Are we there yet? Top 5 longest treks for Big Central schools in the opening round of the playoffs

Middlesex might be better off leaving right after lunch Friday if they want to make it on time for their opening round playoff game at Woodstown. (Image: Google Maps)

The way the NJSIAA now seeds the high school football playoffs – choosing the top 16 teams in the North and South halves of the state in each group, then snaking them through eight-team sections with no regard for geography other than that the overall Number One seed gets to be in their “natural” section – can lead to some long bus rides of a Friday night or Saturday morning.

We’ve compiled the five longest road trips for Big Central Conference teams in the opening round.

5. South Hunterdon at Paulsboro (1 hour, 6 minutes – 58 miles): Though both are along the Delaware River, they couldn’t be in more different towns. South Hunterdon Regional High School is in Lambertville, just under four miles from the bridge that takes you to New Hope, PA. Paulsboro High School is practically within walking distance of the Delaware, south of Philadelphia, but with its straight-line view marred by oil tank after oil tank at the Sunoco refinery, and with Philly International across the way. Believe it or not, Google says the fastest way between the schools is to take I-95 in Pennsylvania, then cross back over the Walt Whitman Bridge into Jersey. Taking the Turnpike all the way down from Trenton would add another six minutes to the trip.

4. Montgomery at Northern Highlands (1 hour, 15 minutes – 63 miles): When we trekked up to Northern Highlands to cover Woodbridge’s North 1 Group 4 title game there a couple of years ago, that was a trek coming from New Brunswick. Coming out of Skillman is no fun either. That’s a trip up 287 in the heat of rush-hour. Bring a good movie for the bus, or maybe a game of Risk, and settle in. For fans, there are some good eats in downtown Allendale, a quaint little village. Jerry Seinfeld even taped an episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” there.

3. Old Bridge at Kingsway (1 hour, 19 minutes, 75 miles): In 2019, 6th-seed Kingsway pulled off an upset at Lombardi Field, heading back home for the nearly hour-and-a-half ride with a 34-7 win over third-seed Old Bridge. This time, the Knights are the five-seed on the road, and Kingsway is the four-seed at home. Maybe with the seeds flipped, the Knights can turn the tables on the Dragons.

2. St. Thomas Aquinas at St. Joseph-Hammonton (1 hour, 30 minutes – 78 miles): The parcohial schools, particularly down south, are used to this. With so few of them, and so far in between, trips are never a picnic. That doesn’t make it any easier. And the 7-2 Wildcats are a beast just about every year, so it’ll be a tall order for our Trojans. Then again, everyone said “Wait ’til they play Del Val.” Point taken.

1. Middlesex at Woodstown (1 hour, 42 minutes – 92 miles): This has got to be one of the longest trips for any team in the state in the opening round. It’s 287 to the Turnpike, all the way down to Exit 2, then through farms and fields until you get to the little village that is Woodstown. Ionically, the Wolverines’ baseball team made this same trip back in June for the Group 1 semifinals, which Middlesex won 7-5 in dramatic fashion, on Bobby Ulmer Jr.’s two-out, two-strike, walkoff grand slam in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Blue Jays would go on to win the Group 1 title, defeating New Providence in a 13-inning affair, their third straight in walkoff fashion – fourth if you count a walkoff mercy rule win in the sectional semifinals over Florence.

SHAMELESS PLUG: Click here to listen again – and again – to Bobby Ulmer Jr.’s game-winning grand slam against Woodstown from June 2021.

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