North Jersey, Section 2, Group 2 Final:
When: Friday, 7 pm
Where: Olcott Field, Bernardsville
Matchup: #2 Bernards (11-0) vs. #5 Lakeland (8-3)
Coverage: LISTEN LIVE on Central Jersey Sports Radio (Mike Pavlichko, Dylan Allen)
Weather: 42 degrees, winds WSW 4 mph
Bernards: Jon Simoneau (16th season, 109-55)
Lakeland: Ryan McCarney (1st season, 8-3)
HOW THEY GOT HERE:
First Round: def. #7 Ramsey, 46-13
Semifinals: def. #6 Sussex Tech, 48-0
First Round: def. #4 Pequannock, 14-7
Semifinals: def. #1 Caldwell, 33-28
Who’s next? The winner of this game will play the North 1, Group 2 winner in the Group 5 semifinals. That game is also being played Friday night at 7 in Westwood, Bergen County, where the top-seeded Cardinals (10-0) host second-seed Rutherford (10-0). Since both teams were ranked higher in the North Group 2 supersection that Bernards, the Mountaineers – should they win the title – would be on the road at either Westwood or Rutherford next Friday night.
This will be the first-ever meeting between Bernards and Lakeland.
- Bernards more familiar with its sectional finals opponent than most
- Laverty has given his all his entire career at Bernards; now it’s time to bring home a trophy
- Friday night lights at Bernards hope to be brighter someday, but for now, Mountaineers will live with high-tech on the sidelines
- Lakeland used to being on the road as Lancers head to Bernards for North 2, Group 2 title game
The Mountaineers are having a historic season, undefeated, and with 11 wins, the most in program history. Bernards has been to two finals, and lost both. The most recent came with Simoneau as head coach in 2016, when they lost to Manasquan 42-6 at Kean University in Union. The Big Blue were the 3-seed, Bernards the 5-seed.
In 1996, the Mountaineers were the top-seed, and suffered what may still be the most gut-wrenching loss in school history. As the top-seed, and up 12-6 in the fourth quarter in second-seed Shore at home, coach Rich Tramaglini had his quarterback, Dave Melitski, take a knee with six seconds left. At least, that was his initial plan. He tried to change the call, but Meltiski was too quick to take the knee. Shore got the ball and immediately scored, sending it to overtime tied at 12. Shore scored first and got the PAT, and when Bernards got a touchdown on its possession, they went for two for the win, but a pass to the back of the end zone went incomplete.
Playoff Berths: 16
Playoff Record: 9-15
2016: Central 2 – #3 Manasquan def. #5 Bernards, 42-6
1997: Central 1 – #2 Shore def. #1 Bernards, 19-18 (OT)
The Lancers have been to five finals, the most recent coming in 2017, when they fell in the North 1, Group 2 finals to Newton, 28-14. They’ve won two titles, in 2004 and 2010.
Playoff Berths: 16
Playoff Record: 15-13
Previous Finals Berths: 5
Sectional Titles: 2 (2004, 2010, both N1-G2)
2017: North 1, Group 2 – #4 Newton def. #2 Lakeland, 28-14
2010: North 1, Group 2 – #3 Lakeland def. #4 Ramsey, 20-0
2008: North 1, Group 3 – #1 Wayne Hills def. #3 Lakeland, 35-6
2004: North 1, Group 2 – #1 Lakeland def. #2 Lenape Valley, 17-14
1981: North 1, Group 3 – #4 Lincoln def. #3 Lakeland, 22-14
2023 BERNARDS COVERAGE:
- Bernards crushes Sussex Tech to win 11th straight, reach North 2 Group 2 final, and will host after Caldwell upset
- Bernards, in midst of historic season, faces sectional semi opponent also re-writing its own record books
- Phillipsburg holds at No. 1, Bernards debuts in Week 4 Central Jersey Sports Radio Top Ten
- Bernards football coach Jon Simoneau honored as Coach of the Week by the New York Jets
- Bernards erases first half deficit, pulls away from Hillside for 28-12 road win
NEWS & NOTES:
Long Run, Many Wins…
Bernards head coach Jon Simoneau is the second-most tenured head coach in Somerset County, having taken over the program in 2018. After a 5-5 debut season, and records of 1-9 and 3-7 the next two years, the Mouintaineers went 7-3 in 2011, the first of a run of 12 seasons of out 13 with at least 7 wins, the only outlier being a 3-7 season in 2017 – they played four teams that went to state finals that year – the year after their last finals appearance. Simoneau’s clubs have won seven games three times in his tenure, and at least eight a year in six straight (2019 through 2023, including 8-1 in 2020, the COVID year) and nine overall.
