Author: Dom Savino

No. 2 Gill St. Bernard’s, No. 3 Franklin prepare for divisional battle of Top Ten girls’ hoops teams

In the decade that Audrey Taylor has led the Franklin girl’s basketball program, the Warriors have faced many of the best teams New Jersey has had to offer. After all, they played in three consecutive New Jersey Tournament of Champions Finals from 2017 to 2019, winning two of them.

But this current stretch of games easily ranks among the most arduous in recent memory.

Tonight, No. 4 Franklin (3-3) will play its third consecutive top-5 team in just a four-day span, with No. 2 Gill St. Bernard’s (6-0) coming to town on High School Basketball powered by Bellamy & Son Paving on Central Jersey Sports Radio. Pre-game is at 5:45 p.m., with game time at 6 p.m. You can listen live to Dom Savino’s play-by-play from Franklin High School by clicking here.

Franklin is coming off a 68-53 loss Monday night to No. 3 St. Thomas Aquinas. On Saturday, the Warriors began their trip through Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Top 10 with a 65-33 loss at No. 1 Rutgers Prep.

They will face the Knights having lost three of their last four games. The last time that happened was the start of the 2017-18 season, with a season-opening loss at Rutgers Prep, a win against Hunterdon Central, a loss at St. John Vianney, and a loss at Rumson-Fair Haven. That was also the last time the Warriors lost three in a row – a fate they will try to avoid tonight – having lost to Vianney, Rumson, and Long Island Lutheran to start the year 1-4.

Of course, that year, they would finish 25-8, win the Somerset County Tournament, win the North 2-Group 4 title, and go all the way to the Tournament of Champions final, losing to Manasquan, a year after beating them in the TOC title game.

Gill St. Bernard’s enters this Skyland Delaware Division matchup as the top team in the division and one of three remaining unbeaten girls’ basketball teams in the Skyland Conference. The Knights are led by a pair of Division 1 commits: center Caileigh Walsh (Northwestern) and guard Ella Fajardo (Fairleigh Dickinson).

Click below to hear Gill St. Bernard’s head coach Mark Gnapp talk about Tuesday night’s Top Ten matchup:

Taveras, Sayreville rallied late to set tone for the future

Ask any high school football coach around the country. Changing to a new offense requires hours of planning and many more hours of practice.

But installing a brand-new offense and defense in the same offseason, all with a once-in-a-century pandemic limiting every interaction?

Woof.

After working out the early-season kinks of a Multiple offense and odd-front defense, Sayreville (4-4) rode a three-game winning streak to a .500 record and a tie for second place in Big Central Division 5B, where the Bombers hope their new formations will lead to another era of success.

Sayreville won just one of its first four games, but close losses to No. 4 North Brunswick and Edison were a sign of wins to come. Surely enough, the Bombers strung together victories over New Brunswick, East Brunswick, and Linden in the second half of the season, and the new-look defense held its opponents to an average of just nine points-per-game over that span.

Sayreville’s transition from a Spread offense to multiple offensive looks, including the Wing-T, better suited the Bombers’ current quarterback situation, according to head coach Chris Beagan. There are dual-threat quarterbacks in the town’s system, and this year’s platoon starters — junior Timmy Mayer and sophomore Michael Colonnello —lacked experience leading the Spread at the varsity level.

The Wing-T also allowed Sayreville to incorporate its long list of skill-position athletes. 14 different players produced offensive yardage. Senior RB Janiel Taveras led the team with 393 total yards. Taveras, senior WR Javiion Simmon, and junior RB Rodney Acquah each recorded three rushing touchdowns.

Taveras and Beagan spoke to Central Jersey Sports Radio about the season. Click below to hear their comments:

Senior RB Janiel Taveras

Head Coach Chris Beagan

Arribas, Bradford guided Rahway to prominence in record-setting season

As the saying goes, “Respect is hard to earn but easy to lose.”

Well, it wasn’t easy, but Rahway earned the Big Central’s respect in 2020.

Despite a midseason shutdown, the eighth-ranked Indians (5-1) compiled one of their best seasons ever, defeating multiple Group 5 teams for the first time in program history and earning a second-place finish in Division 3.

Rahway finished on a blazing four-game winning streak. Consecutive victories over a trio of Group 5s— Plainfield, Sayreville, and top-10 Watchung Hills — lifted the Group 3 school to prominence.

