The Big Central’s last remaining team in the NJSIAA high school football playoffs will try to become the first-ever to reach the group finals, in just they second year they’re being played in New Jersey.
We’ve got a full preview of the game, including notes, links to previous coverage, stats and more below!
Group 2 Semifinals (North):
When: Friday, 7 pm
Where: Westwood High School (Bergen County)
Matchup: Bernards (12-0, North 2 Group 2 champion) vs. Westwood (11-0, North 1 Group 3 champion)
Coverage: LISTEN LIVE on Central Jersey Sports Radio (Mike Pavlichko, Justin Sontupe) Pregame begins at 6:25 pm.
Weather: cloudy, 58 degrees, winds S 4 mph
Bernards: Jon Simoneau (16th season, 110-55)
Westwood: Bobby Guy (1st season, 11-0)
HOW THEY GOT HERE:
Bernards – #2 seed in North 2 Group 2:
First Round: def. #7 Ramsey, 46-13
Semifinals: def. #6 Sussex Tech, 48-0
Finals: def. #5 Lakeland 23-17 (OT)
Westwood – #1 seed in North 1 Group 2:
First Round: def. #8 Dumont, 41-12
Semifinals: def. #4 Newton, 42-8
Finals: def. #2 Rutherford, 20-7
Who’s Next? The winner moves on to the Group 2 finals against the winner of the South Group 2 semifinal between Central champion Willingboro and South champion Rumson-Fair Haven. (If you think that’s geographically challenged, you’re right!) The Central champ Chimeras are 10-2 and won the title by knocking off top-seed Point Pleasant Boro on the road last weekend, 26-21. The South champion Bulldogs are 7-4 and were the top-seed in their section, beating 2-seed Haddonfield 14-7 on a late 4th-and-goal stop.
That 7-4 record for Rumson is a bit misleading, too, as they played one of the toughest schedules in the state, with the four losses coming to Toms River North, Red Bank Catholic, Point Boro and Donovan Catholic. RBC and Donovan Catholic are both playing separate non-public title games after Thanksgiving, while TRN won the Central 5 title last weekend and faces Cherokee Friday night in the South Group 5 semis, and Point Boro lost to Willingboro in the CJ2 final.
This will be the first-ever meeting between Bernards and Westwood.
- Bernards looking to keep the ball rolling in North Group 2 semifinal matchup at Westwood
- Westwood – like Bernards – has had fantastic, undefeated season, but only one will move on to state’s Group 2 finals
- Bernards has a familiar recipe for a champion: senior-laden team playing together for years
- Training at Elite QB has been a weekly, year-round ritual for Bernards signal-caller
- Gameday with Marcus Borden: Group Semifinals!
The Mountaineers won their first sectional title in school history Friday, when they beat Lakeland at Olcott Field, 23-17 in overtime, on a seven-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Connor Laverty. Bernards, which trailed most of the game, took its first lead with one minute remaining, on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Laverty to Jake Caldwell, the team’s top receiver, on fourth-and-goal. Lakeland marched down the field and tied with a field goal as time expired. But Lakeland was held to a field goal attempt – which they missed – in overtime, and Laverty won the game when it was Bernards’ turn.
Playoff Berths: 16
Playoff Record: 10-15
Sectional Titles: 1
- 2023: #2 seed, beat #5 Lakeland, 23-17 (OT) (N2-G2)
The Cardinals have won seven state sectional titles overall, including the last two in North 1, Group 2, and both came over Rutherford. This year’s game wasn’t as close as last year’s, and Westwood has been nearly as dominant against its opponents this season as Bernards has.
Playoff Berths: 27
Playoff Record: 32-20
Sectional Titles: 7
- 2023: #1 seed, beat #2 Rutherford 20-7 (N1-G2)
- 2022: #2 seed, beat #1 Rutherford 21-20 (N1-G2)
- 2014: #2 seed, beat #1 Waldwick 21-7 (N1-G2)
- 2013: #1 seed, beat #3 Waldwick 26-7 (N1-G2)
- 2006: #5 seed, beat #3 Pascack Valley 9-8 (N1-G2)
- 2004: #1 seed, beat #3 Butler 22-20 (N1-G1)
- 2000: #2 seed, beat #4 Pompton Lakes 33-7 (N1-G2)
2023 BERNARDS COVERAGE:
- First time, long time! Bernards takes first-ever state title with 23-17 OT win over Lakeland
- “I didn’t want to stop playing football with these guys.” Simoneau says he knew his “calm, cool, collected” Mountaineers would win
- INSTANT REPLAY – North 2, Group 2 Final: (2) Bernards 23, (5) Lakeland 17 (OT)
- 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
Bernards: Connor Laverty, 111 of 160 for 1,541 yds, 17 TD, 1 INT
Westwood: Robbie Carcich, 143 of 179 for 2,048 yds (80% completion rate), 21 TD, 3 INT
Bernards: Jake Caldwell (37-522 yds, 4 TD); Jack Morra (21-379 yds, 6 TD)
Westwood: Joe Klein (53-663 yds, 7 TD); Thomas Bussanich (33-590 yds, 7 TD)
Bernards: Logan Stevens (75-605 yds, 10 TD); Connor Laverty (57-423 yds, 11 TD)
Westwood: Aidan Dugan (90-633 yds, 2 TD; Robbie Carcich (80-646 yds, 11 TD)
Bernards: David Brothers (67 tackles, 14 TFLs, 11 1/2 sacks – a school single-season record); Jake Caldwell (4 INT-161 yds, 1 punt block)
Westwood: Luke Biello (7 1/2 sacks, safety); Dario Mathurin (7 1/2 sacks, safety); Steve Klein (6 INT)
NEWS & NOTES:
Wins Pile Up…
Yes, Bernards continues to win. In addition to a 110-55 overall record in the 16 seasons Jon Simoneau has been head coach, the Mountaineers have been extra good since 2018, with a record of 52-10. Half of those losses have come to Hillside. In that span, only one of the other losses came to a Big Central School, that being Delaware Valley in a 2021 regular season road game. Four came in the postseason, and only three of them happened at home. This year, Bernards rallied to beat Hillside on the road all the way back on September second.
Bernards and Westwood are a bit mirror images of each other. Besides the obvious that both are undefeated (the Mountaineers are 12-0, the Cardinals 11-0), they also have dominated opponents.
Bernards is beating the opposition by an average 31 points per game, Westwood by 29.6. And the Cardinals varsity defense has only allowed two touchdowns all year, according to head coach Bobby Guy.
They also both have quarterbacks who can throw it, and accurately. Connor Laverty has tossed for 1,641 yards and 17 touchdowns with just one interception for the Mountaineers, while Cardinals’ signal caller Robbie Carcich has thrown for 2,048 yards (he runs it less than Laverty) and 21 touchdowns, with just three picks. Both offense will use multiple wide receiver sets, and often feature one runningback.
With the North 2, Group 2 title in hand – its first ever – Bernards has become the seventh Somerset County team to win a sectional title. Somerville (8) has won the most, followed by Franklin (5), Immaculata (4), Ridge (3), Hillsborough (3), and Bridgewater East (2).
Meanwhile, Westwood’s title was its seventh overall, as well as its second straight. And interestingly, their last four titles have been in back-to-back fashion. In addition to winning this year and last season, they also went back to back under Vito Campanile in 2013 and 2014, also beating the same team two years in a row; that time, it was Waldwick.