Linden 10
(H) Bridgewater-Raritan 21, Linden 0
(A) Linden 21, Watchung Hills 14
(H) Linden 41, Plainfield 12
Nov. 4 Franklin, 7 p.m.
Nov. 24 at Union, 10:30 a.m.
Head coach: Albert Chiola,
Section: North 2, Group 5
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Watchung 2-3
Points for: 122
Points against: 141
COLUMBIA COUGARS (1-7)
(H) Bloomfield 42, Columbia 6
(A) Columbia 34, East Orange 28
(A) West Orange 36, Columbia 7
(H) Morristown 36, Columbia 26
(A) Livingston 13, Columbia 12
(H) Seton Hall Prep 42, Columbia 6
(A) Randolph 42, Columbia 7
(A) Morris Knolls 35, Columbia 12
Nov. 4 Montclair, 7 p.m.
Head coach: Gary Mobley,
Section: North 2, Group 5
Conference: North Jersey Super Football
Division: Liberty Blue 1-4
Points for: 104
Points against: 274
An attempt was made to contact Columbia football coach Gary Mobley for this story.