Though the COVID stoppage wiped out the Indians’ final regular-season and first postseason games, the team recovered in time to schedule a Thanksgiving Eve battle against St. Joseph-Metuchen. Rahway rallied late for yet another quality win.

The team’s only loss came to No. 1 Somerville, the conference’s only undefeated team at 7-0 and Central Jersey Sports Radio Team of the Year.

QB Nasir Arribas and RB Rashon Bradford, both seniors, powered an offense that averaged 29 points-per-game. Arribas, who emerged a dual threat, passed for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding 143 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns. Bradford nearly matched his rushing numbers from 2019 and finished with 773 yards and eight touchdowns.

Arribas and Bradford spoke to Central Jersey Sports Radio about the season. Click below to hear their comments:

Nasir Arribas

Rashon Bradford

Levonaitis caps stellar career, leaves Hillsborough in good hands with Amankwaa and Co.

Hillsborough High School’s football team enters every season with the same two goals.

The obvious one, like most teams, is a winning season that ends with a state title.

But equally as important in the football-loving town? Beat Bridgewater.

Though it didn’t get the chance to play for a championship in 2020, Hillsborough (4-4) defeated rival Bridgewater-Raritan during this year’s makeshift postseason, the capstone in a season that has the returning Raiders hungry for improvement.

Hillsborough finished in third place in Big Central Division 4 with a 3-2 league record. All four of its wins came by at least twenty points. Yet, two of its four losses — to Edison and top-10 Watchung Hills — came by a combined four points. The Raiders also dropped games to No. 3 Phillipsburg and No. 6 Ridge by two-touchdown margins.

Those narrow defeats have junior WR/CB Thomas Amankwaa already eager for the start of a new season. The pass-catcher’s close friendship with first-year starting QB Jay Mazuera led to a career year, hauling in a career-high 32 receptions for 637 yards and a career-best nine touchdowns. Mazuera threw for 1265 yards and 16 touchdowns, both among the top 10 in the Big Central.

When the classmates target a state title next year, they will do so without the steady services of RB/LB Sean Levonaitis. Even with the shortened season, the veteran nearly completed a third straight 1,000-yard campaign, rushing for 958 yards and a career-high 13 touchdowns to cap one of the finest careers in the program’s history.

Levonaitis and Amankwaa spoke to Central Jersey Sports Radio about the season. Click below to hear their comments:

Sean Levonaitis

Thomas Amankwaa

Desmond Igbinosun recaps Union season, Rutgers commitment

After a senior-laden team led Union to a 12-win season and the North 2 Group 5 sectional title in 2019, the biggest question facing the Farmers in 2020 was whether they could retain their upper-echelon status in Central Jersey high school football.

Thanks to a nucleus of All-State skill players, the answer was an emphatic yes.

Headlined by Rutgers commit Desmond Igbinosun, Union finished with a 4-3 record, a pair of wins over top-10 teams, and a consistent presence in the Central Jersey Sports Radio Top 10 poll.

After an offseason move to running back, Desmond scored a team-high 10 rushing touchdowns and amassed 454 rushing yards on just 38 carries. Joining Igbinosun in the backfield was senior Diante Wilson, who led the ninth-ranked Farmers with 946 rushing yards and came close to a second consecutive 1,000-yard season despite the shortened schedule.

Igbinosun’s younger brother, junior CB Davison Igbinosun, starred on defense, collecting three interceptions, seven pass breakups, and a blocked kick. According to head coach Lou Grasso Jr., Davison had three passes completed against him all season and did not allow a touchdown.

Union shrugged off a 1-2 start to post a dominant three-game winning streak late in the season. The Farmers outscored their opponents 89-10 with victories over St. Joseph-Metuchen and Watchung Hills, two teams who were also ranked throughout the season.

With graduation on the horizon, Desmond Igbinosun is expected to affirm his verbal commitment to Rutgers this week, sending in his National Letter of Intent during the early signing period that runs Wednesday through Friday this week.

The older Igbinosun and Grasso Jr. spoke to Central Jersey Sports Radio about the season. Click below to hear their comments:

Desmond Igbinosun

Lou Grasso Jr.

Johnson and large ensemble cast carried Cranford to another winning season

Back in the summer, Cranford resumed in-person workouts under the NJSIAA’s strict COVID-19 guidelines. With no more than 10 participants allowed in a group and six feet of space required between all participants, the proceedings looked nothing like a typical football practice.

