UNION COUNTY, NJ — One thing New Jersey has made perfectly clear: Your high school football team does not need to be undefeated, or even better than .500, to qualify for the state playoffs.
Right now, 12 of Union County’s 17 football-playing schools find themselves in playoff positions, with just two weekends of qualifying games to go. Three of them are less than .500 at 2-4 and three more even at 3-3.
The state playoffs commence on Friday, Oct. 28, and Saturday, Oct. 29, which is the earliest start ever. For the first time, the playoffs will go all the way to single public school group champions. Winning a sectional state title will still be fine, but it is no longer good enough. Those that win will have to game-plan for group semifinals, to be played the following weekend.
David Brearley High School, sparked by returning senior quarterback Matt Sims, is Union County’s only undefeated team at 6-0. The Bears last played in a state championship game in 2015 and last captured one in 2006.
David Brearley, Hillside and Westfield high schools are Union County’s division winners out of the Big Central Conference, all finishing their league competition at 4-0. David Brearley won the Freedom Gold Division, Hillside the Patriot Silver and Westfield the American Gold.
Hillside is led on offense by seniors Caleb Salters at quarterback and Muwaffaq Parkman and Kyon Simonson at running back and Westfield by senior quarterback Trey Brown, son of former New York Giants quarterback Dave Brown.
According to the United Power Rankings listed at gridironnewjersey,com, here’s where the Union County schools that are in for the moment stand. Teams need to be among the top 16 in their standings to qualify.
North, Group 1
David Brearley High School (6-0), No. 4. The three teams ahead of David Brearley are No. 1 Wood-Ridge High School (6-0), No. 2 Park Ridge High School (5-1) and No. 3 Mountain Lakes High School (6-0). Should David Brearley qualify at 8-0 with two more wins, the Bears might sneak up to No. 3. It appears that the Bears should gain no lower than a No. 2 seed when the sections are split into two groups of eight.
South, Group 2
New Providence High School (4-3), No. 9; Arthur L. Johnson High School (4-2), No. 13; and Abraham Clark High School (2-4), No. 16. New Providence has had a solid season so far and should make it, regardless of what happens this weekend or next. Arthur L. Johnson won its first four and might need to win one of its final two to still be included. Abraham Clark is coming on with two wins in a row and is a heavy favorite this weekend at home vs. Bound Brook High School.
North, Group 3
Cranford High School (4-2), No. 3; Hillside High School (5-1), No. 4; and Summit High School (3-3), No. 8. The two teams ahead of Cranford and Hillside are No. 1 West Morris Central High School (7-0) and No. 2 Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan (6-0). West Morris defeated Old Tappan, 21-0, at home in last year’s North 1, Group 3 semifinals. The Wolfpack then blanked visiting West Essex High School, 21-0, in the final and blasted North 2, Group 3 champ Cranford, 53-14, in the North, Group 3 regional championship game played at Giants Stadium. Cranford has games remaining at Linden High School (3-3) and at home vs. North Brunswick Township High School, which is now 6-0. If the Cougars win both, they would probably move up to at least No. 2 status, which would make them one of the top seeds in either North 1, Group 3 or North 2, Group 3, wherever the state would put them.
North, Group 4
Rahway High School (3-3), No. 14, and Linden High School (3-3), No. 16. These two teams are barely in right now, and the competition only gets tougher. Rahway has games remaining, although both at home, vs. Carteret High School (6-1) and Colonia High School (6-1). Linden has games at home vs. Cranford High School (4-2) and at Montgomery High School (5-2).
North, Group 5
Westfield (5-1), No. 5; Union (2-4), No. 14; and Elizabeth High School – Frank J. Cicarell Academy (2-4), No. 15. The teams ahead of Westfield include No. 1 Phillipsburg High School (6-0), No. 2 Ridgewood High School (5-1), No. 3 Passaic County Technical Institute (6-1) and No. 4 Union City High School (5-1). Union just beat Elizabeth, 41-7, at home and is at Phillipsburg on Friday, Oct. 14. Union also hosts Ridge High School, now 4-2, next weekend. Elizabeth has games at home on Saturday, Oct. 15, vs. Bridgewater-Raritan Regional High School and at Watchung Hills Regional High School, which is now 5-2, next weekend. Westfield will move up, should the Blue Devils win at Ridge this weekend and then down Hillsborough High School, now 6-1, at home next weekend. Union defeated Elizabeth for the fourth straight season and has given up only 7 points in those four wins combined. Senior Elijah Stewart rushed for 188 yards and scored three touchdowns on Friday, Oct. 7. Sophomore quarterback O’Malley King threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Omar Ibrahim and before that scored twice on the ground. His 40-yard touchdown was the game’s first score.
Photo by JR Parachini