The 2015 Union County football season will always be remembered as the year Cranford cemented 12-0 for the first time, Westfield captured its first state championship in 38 years – en route to a program-first 12-0 mark – and that Brearley came oh so close to joining Cranford and Westfield at 12-0, falling just one game short of achieving that feat for the second time and first time in nine years.
Not only did Westfield reach its first state title contest since playing in the 1998 North 2, Group 3 final, but the Blue Devils won their first sectional championship since repeating as North 2, Group 4 champions in 1977.
Westfield captured the North 2, Group 5 championship behind the county’s best defensive unit. All 11 players on that unit pretty much contributed evenly to limiting 12 opponents to a total of just 103 points.
Westfield’s defense pitched a shutout in the North 2, Group 5 final at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, with the Blue Devils beating Bridgewater-Raritan 10-7. The only touchdown scored by the Somerset County school was by its defense on a blocked punt.
After coming so close to finishing 12-0 for the first time last year, Cranford came back and achieved the feat this season. The final hurdle was a supremely-dominant 50-23 win over Chatham in the North 2, Group 3 final played at Kean.
After never reaching a state championship game, Cranford has now appeared in three in the last five seasons and has won two of them – both North 2, Group 3 and both at Kean.
Westfield is now 3-1 in state title games and Cranford 2-1.
Playoff games in New Jersey began in 1974, but four teams in each section qualifying with semifinal and final games to follow began in 1975.
In North 2, Group 4, Cranford qualified in 1975, losing to Livingston. Westfield then qualified in the section three of the next four years, winning the section in 1976 and 1977.
Now 38 years later, Cranford has won its first two championships in the playoff era and Westfield its first in nearly four decades.
Brearley reached 11-0 for the first time in nine years and for the second time before falling to Hoboken 34-12 in the North 2, Group 1 final played at Kean. The Bears were seeking to win the section for the first time since they went 12-0 for the first and only time in 2006.
Out to capture the section for the sixth time in the playoff era, Brearley was eight yards away in the third quarter from pulling to within one score of the Red Wings, who captured the section for the third time in four years and for the fourth time since 2005.
For Union County to have three teams at 11-0 playing in state championship games for the first time was quite an accomplishment.
The fact that two went 12-0 for the first time in the same season was equally impressive.
Eleven Union County teams qualified for the playoffs, with Union and Johnson also advancing to semifinal contests.
Union won at Piscataway in the playoffs for the first time in three tries after pulling off an incredible 28-20 comeback North 2, Group 5 victory that was sparked by fourth quarter touchdowns from Chris Ortiz on defense and Caleb Holden on offense.
Johnson won at New Providence 40-6 in Central Jersey, Group 2 action, once again qualifying after starting the season 0-3. Five players – Joe Turek twice, Jon Duffy, Anthony Rizzuto, Nick Fischetti and Sebastian Palacios – scored for the Crusaders in their first playoff win since 2008.
Teams of the Year: Cranford Cougars and Westfield Blue Devils
Let’s face it. It’s not easy to go 12-0, especially if you are favored to win all of your games.
As Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier put it, “there was no guarantee that we were going to make it back to the North 2, Group 3 final,” especially without a loss.
Cranford was tested right away, narrowly winning its first game 24-23 at Warren Hills. The next big test came in game No. 7, a battle of undefeated teams. Cranford scored with about three minutes left in the fourth quarter to snap a tie and win at Delaware Valley 28-21.
After that the Cougars won their final five games averaging nearly 50 points and scoring at least that many in three of them.
Westfield won its first two games decisively and then survived a battle from last year’s North 2, Group 5 champion – Linden – edging the visiting Tigers 10-7.
Last year Westfield was edged at Linden 15-14 in overtime in the regular season and then again 14-6 at Linden in the North 2, Group 5 semifinals, which was the last time Westfield lost.
After coming out on top in a close game against Linden early this season, the Blue Devils were never really seriously threatened again until they faced Bridgewater-Raritan in a battle of 11-0 squads playing for a state championship.
Cranford enters the 2016 campaign with a 20-game regular season winning streak, while Westfield enters with the county’s longest overall winning streak at 13.
