SUMMIT – Now the games really matter.
Let the playoffs commence!
In Union County 10 of its 17 teams qualified, including Westfield, which for the first time is the top seed in North 2, Group 5.
The two-time defending champion Blue Devils are 8-0 for the third straight year and have the state’s longest winning streak at 33 games.
Forty years ago in 1977 Westfield repeated as the North 2, Group 4 champion, beating Barringer 33-12 in the famous N2, G4 final played before 33,000 people at Giants Stadium.
This time Westfield will seek to 3-peat in North 2, Group 5. The Blue Devils defeated top-seeded Bridgewater-Raritan in the final the past two years at MetLife Stadium – the present version of Giants Stadium.
Westfield’s state championships in the playoff era came in the years 1976, 1977, 2015 and 2016.
The Union County team that came the closest to making the playoffs but didn’t was Brearley in North 2, Group 1. The Bears were edged by Hoboken by four points for the eighth and final slot. Hoboken defeated Brearley in the N2, G1 playoffs the past two seasons.
Union County playoff teams include Roselle Park in North 2, Group 1; Summit, Rahway and Cranford in North 2, Group 3; Linden in North 2, Group 4; Westfield and Elizabeth in North 2, Group 5 and Johnson, Roselle and Hillside in Central Jersey, Group 2.
Since the NJSIAA went to re-classification in 2003, no Union County team has won a state championship in the Central Jersey section.
Here’s a look at all 10 Union County teams in the playoffs and who they are matched up against:
NORTH 2, GROUP 1:
6-Roselle Park (5-3) at 3-Glen Ridge (6-3)
Roselle Park and Glen Ridge used to be part of a quad scrimmage for many years until not facing each other in the pre-season this year.
Unlike last year, both teams know they have a real shot at winning a playoff game in a section dominated by the likes of Weequahic, Hoboken and Shabazz – formerly bigger group-size schools.
NORTH 2, GROUP 3:
7-Cranford (6-3) at 2-Parsippany Hills (8-1)
5-Rahway (5-3) at 4-Summit (6-3)
Cranford and Parsippany Hills previously hooked up in the 2011 and 2014 North 2, Group 3 finals, with Cranford winning at Kean in 2011 and Parsippany Hills at MetLife in 2014.
Cranford has qualified for the playoffs now seven straight seasons after making the grade only four times from 1974-2010.
Summit won at Rahway 34-14 last weekend.
“This section is always tough, but it’s one we’re more familiar with,” Summit head coach Kevin Kostibos said.
Summit captured North 2, Group 3 four times in the playoff era, most recently in 2012 and 2013.
Summit spent the past two seasons in North 2, Group 4, falling in the first round at Colonia two years ago and then at Middletown North last year in the semifinals after beating Colonia at home in the first round.
Rahway, the only team to beat Somerville, is also back in the N2, G3 playoffs after competing in the CJ, G3 playoffs the past two seasons. Rahway won at Somerville 27-6 this year after losing to the Pioneers twice last year.
“We will have to play a clean, efficient game against Summit if we’re to have a chance at beating them,” Rahway head coach Brian Russo said. “That and we’ll have to stop the run.”
“We’re going to have to tackle better and execute our offense more,” Rahway junior running back-linebacker Zion Pendleton said. “We’ll have to learn from our mistakes if we want to finish our season strong.”
NORTH 2, GROUP 4:
5-Linden (5-3) at 4-Irvington (7-2)
Linden is back in the playoffs for the first time since the Tigers captured North 2, Group 5 in 2014. Linden last played in the North 2, Group 4 playoffs in 2012, reaching the semifinals.
Irvington has a painful history of losing at home in the first round, including last year as the No. 2 seed to seventh-seeded Randolph 13-12 in North 1, Group 4 and also way back in 2004 in North 2, Group 4 as the fourth seed to fifth-seeded Linden 14-6 after Irvington defeated Linden that regular season.
NORTH 2, GROUP 5:
8-Ridge (4-5) at 1-Westfield (8-0)
5-Elizabeth (4-5) at 4-East Orange Campus (5-3)
Ridge lost at home to Westfield 23-7 in the second game of the season for both back on Sept. 15.
Westfield has given up only 60 points and only more than one touchdown in one game.
Elizabeth has had an up-and-down season to say the least, including shutout losses in its first game at Hillsborough and this Thursday night’s game at Bridgewater-Raritan.
East Orange Campus started 3-0, lost three straight and has now won two in a row with wins over Morristown and West Orange its last two games.
CENTRAL JERSEY, GROUP 2
6-Holmdel (5-3) at 3-Johnson (7-1)
5-Manasquan (5-3) at 4-Roselle (6-2)
7-Hillside (6-3) at 2-South River (9-0)
Johnson’s only loss is to Somerville (8-1), with the Crusaders producing six double-digit victories and one nine-point triumph.
Roselle lost at home to Manasquan 31-27 in last year’s semifinals, which was Roselle’s only setback in a high-scoring 10-1 campaign.
Manasquan edged Johnson 33-29 at home in last year’s first round before winning at Roselle to get to the final. In the championship game at Kean, Manasquan defeated Bernards 42-6 to capture its 12th state championship in the playoff era.
Hillside is in the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and with Saturday’s 21-15 home win over Brearley the Comets also clinched their first winning season since that same 2008 campaign when they finished 8-3 and reached the North 2, Group 2 semifinals.
Hillside, with six wins for the first time in nine years, is playing in the CJ, G2 playoffs for the first time. The previous eight times Hillside qualified for the playoffs were all in North 2, Group 2.
The top two seeds – No. 1 Point Pleasant Boro and No. 2 South River – are both 9-0. PPB has eight wins by double digits and South River six.
