Kley knows the challenges in front of North Hunterdon in school’s first trip beyond the sectional finals

North Hunterdon head coach Kevin Kley with the North 1, Group 4 championship trophy after beating Randolph 49-35 in the title game on November 12, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavllichko)

This is uncharted territory for North Hunterdon.

In fact, it’s uncharted territory for everyone in high school football in New Jersey.

In 2018, the NJSIAA expanded the playoffs as part of its major overhaul of the postseason, adding an extra round that would pit North 1 against North 2 and South against Central sectional final winners in each group, but go no further. They were called “bowl championships,” and changed the next year to “regional championships.

They were essentially group semifinals, without the finals, and while there were some great games, it was kind of like what they say about ties: it’s like kissing your sister.

This year, however, after a historic vote last December, New Jersey will be playing down to group champions among public schools for the first time ever, so even this is not the last game of the year. There’s one more to play for, one more to get to, one more to win after this weekend.

Be that as it may, that’s not what’s on anyone’s mind in Annandale. They are focused on winning one game, the one against Northern Highlands in the Group 4 semifinals Saturday at 5:30 at Franklin High School in Somerset. The one against a team that has won three straight sectional titles, the last two coming in dramatic fashion over Ramapo.

You can hear Saturday’s game on Central Jersey Sports Radio, with Mike Pavlichko on the call, starting with pregame at 5 pm. Click here to listen.

Head coach Kevin Kley is more worried about how his team will stop North Hunterdon, and put up some points. Never one to tip his hand, those are the vague generalities of what they need to do against the Highlanders Saturday. While both his team and Saturday’s opponent scored a lot of points and gave up a lot of points last weekend, those were somewhat anomalies.

Especially for Northern Highlands. Coming in with an 8-3 mark they had only cracked the 40-point plateau once this season, in a non-competitive 42-6 win over Hackensack back on October 7th. Other than that, their season high output was 29 points heading into the final, which they won 49-42 in overtime.

Coming into the final, Highlands had only been allowing just over 14 points a game, allowing a season high to Old Tappan – this year’s eventual North 1, Group 3 champion – in a shutout loss back on September 9th.

For the Lions, they’ve put up some big numbers this year, and the only other time they allowed more than 24 points in a game was in their lone loss, a 48-21 defeat to Phillipsburg at Maloney Stadium back on September 16th.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk about North Hunterdon and Saturday’s Group 4 semifinals with Lions’ head coach Kevin Kley:

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