The first playoffs in high school football in two years were a welcome event all across New Jersey, another sign of recovery from the onslaught of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
The opening round was everything it always is, a mix of blowouts, upsets and great story lines.
No surprise here…
As expected, the top-seeded Big Central teams cruised to victory. There weren’t even any close calls among the three No. 1 seeds: Hillsborough trounced New Brunswick 49-6, Union cruised past Livingston 41-3, and Cranford nearly dropped 60 on Demarest in a 56-26 win.
By the numbers…
On the opening weekend, 31 of the 32 Big Central playoff teams were in action. Of those 31, there were 13 that advanced, leaving 14 to play this week. (St. Thomas Aquinas, in an 8-team Non-Public B field, opens this week.)
There were eight higher seeds that won, and only three higher seeds lost. Two of those would be minor upsets in 5-4 games: Bridgewater-Raritan losing to Eastside Paterson, and Delaware Valley falling to New Providence.
Of the Big Central teams that were lower seeds in their matchups, 15 lost. Four of them won, including New Providence (mentioned above, over Del Val) and Colonia – both fifth seeds, Ridge – a 6th seed, beating third seed Woodbridge – and Edison. The Eagles were the lowest seeded Big Central team to win in the opening round, a seventh seed, beating Number-2 seed Manalapan in a wild finish on a Selbin Sabio field goal.
Could Colonia be something special this year? Their upset win over Randolph Friday night – albeit just in a 5-4 game – might have stirred memories of the Patriots’ 2014 playoff run.
Granted, Colonia was the top-seed that year, and it was less about their run than the final game. They dispatched of Scotch Plains-Fanwood 48-13 in the opening round, while their fellow township high schools – Woodbridge and JFK – also made the semifinals. Colonia beat Kennedy 28-18 while the Barrons lost to Phillipsburg – the 2-seed, 34-13. And few gave the Patriots – led by quarterback Tenni Adewusi, runningback Sam Pero, and linebacker Solomon Manning – gave them a chance against the Stateliners.
Colonia trailed by 16 points, but took P’burg to overtime, and on the last play on their last possession, completed a pass but fell just short of the goal line. It was a helluva run.
This year’s teams has stars like Jaeden Jones and dual-threat quarterback Josh Oluremi. Incidentally, Oluremi and Adewusi are cousins.
Next up for the Patriots are top-seed Irvington, which had a head-scratching 11-6 win over No. 8-seed Linden. Not to take anything away from the Tigers, but Colonia beat Linden earlier in the year by nine.
And should they get past the Blue Knights. they would face either third-seed Sayreville or second-seed Middletown South. The Bombers last played Middletown South in their 2016 state championship year in the North 2, Group 4 semifinals, before beating Middletown North – last week’s first-round opponent – in the sectional title game.
The Charlie Barth train just continues rolling along. The kid keeps getting stronger and stronger as a game goes on, and he’s gotten stronger and stronger as the season has gone on. Over 40 carries, 326 yards – a career high – and the 69th, 70th and 71st touchdowns of his brilliant high school career. That’s all he did Friday night against Del Val in their opening round playoff game.
If he continues to have nights like that for the next few weeks, the Pioneers could find themselves with their seventh state title in the playoff era.
The week of the Delaware Valley game – one of their two losses this season – Bernards lost two of its former students, who passed away from different causes. Head coach Jon Simoneau had to guide his team through the loss of another former Mountaineer this past week, and after the game he noted it showed in a hard-fought win over Bound Brook.
Our condolences, and for everyone’s sake, we hope they catch a break, and it’s clear sailing for a while in Basking Ridge.
Central Jersey Sports Radio will be there Friday night, as 2nd-seed Bernards takes on 3rd-seed Haddonfield in the Central Jersey group 2 semis. Kickoff is at 7, coverage at 6:45 on cjsportsradio.com.