Coaches of the Year: Erik Rosenmeier, Cranford; Jim DeSarno, Westfield
Both coaches finished 12-0 for the first time, with Rosenmeier winning his second state championship and DeSarno his first. Cranford has now been in the playoffs five straight years, has won at least one playoff game five straight years and has appeared in three state championship games in that span – all in North 2, Group 3.
Cranford is 47-9 the last five seasons and 23-1 the last two. Its last regular season loss was to Ridge in 2013, with Ridge going on and winning North 2, Group 5 that season.
DeSarno has guided Westfield to the playoffs eight of his 10 seasons at the helm so far, with four of them reaching at least the semifinal round. This was the first year he got the Blue Devils over the hump and not only into a state final, but winning it.
Both coaches and their staffs led their teams to division championships as well, with Cranford winning the Mid-State 38 Conference’s Raritan Division crown a second straight season and Westfield the Watchung Division title for the first time.
Offensive Player of the Year: Jack Schetelich, Cranford
The senior quarterback – who will play the same position in college at Villanova – passed for over 2,000 yards, rushed for more than 1,100 and threw 24 TD passes and was intercepted just three times.
In his team’s state championship win over Chatham he had two touchdown passes and two rushing TDs by halftime, with Cranford already out to a 43-9 lead at intermission.
Passing for more than 1,500 yards and rushing for more than 1,300 last year – in addition to 18 TD passes and just four interceptions – the positive numbers just kept on adding up for the 6-2, 185 pound pro-style quarterback.
However, perhaps his best statistic was that he led Cranford to a 23-1 record the past two seasons and the program to its first back-to-back state championship game appearances, with the Cougars winning the second one.
Honorable Mention: Jack Curry, senior RB, Westfield; Sebastian Montesdeoca, senior QB, Brearley; Ryan Bakie, junior RB, Cranford.
Defensive Players of the Year: Westfield Blue Devils
Rather than citing one player such as Steve Barmakian or Owen Kessler or Owen Colwell or Jeffrey Gagum or Nick Maher or Michael O’Connor, I’m giving this award to the entire Westfield defense for the consistent three-month success of the unit.
Although the Blue Devils produced just one shutout, they gave up the least amount of points of any Union County team at 103, which comes out to just 8.58 against per game.
The Westfield defense did not give up a point against Bridgewater-Raritan in the North 2, Group 5 championship game and gave up a touchdown or less in seven of its 12 contests.
Special Teams Player of the Year: Joe Norton, Cranford
The senior – really all-purpose – player was Cranford’s surprise element if you will when he lined up back to punt. You didn’t really know if he was going to kick the ball or try to run with it to extend a Cranford drive with another first down. Most times he made the first down when sneaking up on an opponent.
As Cranford’s placekicker once again this season, Norton’s only field goal was actually the first three of the Union County-best 515 points the Cougars produced this year. His 36-yard field goal in the first quarter of Cranford’s first game at Warren Hills proved quite crucial that night, with the Cougars coming away with a narrow 24-23 triumph.
Also an accomplished wide receiver with 24 catches for six touchdowns, Norton was third on the team in points with 92 – junior Ryan Bakie was second with 98 – and was nearly perfect on his extra point kicks, making 53 of 54.
4-Roselle Park 281
Least points against:
2-New Providence 136
Best point differential:
1-Cranford 515-178: 337
2-Westfield 411-103: 308
3-Brearley 347-153: 194
4-Roselle Park 281-180: 101
5-New Providence 231-136: 95
Scored more points than given up:
Roselle Park 101
New Providence 95
Roselle Park, Brearley,
Linden, New Providence: 2
Eight others: 1
Best home records:
5-Gov. Livingston 4-1
Best road records:
4-New Providence 4-2
Mid-State 38 Conference
Watchung: Westfield (7-0), first time
Raritan: Cranford (6-0), second straight time
Valley: Brearley (8-0), first time
New Providence (7-3)
Playoff qualifiers, record:
New Providence (0-1)
Roselle Park (0-1)
JR’s FINAL PICKS FOR 2015:
Best bets: 13-0
Upset specials: 5-8
Overall record: 96-38 (.716)
UNION COUNTY TOP 10
9-New Providence (7-3)
10-Roselle Park (5-5)
Gov. Livingston (4-6)
Scotch Plains (1-9)