JUNIOR WIDE RECEIVER-LINEBACKER CIEMPOLA IS
SOMERVILLE STANDOUT FROM GAME’S 5TH PLAY TO LAST
Somerville junior wide receiver Joseph Ciempola made impact plays at the beginning and at the very end to help lead the visiting Pioneers to a dramatic, come-from-behind 42-36 single overtime victory at Summit Saturday at Tatlock Field.
Ciempola, on the game’s fifth play, caught a 63-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ryan Kovacs to give the visiting Pioneers their only lead before overtime.
That was one of three touchdown receptions he had on the day.
Then when Summit – trailing now for only the second time at 42-36 – was faced with fourth-and-two from the Somerville 3-yard line in the first overtime session, Ciempola batted down Jackson Tyler’s short pass over the middle to Peter Maldonado for what would have been a game-tying touchdown pass.
It was Ciempola – Somerville’s No. 32 – breaking up the tying TD toss to Summit’s No. 32 – Maldonado – on the game’s final play.
Since this was the ninth game for both Somerville and Summit – which in New Jersey means nothing – there was nothing on the line.
Somerville already knew it was going to be among the top seeds for the Central Jersey, Group 3 playoffs and Summit knew it was going to be the fourth seed in North 2, Group 3.
Still, both teams wanted to win this game. Somerville (8-1) came back from a 36-15 deficit in the fourth quarter to score the game’s final 27 points.
Summit (6-3) lost at Somerville 42-7 on this weekend last year. On Saturday, the Hilltoppers blocked the extra point following Somerville tying the game at 36-36, which eventually resulted in the game going to overtime.
As it turned out, Somerville was edged by Rumson-Fair Haven for the top seed in CJ, G3 by one power point. The Pioneers are the No. 2 seed and will host seventh-seeded Ewing next weekend.
Summit will host fifth-seeded Rahway (5-3) next Saturday. Summit defeated Rahway 34-14 – leading from start to finish – when the teams clashed last weekend at Rahway River Park.
“Our playoff run lies ahead,” Summit head coach Kevin Kostibos told his players after the game.”
While no coach likes to lose any game, next week is the one that has way more importance.
“This was a great football game and it had everything,” Kostibos said. “We never gave up a punt return for a touchdown before. Somerville is a very well-coached team and their players get at it.
“We have a lot to build off from here. We were in a battle and faced adversity. Our kids played well.”
No. 1, Jalahn Dabney – 20 carries for 143 yards and one touchdown.
No. 3, Robert Fiorentino – 18 carries for 97 yards.
No. 24, Jackson Tyler – 16 carries for 154 yards and one touchdown.
No. 7, Max Jackson – 30 carries for 126 yards and one touchdown.
TURNOVERS AND WHAT THEY LED TO:
* Summit’s Stephen Sajer intercepted a pass – making a fine diving catch just above the turf – with the score tied 8-8 early in the second quarter.
* Sajer – later in the second quarter – returned a fumble 60 yards for a touchdown to give the Hilltoppers a 14-8 advantage. Summit’s Jack Kelly, who also had a sack in the second quarter, hit the Somerville ball-carrier, jarring the ball straight up and ultimately into the arms of Sajer, who took it and ran down the sidelines for the go-ahead score.
* After Duke McDuffie lost control of the ball on second-and-two at the Summit 20, Summit’s Tyrone Hines fall on the fumble, giving Summit the ball back with 9:16 remaining in the third quarter.
* Summit, after Somerville pulled to within 36-22 in the fourth quarter, drove from its own 39 to the Somerville 15. On second-and-10, Somerville’s Marcus Burnside picked off a Skyler Schluter pass near the right sideline with 6:41 to go. That pick led to Somerville’s fourth touchdown and second of the fourth quarter.
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-NON-DIVISION
Somerville (8-1) 08 00 07 21 06 – 42
Summit (6-3) 08 07 21 00 00 – 36
Somerville – Joseph Ciempola 63 pass from Ryan Kovacs,
Joseph Ciempola run
5 plays, 79 yards, 1:33 used
Summit – Max Jackson 4 run, Stephen Sajer pass from Andrew Miller
9 plays, 82 yards, 2:22 used
Summit – Stephen Sajer 60 fumble recovery, Will Goldy kick
Summit – Jackson Tyler 74 run, Will Goldy kick
3 plays, 81 yards, 1:01 used
Summit capitalized on a turnover, a fumble recovery by Tyrone Hines.
This was Somerville’s third turnover and first of the second half.
Tyler found a hole at the line, raced through it, and ran untouched into the end zone.
Somerville – Joseph Ciempola 27 pass from Jalahn Dabney,
Bobby Wortman kick
8 plays, 60 yards, 2:22 used
Receiver wide open.
Summit – Stephen Sajer 35 pass from Skyler Schluter, Will Goldy kick
4 plays, 49 yards, 1:32 used
Receiver wide open.
Summit – Skyler Schluter 1 run, Will Goldy kick
6 plays, 55 yards, 1:52 used
Somerville – Joseph Ciempola 20 pass from Jalahn Dabney,
Bobby Wortman kick
11 plays, 71 yards, 1:54 used
An over-the-shoulder catch by Ciempola vs. single coverage.
Somerville – Jalahn Dabney 1 run, Duke McDuffie run
11 plays, 95 yards, 3:03 used
Somerville capitalized on a turnover – an interception by Marcus Burnside.
Dabney scored on fourth-and-goal, jumping high over the goal line and getting the ball past the plane with his right hand.
Somerville – Duke McDuffie 55 punt return, kick blocked
Joe Lusardi did a fine job of blocking the extra point attempt for Summit.
Somerville – Duke McDuffie 14 run, run failed
Summit’s Oleg Yaseyko tackled Somerville’s Robert Fiorentino,
preventing the Pioneers from scoring two more points.