Big Games for the Big Central in 2022: An early look at some of the key matchups this season

Every year, we try and put together a broadcast schedule that’s got some of the best matchups around our coverage area. It might be big schools, it may be small schools, but they all have good storylines.

We’ve told you about our 2022 broadcast slate, but there are plenty of other entertaining games on the docket this season. And there will undoubedly be plenty more than these as the season unfolds, and some teams fade, and others soar. Let’s take a week-by-week look:

Week Zero: More teams in the Big Central are starting in Week Zero than ever before. Only nine teams from the league played in seven Week Zero games last year. This year, nearly half the league – 24 of the 59 teams – are playing “early.” (We really wish the NJSIAA would just make things uniform and call it Week One.) In any event, our opener might not be two of the best teams in the league, but Highland Park at Metuchen is a great rivalry game, and we’re excited to see it. Still, a few other teams will face some big tests. Among them is Edison, the only Big Central team taking part in one of the big two state showcases the first two weekends, as the Eagles play Cedar Creek in the Battle on the Beach on Sunday, the finale of the three-day event at Ocean City High School. There are no Big Central teams involved a week later in the Rumble on the Raritan at Rutgers, after Somerville, Hillside and Bernards (the last two of whom played each other) took part in 2021. Want another test? How about Woodbridge hosting an Irvington team that won its first-ever state sectional title last year, plus the North 5 Regional Championship at Rutgers, to boot?

Week One: We have Hunterdon Central at Piscataway Friday, September 2, a game featuring two programs that weren’t up to snuff in 2021, for varying reasons, but are two great rivals from back in the old Mid-State Conference days. Still, a couple other games raise our eyebrows. Hillside at Bernards is a big out-of-division game for two schools who have high hopes for 2022. But we’ve really got our eyes on Phillipsburg at Sayreville. The last time these two teams met was in the 2018 postseason, where the Bombers’ handled the Stateliners en route to a sectional title (over North Brunswick) and the South Group 5 Bowl Championship. Major top ten ranking, power point and playoff implications for both schools here early in the season, and the opener for both makes it a potential tone-setter for 2022 for each squad.

Week Two: There’s no doubt the Rick Mantz Bowl – our broadcast of Hillsborough at Bridgewater-Raritan will take center stage that weekend. But we like Old Bridge at South Brunswick as another good one. Joe Goerge is back as the Vikings’ skipper, and longtime Knights’s offensive coordinator Matt Donaghue has been promoted to take the reins. Another key early game after South Brunswick opens with rival North Brunswick and Old Bridge plays Somerville in Week One, this will be a critical, early National Gold Division game.

Week Three: We’ll be in Montgomery on Friday, September 16, as the Cougars take on Somerville, with Zoran Milich coaching against his alma mater for the first time since 2018, but how about Cranford at Woodbridge? The Cougars won 28-18 at Priscoe Field last year en route to a North 2, Group 5 championship, but the Barrons won 27-14 the year before in Cranford. This has turned into a knock-down, drag-out battle the last couple of years, their only two meetings since 1947. Cranford leads the all-time series, which dates back to 1916, 4-2.

Week Four: Bernards at Delaware Valley, on Friday, September 23, sets up as a potential game to decide the Patriot Gold Division if things stay on script the first few weeks for these squads, but up in Group 5, check out Union at Somerville in an American Gold Division game. This may be one of the best division games of the year. We’ll see how well Ian Pace’s squad is clicking against a Farmers’ team that always has a ton of speed. It will also be an early test of the Pioneers’ Group 3 depth in their first of five straight games to close the season against Group 5 schools, with Elizabeth, Westfield, Hillsborough and South Brunswick to follow.

Week Five: While we’re at Sayreville-East Brunswick on the final day of September, Union at Hillsborough would have been a great matchup a year ago. Not that it won’t be good this year, but that was the one everyone hoped for with the Raiders and Farmers both favorites to win their sections. Hillsborough finished 13-0, but Union’s season was tragically cut short when the district pulled the team from the playoffs after a COVID outbreak on the team. Let’s hope we’re past that in 2022.

Week Six: We’ll be in Union to watch the Famers hosting Elizabeth, as new Minutemen head coach John Fiore – formerly of of championship caliber in Montclair – looks to make his impact on the Big Central and get the program going again. Another fun one to watch, though, could be Rahway at St. Thomas. For the Trojans, they are stepping up in competition this year. By this time in 2021, they already were 5-0 with a forfeit win and four shutouts. They would reel off three more whitewashes before Del Val scored on them in the regular season finale.

Week Seven: For the first time ever, Central Jersey Sports Radio will open this week up to fan voting. We’ll go where you tell us! There are some good early options: Piscataway at Sayreville is a no-brainer from years past, when they slugged it out in the GMC year-after-year. East Brunswick at North Brunswick is another potentially solid Middlesex County matchup. Bridgewater-Raritan at Elizabeth could be a big one, too, as well as Union at Phillipsburg. And here’s an outside-the-box matchup: Metuchen at JP Stevens as the Hawks move down a few divisions. It’ll be the first-ever meeting between the schools, which are exactly two miles apart by car. And while we don’t have the data to back it up, it’s likely the first-ever meeting for each school with one that much bigger or smaller; Metuchen is a Group 2, Stevens a Group 5.

Week Eight: Cutoff Weekend, and there are some good candidates for our last open date of the regular season as well. Somerville visits South Brunswick in what could be a huge power point game for both schools. Same goes for Sayreville at Woodbridge, and Manville at Bound Brook could be a good one, too. Those are all Friday, while Hillsborough at Westfield is a really good Saturday matchup at Kehler Stadium at 2:00.

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