Union and Linden use week off to prepare for upcoming home games

UNION / LINDEN, NJ — Getting a week off at any time in the season can be beneficial on many levels. For one thing, banged-up players get another seven days to heal.

There’s also a release from the mental aspect of the game. Additional time is provided to regroup before entering battle again for what will be the stretch run.

A week off, or bye week if you prefer, was handed off to both Union and Linden this past weekend. Both are on two-game winning streaks and will get back in action on Friday, Sept. 24, with big home dates.

Union, 2-1, will host Elizabeth, 2-1, in Big Central Conference–Division 5A action at Cooke Memorial Field. For the Farmers, it will be their first home game in 10 months.

Union had three home games in last year’s shortened 4-3 season. One of them was a 34-0 win at home against Elizabeth on Mischief Night, Oct. 30.

Union hopes to provide some more mischief for its longtime archrival. Elizabeth is also on a two-game winning streak and coming off a 19-18 win against Plainfield in its home opener on Friday, Sept. 17.

“Everyone is looking forward to playing our first home game,” said Union head coach Lou Grasso Jr., in his ninth season at the helm of the Farmers.

Union opened on Saturday, Aug. 28, vs. Millville in one of the games played at Ocean City High. Some costly errors resulted in a 31-28 setback. Union rebounded with wins at St. Joseph’s, Metuchen, 40-21, and at Plainfield, 34-12.

“We’re a couple of plays away from being 3-0,” Grasso said. “We’re still making some mistakes that we shouldn’t be.”

In the Millville defeat, a bad punt led to a safety and then Millville returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown.

“It was our first game and it was played in August, but we still had our chances to beat them,” Grasso said. “It was still a great experience for our kids. They’ve gotten better since.”

Grasso said he’s happy with the way his defense has excelled, led by the play of those in the secondary and then the players up front.

Offensively, he said he likes how senior quarterback Jaden Stewart has performed up to this point. Rutgers commit Davison Igbinosun also continues to make his presence felt in a big way.

“Davison gives us a lot of options on offense with his versatility,” Grasso said.

Union is seeking a third straight win against Elizabeth. The Farmers also shut out the Minutemen 35-0 at Elizabeth in 2019.

“Elizabeth is always a tough task,” Grasso said. “Our kids know what’s coming.”

Linden is facing a Westfield team that is coming off a 3-point win. The Blue Devils won at Watchung Hills 16-13 on Friday, Sept. 17, to improve to 2-0 for the first time since the 2017 three-peat state championship team went 12-0 for the third consecutive season.

Linden last beat Westfield in its 2018 home opener, coming away with a 14-7 victory. That triumph ended Westfield’s 37-game winning streak. Linden had also been the last team to beat Westfield before the Blue Devils began their streak. That was a 14-6 Linden win over Westfield in the 2014 North 2, Group 5, semifinals.

Linden is seeking its first 3-0 start since the 2014 team began 7-0 en route to capturing the North 2, Group 5, state championship for the first time. That was also Linden’s first state championship team since 1985.

Westfield was able to get in only two games last season, losing both. Linden went 1-4 and started later than most teams.

“Westfield is always talented, plays disciplined and is big up front,” said Linden head coach Al Chiola, at the helm of the Tigers since 2015. “Their quarterback (Trey) Brown runs well and has a strong arm. We know they don’t quit either.”

Linden opened with a 33-13 division win at Iselin Kennedy and then followed that up with another division victory, topping Montgomery 3-0 in its home opener.

“We have a good group of kids with the most experience we have coming back,” Chiola said. “Defensively, we bend a little but don’t break.”

Sophomore defensive back Te’Quan Thomas, also Linden’s first-year quarterback, made a touchdown-saving tackle on the final play of the first half against Montgomery when the Cougars managed a long run.

“Te’Quan came from his safety position, caught the kid and brought him down at our 10,” Chiola said. “Who knows? If they score there they might have won 7-3. Te’Quan had a good angle on him.”

The only points in the game came from the foot of Samuel Morales, who, in the third quarter, successfully kicked a 35-yard field goal.

“I thought that was our best chance to score there and he nailed it,” Chiola said.

Linden senior Steeve Dorvil blocked a Montgomery field goal attempt in the fourth quarter to preserve the victory.

“We’re happy with our 2-0 start,” Chiola said. “We treat every week like we’re 0-0.

“We would have preferred our bye in the middle of the season. I can’t remember the last time that we had one, but it was good that we had one now. We’re ready for the remainder of the season.”