UNION, NJ — Union High School’s Farmers lead the Big Central Conference’s American Gold Division standings at 3-0.
Hillsborough High School’s Raiders are tied for the lead atop the American Silver Division group of gridiron powers at 2-1.
Both teams are 4-1 overall.
Each got by their latest challenges by playing big-time defense and finding enough offense to come away with a victory.
Now they are preparing to clash for a second straight season before resuming division play.
On Friday night, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m., at Union’s Cooke Memorial Field, it will be South, Group 5 school Hillsborough (4-1) at North, Group 5 foe Union (4-1), with the winner that much more establishing playoff qualification positioning for later on down the road.
Hillsborough won last year’s battle, 14-6, in HIllsborough.
On Friday night, Sept. 22, in Somerville, Union came back in the second half to top 3-1 Somerville High School 13-10. On Sunday, Sept. 24, at SHI Stadium at Rutgers University, Hillsborough led by a touchdown at halftime and held on for a hard-fought 14-13 triumph against 3-0 Phillipsburg High School.
Both Union and Hillsborough are projected to be playoff teams in their sections. For this non-division game for each, you just want to continue to do the things that got you to 4-1.
“Hillsborough is 4-1 like us and coming off a huge win,” Union head coach Lou Grasso Jr. said. “Coach (Kevin) Carty (Jr.) does a great job and it’s always a battle with them. They’re going to come in flying.”
Grasso said Union made some adjustments at halftime, when Union was down 10-0 to Somerville at the break, that enabled the Farmers to reach the end zone twice in the final two quarters.
“We moved the ball in the first half, but in the second half we were able to finish drives,” Grasso said.
Union got on the scoreboard for the first time in the third quarter when standout senior running back Kordal Hinton scored on a one-yard run.
The winning points were produced in the fourth quarter when junior quarterback O’Malley King connected with junior wide receiver Cedric Raymond on a seven-yard touchdown pass.
“Our offense is starting to catch up,” Grasso said. “Our quarterback is big, has all the tools and really just needs more experience.”
Defensively, Grasso gave praise to his defensive backs.
“They have a talented quarterback and I think that was the key, shutting him down in the second half,” Grasso said.
Grasso said junior linebackers Dakari Duggar and Bryan Accinot, in addition to Hinton’s play in the middle, controlled Hillsborough’s running game.
“It also helped to get a couple of turnovers in the second half,” Grasso said.
After a 2-7 finish last year, which still saw the Farmers make the playoffs, Union is back to being one of the top teams in North, Group 5.
“Our kids fought through last year and became leaders,” Grasso said. “They showed to be very tough, young men.”
Union’s present playoff positioning concerning the power points situation in North, Group 5 is fifth among the 16 teams that will ultimately qualify.
The top five this week are 1-Phillipsburg High School (3-1), 2-Passaic County Technical Institute (5-0), 3-Watchung Hills Regional High School (5-0), 4-Union City High School (3-1) and 5-Union High School (4-1). Other Union County schools in the Top 16 are Plainfield High School, sixth at 3-1 and Westfield High School, 15th at 2-2.
“There are so many good teams in our section,” said Grasso, who guided Union to the North 2, Group 5 sectional state championship in 2019. “A lot of your success has to do with matchups.”
Standout players from that 2019 state championship team who are starring in college are the Igbinosun brothers. Desmond is a junior safety at Rutgers University and Davison is a sophomore cornerback at Ohio State University. Rutgers, presently 3-1, hosts Ohio State, which is now 4-0 and ranked No. 4 in the country, on Saturday, Nov. 4.
Davison transferred from the University of Mississippi.
“He’s right where he needs to be,” Grasso said of Davison moving over to the Big Ten Conference. “Desmond is also having a great season at Rutgers.”
After Hillsborough, Union’s final three regular season games are at Frank J. Cicarell Academy, Elizabeth (0-5), home against Phillipsburg High School (3-1) and at Ridge High School (3-1).
Last year, Union, as the seventh seed, lost at second-seeded Union City High School 62-20 in a first-round North 1, Group 5 playoff encounter in Hudson County.
A much more experienced and polished Union squad, led by its defense, has much greater playoff expectations this season.