The wait is over as Union County football playoffs begin

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Nine weekends have passed, with some teams getting in nine games and most eight, as we begin the high school football playoffs in New Jersey in the month of October for the first time.
After this weekend, next weekend and the one following it that will crown sectional state champions, there will be public school group semifinals and finals for the first time.

New Jersey will crown overall public school state champions in Group 1, Group 2, Group 3, Group 4 and Group 5 the weekend of Saturday, Dec. 3, and Sunday, Dec. 4, at Rutgers University to go along with the two nonpublic school state champions that will be crowned the week before at a site still to be determined.

The nine Union County schools that made the state playoffs are Westfield High School, Union High School, Elizabeth High School-Frank J. Cicarell Academy, Rahway High School, Hillside High School, Cranford High School, New Providence High School, Arthur L. Johnson High School and David Brearley High School.

Here’s a look at the matchups starting this weekend.

North 2, Group 5
• No. 8 Elizabeth High School-Frank J. Cicarell Academy (2-6) at No. 1 Phillipsburg High School (8-0). Elizabeth first ventured to Phillipsburg in 2004 for a North 2, Group 4 semifinal. The Stateliners came out on top, 14-12. They are a big favorite in the game at Maloney Stadium on Friday, Oct. 28.

North 1, Group 5

• No. 6 Bridgewater-Raritan Regional High School (4-5) at No. 3 Westfield High School (6-2). Westfield’s last playoff win was at home in a first-round game against Bridgewater-Raritan in 2019. Westfield also defeated Bridgewater-Raritan in the North 2, Group 5 finals in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Westfield rebounded from its second loss to hold on and defeat Hillsborough High School, 17-12, on Saturday, Oct. 22, at home.

• No. 7 Union High School (2-6) at No. 2 Union City High School (7-1). Union’s last playoff loss was at Union City High School, 46-6, in a 2018 North 2, Group 5 semifinal. The Farmers have wins at Somerville High School, 21-7, and home against Elizabeth, 41-7. Union won North 2, Group 5 for the first time in 2019 and last year, after beating Livingston High School in the first round, had to forfeit the rest of its season due to players testing positive for COVID-19.

North 2, Group 4

• No. 7 Rahway High School (4-4) at No. 2 Randolph High School (7-1). Rahway was situated in North, Group 4 for the first time and has played in 1-point games the past two weekends, winning one of them. The Indians began 3-0 and then lost three straight when standout senior Kyle Hall went down with an injury. Hall is back now, as the Indians seek to win a road playoff game for the first time since winning at Summit in 2017.

North 2, Group 3
• No. 7 Wayne Hills High School (4-4) at No. 2 Cranford High School (6-2). Cranford has made the playoffs 11 straight seasons now, which is every year since 2011. There were no playoffs in 2020 because of COVID-19. Last year, the Cougars were the top seed in North 2, Group 3 and won it for the third time, and first time since 2015. The Cougars are coming off a 34-14 win at home against 7-0 South Brunswick High School, which was the No. 1 team in South, Group 5 going in. Cranford was sparked on offense by senior quarterback Liam Godwin, who rushed for game highs of four touchdowns and 134 yards, and on defense by senior linebacker Shane Kanterman, who was in on a team-high nine tackles.

North 1, Group 3

• No. 7 Parsippany Hills High School (4-4) at No. 2 Hillside High School (7-1). Hillside, sparked by senior running backs Kyon Simonson and Muwaffaq Parkman and senior quarterback Caleb Salters, outscored its eight opponents by an impressive 256-65 margin, including three shutouts. This is the first matchup between the schools. Head coach Dave Albano guided Parsippany Hills to the 2014 North 2, Group 3 state championship against Cranford at Giants Stadium.

Central, Group 2

• No. 5 New Providence High School (5-4) at No. 4 Willingboro High School (3-5). Willingboro came to New Providence last September as a last-minute COVID-19 replacement game for the Pioneers and in the second half stormed their way to a 26-7 triumph. That was New Providence’s only regular-season loss. This time, the Pioneers will travel to Willingboro High School to play a Chimeras team that is not quite as strong as they were a year ago, when they finished 8-4.

South, Group 2

• No. 5 Arthur L. Johnson High School (6-2) at No. 4 Pleasantville High School (5-2). This is another first-time matchup. Pleasantville has an eight-game schedule this year that includes hosting Ocean City High School on Thanksgiving, Thursday, Nov. 24, which is why the Greyhounds have played only seven games, whereas other teams have played either eight or nine by now. This is the first winning season and playoff season for the Crusaders, sparked by sophomore quarterback Robert Gallagher, since 2017. Arthur L. Johnson has outscored eight foes by an impressive margin of 236-81, including three shutouts.

North 1, Group 1

• No. 5 North Arlington High School (5-3) at No. 4 David Brearley High School (8-0). David Brearley, coming off a forfeit win against Dunellen High School for the second straight season, is 8-0 for the first time since 2015, which was the last year the Bears reached a state championship game, falling in the North 2, Group 1 final that season to Hoboken High School, 34-12, at Kean University. Lifted by the passing attack of senior quarterback Matt Sims to senior wide receiver Brendan Fitzsimmons, the Bears are seeking to win a sectional state championship for the first time since 2006.

Union County first-round playoffs

Friday, Oct. 28

North Arlington High School at David Brearley High School, 7 p.m.
Union High School at Union City High School, 7 p.m.
Elizabeth High School at Phillipsburg High School, 7 p.m.
Rahway High School at Randolph High School, 7 p.m.
Wayne Hills High School at Cranford High School, 7 p.m.
New Providence High School at Willingboro High School, 7 p.m.
Arthur L. Johnson High School at Pleasantville High School, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 29

Parsippany Hills High School at Hillside High School, 1 p.m.
Bridgewater-Raritan High School at Westfield High School, 1 p.m.

Regional Invitational Tournament

For teams that did not make the playoffs.

North, Group 1

Thursday, Oct. 27, 7 p.m.: No. 3 Secaucus High School (3-5) at No. 2 Roselle Park High School (4-4).

South, Group 2

Thursday, Oct. 27, 6 p.m.: No. 3 Jonathan Dayton High School (4-4) at No. 2 Abraham Clark High School, Roselle (4-4).
North, Group 3

Saturday, Oct. 29, 1 p.m.: No. 3 Governor Livingston High School (4-5) at No. 2 Summit High School (3-5).
North, Group 4

Thursday, Oct. 27, 6 p.m.: No. 3 Barringer High School (4-4) at No. 2 Linden High School (3-4).

North, Group 5

Plainfield High School receives a first-round bye.
Thursday, Nov. 3: No. 6 Livingston High School or No. 3 Bayonne High School at No. 2 Plainfield High School.

Scotch Plains–Fanwood High School finished its 2022 season at 1-8.