Every person on the roster — about 75 players in total — had to get involved so that each group could conduct drills or walk through plays properly.

But as the Cougars’ coaching staff soon discovered, the Phase 1 activities were even more insightful than a normal 11-on-11 practice.

An unprecedented level of offensive depth, developed during those socially distanced summer workouts, led Cranford (6-2) to its 11th straight winning season and a second-place finish in Big Central Division 5A.

“Because of [the summer practices], everybody was able to learn plays,” head coach Erik Rosenmeier said. “We took a look at guys slightly differently than we may have if we just were focused on the guys that we had back or we thought were going to be good.”

Cranford featured two starting quarterbacks — senior Dennis DeMarino and junior Shane VanDam — who often alternated drives leading the offense. During the four-game stretch from Week 2 to Week 5, DeMarino and VanDam even alternated 100-yard passing games, with VanDam’s 111-yard performance against Colonia coming the week after DeMarino threw for 111 yards against Woodbridge. They each finished the season with five passing touchdowns and two interceptions.

Surrounding the twin signal-callers was a constantly rotating cast of skill-position players. In the Cougars’ abbreviated eight-game season, nine players recorded at least 100 rushing or receiving yards. Senior RB Marcus Johnson, who helped lead the school’s baseball team to the Last Dance World Series championship last summer, paced the group with 408 rushing yards and six total touchdowns.

“As we got closer to the season, [the coaching staff] said, ‘Hey, these guys can all play. Let’s find a way to get them on the field. Let’s use it to our advantage. Let’s play up tempo, run guys in and out and try to wear other teams out,’” Rosenmeier said. “I think it was a mental edge for us.”

Cranford’s quick-pace offense averaged 30 points-per-game and posted three 40-point performances.

In the Big Central’s first week of postseason play, that depth led the Cougars to their biggest win of the season, a 43-19 victory over previously unbeaten North Brunswick. DeMarino threw for 74 yards and two scores. Of course, two different receivers — Johnson and junior Will Gallagher — caught the touchdown throws. Junior RB Lucca Limeira ran for a game-high 112 yards and two touchdowns. VanDam and Johnson each added a rushing touchdown, too.

The win was the capstone on another winning season at Cranford, a streak that is now the longest active in the Big Central.

“It felt really good coming together as a team because, when everyone gets the ball, [opponents] couldn’t focus on one player,” Johnson said. “Everybody stepped up and did what they had to do this year.”

Johnson and Rosenmeier spoke to Central Jersey Sports Radio about the season. Click below to hear their comments:

RB Marcus Johnson

Head Coach Erik Rosenmeier

Haughney, Lanzafama want to keep Old Bridge’s two-year hot streak going

by Dominick Savino

Despite a new conference and a once-in-a-century pandemic, some things remained the same for Old Bridge in 2020.

For the second straight season, the Knights (5-1) finished with the best record in their league, sweeping Big Central Division 5C with a 4-0 divisional record.

The Big Central is not formally recognizing division championships in 2020 because of the uneven number of games played in the COVID-affected season, but Old Bridge — for all intents and purposes — won its second straight league title for the first time in program history.

Old Bridge, which won the GMC Red Division in 2019 thanks to three league wins decided by a combined nine points, discovered some more late-game magic this year. Junior QB Owen Haughney scored a final-minute rushing touchdown on Opening Day to complete a come-from-behind, 21-14 win over Monroe. And Old Bridge finished its unblemished run through Division 5C with a fourth-quarter rally against South Brunswick, powered by RB Lawrence Hunter’s first career three-touchdown game.

Haughney led the offense in his second season as the dual-threat starter, throwing for 759 yards and eight touchdowns while adding 223 yards and four more touchdowns on the ground. Hunter, a first-year starter, was the team’s breakout star, pacing the Knights with 779 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

Haughney and Hunter are two key members of Old Bridge’s Class of 2022, which also received key contributions from WR/DB Jake McAleavey (426 receiving yards, 3 TD) and OL/DE Luke Maisonet (27 tackles, 8 TFL).

It’s a 25-member junior class that, in addition to a perfect 9-0 division record, has guided Old Bridge to a 15-2 overall record in the last two years. That includes eight wins decided by seven points or less, the latest of which was a 28-27 overtime thriller over Long Branch to end the regular season.

