No league goes perfect on Championship Weekend. Some are heavy underdogs, some will pull off upsets. Some will be upset, and others will win like they’re supposed to.
The Big Central had most of that in its second playoff season of existence, with five teams vying for titles this past weekend, a league best after three played for titles last year – with one featuring an all-BCC matchup).
And there’s still another Championship Weekend to go.
But first, we start with the winners: Edison and North Hunterdon. But to look at Edison, we also need to look at what happened to Phillipsburg.
Edison and West Orange – P’burg’s opponent – were both 6th-seeds, and the lowest seeds to reach the sectional finals this year. And the similarities don’t end there.
Both missed starting quarterbacks for a good chunk of time. Though West Orange was 3-1 without Amir Stewart in the first four weeks of the season, Edison was 0-2 without fourth-year starter Matt Yascko. That certainly made a difference having both play in their respective three-game championship runs.
The Eagles, however, had still more at play in winning the Central Jersey Group 5 title, with a 28-14 victory at top-seed Lenape Friday night, as heard live on Central Jersey Sports Radio.
To begin with, they remember coming down here in 2019 – when Yascko was a freshman starter – and getting blown out of the water by the Indians. Yascko, Adekunle Shittu, Malcolm Stansbury and Israel Rodriguez are all key starters who played varsity as freshmen. And that loss was still fresh in their minds on the bus ride down to Medford.
Not only was a title won Friday, but demons were vanquished.
Toms River North is a different kind of beast than Lenape, 12-0 and with a major D1 recruit who’s a junior playing quarterback, but that analysis is for another time. Suffice it to say, you’d be a fool to count out Edison just based on their toughness, and we’ll leave it right there for now.
North Hunterdon – which won the North 2, Group 4 title Saturday, also in a game heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio – is somewhat of a similar situation to Edison: guys who have played together all their lives. And they have a lot of weapons, not just Kente Edwards and Alex Uryniak on the ground. I was asked by someone, “Who knew Martini had that kind of arm?”
Well, Randolph does now, and so does the entire state, as Martini threw TD passes for the Lions’ first five scores of the game. Bombs, too. Not to mention two more bombs on the same possession that got called back for holding and an ineligible man downfield.
Northern Highlands is up next, Saturday in Franklin, and surely presents a challenge. Whether they’re the dominating team that beat Woodbridge in 2019 for their first of three straight sectional titles remains to be seen.
Now to those who lost.
Sure, Phillipsburg was the No. 1 seed in North 2, Group 5, and maybe you could or couldn’t see it coming, but West Orange played with a purpose, and the Stateliners just didn’t play their best game on the biggest stage.
Or was it? No doubt, a state title is nice, but there’s a reason they say stamp #BeatEaston on everything around there. They still have that game in two weeks, and should they win it, anyone on this side of the Delaware within miles of Maloney Stadium will say, “What West Orange game? What?!”
What may hurt so much for Phillipsburg is the high expectations, and maybe the strain of that didn’t help either. The same could be said for Hillside, which maybe didn’t get the statewide recognition, despite having two D1-bound runningbacks in 2022, thousand-yard rushers in 2021 who returned for this season: Mu Parkman – who’s going to Syracuse – and Kyon Simonson, who’s headed to West Point. They were solid this year, their lone loss to St. Thomas Aquinas.
Bottom line? Both teams expected to win that game Saturday: Hillside and Old Tappan. Only one could. And Old Tappan did.
And Brearley: In the North 1, Group 1 final against Mountain Lakes Saturday, it was close, but the Herd play good defense, and came out with a 16-6 win. But what else can you say about Matt Sims?
An all-world dual-threat QB like that doesn’t come around every day in a district like Kenilworth, and he took them on a spectacular ride: the Bears were 25-6 in his last three years as the full-time starting quarterback. And they swept the regular season, winning the Freedom Gold Division, their first division title since winning the Mid-State 38’s Union Division in 2019.
Those are the things you remember.
But now it’s on to the Group Semifinals for the Eagles and Lions (oh my!) for the first time ever, and a trip to the inaugural Group Championships – state championships, really – at Rutgers the first week of December.
I’m not sure it’s really sunk in what’s up for grabs there yet. This was still Championship Weekend for everyone that hoisted a trophy. And it may take a couple of years for that to become the event that it is in other sports. Or it might not. We’ll find out in a few weeks.
- Eagles didn’t forget last trip to Lenape, and made this one count
- INSTANT REPLAY: Central Jersey Group 5 Final: (6) Edison 28, (1) Lenape 14
- Highlight Reel! Listen back to all the highlights of North Hunterdon’s 49-35 win over Randolph for the North 2, Group 4 title
- Kley impressed with North Hunterdon’s resiliency, senior leadership in sectional title win
- INSTANT REPLAY: North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 Final: (1) North Hunterdon 49, (2) Randolph 35
- Game times announced for Edison, North Hunterdon public group semifinal games