Plenty O’ Points…
The 2023 version of the Mountaineers own the program record for points scored in a single season, racking up 438 through eleven games. Not only is that tops, but Jon Simoneau-coached teams now own seven of the top ten scoring seasons in school history.
This year’s squad also has the largest point differential in any of the coach’s 16 seasons in Bernardsville, operating at a +33.3 margin this season, with – of course – none of those games being losses. Believe it or not, the last time they made a title game, they were only +6.5, but that team also was 8-4 when all was said and done.
Where does it rank in Somerset County? Of the six title winners since the playoffs expanded to eight teams per section in 1998, only one had a higher scoring differential than Bernards does so far. That was the magical 2021 Hillsborough team, which was a +34.7 on the season. If Bernards can win in a blowout (they are +40.5 in their two playoff games so far) they could surpass that.
Not so many points…
The 72 points allowed so far by Bernards are the fewest in the Simoneau era, but hardly the lowest ever in the history of the program. Offenses weren’t always as prolific as they are today.
As Simoneau jokingly explained, “apparently the Spanish flu kept scoring down before the Roaring ’20s.” Indeed, the 1919 team only allowed 27 points all years. The fewest amount of points Bernards allowed was six in the 1935 season, when they went 8-0, with seven shutouts. Madison was the only team to score on them.
In seasons with a minimum seven games, Bernards allowed single digits in two of them (just 7 points in 1917) and fewer than 20 in four more seasons (12 each in 1923 and 1936, 14 each in 1932 and 1950).
Since the playoffs expanded to eight teams per section in 1998, there have been six state sectional title winners from Somerset County. (Middlesex has had 28 in that time period.) Three of them have gone undefeated. That includes Hillsborough in 2021 (13-0), Ridge in 2013 (12-0), and Immaculata in 2006 (12-0). Somerville in 2017 and Ridge in 2003 were both 11-1, while Hillsborough’s 2000 upset win over Sayreville had them finish at 9-2.
The Undefeated, Part 2…
There are ten undefeated teams remaining in New Jersey, including Bernards, which is 11-0. We’re guaranteed at least one team to finish undefeated: Weehawken, which already has, going 8-0 and winning the NJIC’s Union Division playoff. That’s one of the NJSIAA’s three “Ivy” divisions, where struggling teams get a relief schedule, but give up playoff eligibility in exchange. Of the remaining nine, at least one is guaranteed to go down this weekend, when Rutherford and Westwood – who are both 10-0 – face off in the North 1, Group 2 title game. The winner of that one will face the Bernards-Lakeland winner.
Should Bernards bring home the North 2, Group 2 title, they would be the 26th sectional title winner from Somerset County since the advent of the playoff era in 1974. That gets one caveat since Ridge’s 1987 championship was “declared” – no one else qualified in that section. (Teams had to be .500 or better to make the playoffs.) Only six different teams have won championships in that time; Bernards would be the seventh with a win over Lakeland.
- Somerville: 8 titles (2017, 1994, 1986, 1985, 1983, 1979, 1977, 1976)
- Franklin: 5 titles (1996, 1994, 1990, 1987, 1984)
- Immaculata: 4 titles (2006, 1994, 1985, 1984)
- Hillsborough: 3 titles (2021, 2000, 1980)
- Ridge: 3 titles (2013, 2003, 1987)
- Bridgewater East: 2 titles (1990, 1977)