But the returning Knights still believe they have unfinished business.

Old Bridge played in just one playoff game over those two seasons: a 34-7 upset loss to Kingsway in the first round of the 2019 Central Jersey Group 5 sectional tournament. Old Bridge was forced to sit out this year’s makeshift, two-week postseason after Long Branch reported a positive COVID case on its team less than 48 hours after the game.

“Now, we’re just focused on what’s in front of us,” Haughney said. “We want to bring that state title back to Old Bridge for the first time.”

Haughney and head coach Anthony Lanzafama spoke to Central Jersey Sports Radio about the season. Click below to hear their comments:

Owen Haughney

Head Coach Anthony Lanzafama

LaSala prepares No. 1 Woodbridge to defend unbeaten record against St. Joe’s

by Dom Savino

Since the start of the season, No. 1 Woodbridge has stood atop the Central Jersey Sports Radio Top 10, thanks to a massive group of returners from a 2019 squad that reached the North 1, Group 4 sectional final.

Those familiar faces — headlined by seniors like RB/CB Ali Lee Jr., QB Anthony Santino, and WR/S Justin Magera — have guided the Barrons to a 4-0 record, highlighted last week by a 41-0 win at state-ranked Parsippany Hills. Lee Jr., one of New Jersey’s premier running backs, led the way with a career-high 264 rushing yards and four rushing TDs.

Woodbridge will face another road test this Saturday at 1 p.m. as the Barrons battle St. Joseph of Metuchen, which fell out of the Top 10 this week after back-to-back losses to No. 9 Union and No. 5 Ridge. With the Falcons eager to end the skid, it makes for a powerhouse Middlesex County showdown in the Big Central Game of Week powered by Bellamy & Son Paving.

Central Jersey Sports Radio caught up with Woodbridge head coach Joe LaSala to preview Saturday’s meeting with St. Joe’s on the “Big Central Game of the Week powered by Bellamy & Son Paving.” The third-year head coach spoke first about his team’s win over Parsipanny Hills, a game that materialized quickly last week after both teams had opponents drop out due to COVID-19 protocols.

There will be football in NJ this fall, NJSIAA confirms

by Dom Savino

“It’s game on!”

That’s the declaration from the NJSIAA, which confirmed on Thursday that New Jersey high schools will play football this fall.

Football practices will begin across the Garden State on Monday, September 14, and Opening Day is set for Friday, October 2, according to the return-to-sports plan created by the NJSIAA’s Sports Advisory Task Force.

The plan, which establishes restart dates for all fall and winter sports, also provides a contingency plan in the event football cannot be played this fall due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Should that be the case, the season would be postponed to the end of the winter, with practices starting on February 16 and games beginning on March 3.

“Our kids need structured activity, and we believe that education-based high school sports is the best way to provide it,” NJSIAA COO Colleen Maguire said in a statement. “Giving teenagers extra motivation to stay COVID-free promotes healthy outcomes for everyone.”

The plan additionally outlines some details for a potential football postseason, which “will be structured regionally based on counties or based on NJSIAA Sections.”

Any playoff games would be played from November 13 to November 22. A seeding committee–rather than the United Power Rankings–would be used to select playoff teams.

To read the full return-to-sports plan, click here.

The announcement follows comments made by Governor Phil Murphy at his regular COVID-19 press conference on Monday, in which he supported the return of New Jersey high school sports this fall and indicated that all high schools–even those that are using remote learning full-time–can participate in sports.

“Whether that student is seated in a socially-distanced classroom or at their kitchen table does not matter. They are a student of that school and they can play for that school,” Murphy said.

Despite all the details provided in the four-page plan, the NJSIAA adds a disclaimer that has become a common refrain in restart plans across the globe: “This plan is fluid and may be changed at any time based on either guidance from the Department of Health or Governor-mandated changes to the school day.”

Central Jersey Sports Radio will begin its first season of game broadcasts with an Opening Weekend doubleheader. Our tentative matchup for Friday, October 2 is a battle of old Mid-State foes as Westfield visits Union. And on Saturday, October 3, CJSR will broadcast the first game at the new Brenner Family Field as St. Joe’s-Metuchen hosts Elizabeth.

To view our tentative broadcast schedule, click here.