Circle these Dates: Our (new) list of intriguing Big Central matchups in Year One

New Brunswick head coach Nate Harris addresses his team after the Zebras’ 13-7 upset Piscataway at Memorial Stadium in New Brunswick on September 27, 2019. (Photo by Tim Catalfamo)

by Mike Pavlichko

Even with a shortened schedule due to COVID-19, and some of the marquee matchups wiped out, there still are some pretty good matchups on the docket in 2020. Here’s a peek at some of the best matchups each week.

Week One: Westfield at Union
This will be the debut game on Central Jersey Sports Radio, as I call this one with Dom Savino. Westfield won three straight state titles in North Jersey, Section 2, Group 5 – beating Brigdewater-Raritan all three years – without losing a single game in the process from 2015-2017, but after a disappointing, sub-.500 2018, rebounded last year to finish a respectable 7-4. Union, meanwhile, beat Clifton to win the North 2, Group 5 championship last season – its first sectional title in 26 years – before getting shocked by Ridgewood in the North Regional Championship. But the Blue Devils were one of few teams to give the Farmers a run for their money last year. In fact, Union’s 10-7 win over Westfield at Kehler Stadium was their narrowest win all year.

Week Two: St. Joseph of Metuchen at Westfield
The Blue Devils get the season started with a wicker one-two punch, traveling to Union for their opener, then coming back home to face St. Joe’s. The Falcons have another beast of a team in 2020 after losing just one regular season game last year, to eventual sectional finalist Woodbridge in the opener at Brenner Family Field. The game also represents a step up for the Falcons, who in the final year of the GMC played schools from Groups 3, 4 and 5. This year, it’s all 5s for Joe’s, who are in a division with the Blue Devils, Union, Elizabeth, Ridge, and Bridgewater-Raritan.

Week Three: South River at Middlesex
The Rams and Blue Jays are in what’s mostly an old-school GMC Division along with Spotswood, Metuchen and St. Thomas Aquinas, with North Plainfield thrown into the mix. This should be a fun division to watch, and an early key game for both these squads. Middlesex brought an undefeated record into a cutoff weekend crossover game at Bernards last season and suffered an 11-point loss, then bowed out of the playoff in the opening round, 47-7 at Salem. South River finished 6-3 last season, with losses to Hillside – one of the top teams in the state – and in the division to Spotswood and Middlesex. This game comes a week after they host the Chargers – on Central Jersey Sports Radio – so it’s a chance for the Rams to vanquish two of the other top teams in the division in consecutive weeks.

Week Four: Summit at Somerville
The Pioneers have had few blemishes the past four years, even though they’ve only brought home one trophy – in 2017. They’re 42-5 in that span with three finals appearances and a championship. Their lone regular season loss came at the hands of Summit, in a 23-16 road loss. But the Pioneers always seem to come back strong.

In the past four years, Somerville has come back to avenge a loss in their next meeting with a team. After losing to Rumson in the 2016 Central Jersey Group 3 semifinals, they beat Rumson in the finals the following year. In the 2017 regular season, they lost to Rahway, but beat them in 2018. Their only other losses have come to Rumson again (in 2018), and Summit and Woodrow Wilson last year (in the sectional final). Summit is the only team they’re scheduled to face again. So the question is, can they go 3-0 in revenge games in the Vanderbeek/Whitaker era?

Week Five: Sayreville at New Brunswick
I like this game because of what the Zebras should have been last year, though it all fell apart when New Brunswick had to take a number of forfeits for using a player deemed to be ineligible by the NJSIAA. Until the controversy, they were one of the better teams in Central Jersey last year. They even knocked off Piscataway. And Sayreville has been solid since Chris Beagan took over that program, coming back to his alma mater from Monroe. Still, after reeling from four overturned wins becoming losses, New Brunswick gave the Bombers a ride on October 11th of last year – Nate Harris always has his team ready – falling 7-0 at War Memorial Stadium. (Hey, it’s the Battle of Memorial Stadiums!) This year, they play in New Brunswick, and it should be a good one.

Week Six: Hillsborough at Ridge
Forget that the Raiders were 8-3 last year and that Ridge was 8-2, and that these are some of the best teams in Somerset County year-in and year-out. And that makes it a tremendous matchup in “Crossover Week.” I love watching Hillsborough under Kevin Carty. They are such a fun team, and how can the coach’s energy not be infectious. Interviewing him is an exercise in following a moving target with a microphone as he bounces around. (All in good fun, coach!) You never know what you’re going to get from the Raiders, and that’s a good thing. The Red Devils, meanwhile, must deal with the loss of head coach Bill Tracy. (He stepped down at the end of the year, but resurfaced as an assistant at Governor Livingston, where is youngest son will be a junior football player this year.) Defensive coordinator Andy West takes over, so Ridge is keeping it in house.

What games did we miss? Would you have picked something else? Tweet us @cjsportsradio and let us know! We’d love to hear from you. Really!


  1. Union at Bridgewater Week 2 has the potential to be another high scoring affair!! Definitely one to watch

  2. Also, St. Joseph’s beat Westfield two years ago, which was a big upset at the time although the Blue Devils also had a down season.

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