Author: Mike Pavlichko

Analysis: A closer look at the Week 3 UPR released by Gridiron New Jersey

Cutoff Weekend in New Jersey is still six weeks away, but it’s never too early to start looking at the chase for the postseason.

Gridiron New Jersey – the official calculator of all things playoffs – released its Week 3 UPR standings Sunday afternoon, and a quick look finds two Big Central teams – Westfield and Cranford – atop their respective supersections, with a third – Woodbridge – in the top two.

The top two teams in each supersection get a top seed in their section once they’re divided up, and guaranteed home field through the sectional championship game.

Regional Championships then will be played for one more season, until next year, when the NJSIAA will have football play down to overall group champs, a measure the state’s schools overwhelmingly voted in favor of this year.

Here’s a closer look:

Of the 54 Big Central teams that must qualify for the playoffs (the four non-publics in the league all qualify as all non-publics who want in will get in this year) 30 are on the right side of the line, in the top 16 in their supersection.

North Group 5

Westfield leads the pack right now with a 2-0 mark, ahead of Clifton and Passaic Tech. Union is 7th at 2-1, with Phillipsburg 9th, and Bridgewater-Raritan 10th. Elizabeth is 13th.

Winless Watchung Hills, Plainfield, JP Stevens and Piscataway are nowhere near the cutoff. But it’s still early, so a win can give a team a huge boost, especially against better competition.

South Group 5

Hillsborough is the highest Big Central team at No. 5, followed by Old Bridge, North Brunswick and undefeated 3-0 Monroe at seven though nine. East Brunswick at 2-1 is 11th, with New Brunswick at 13, and Edison 14th.

The Raiders play a tough schedule, so I’d anticipate that if they keep winning, they’ll move up and challenge for a top-seed. Thursday’s game at Bridgewater Raritan (CJSR, 7 pm) will be key to that.

North Group 4

Undefeated 4-0 Woodbridge is second in the standings here, right behind 3-0 Northern Highlands. The Barrons had a little to prove after losing Ali Lee, Jr., and Anthony Santino, but they’ve answered the bell so far. The Highlanders, though, have a hefty OSI at 77.69, with Woodbridge at 68.78. With North Hunterdon and Cranford coming up in two of the next three games, those will be critical to keep pace and/or gain ground.

But again, the Barrons at least would have home field through the sectional finals should they finish second in the supersection, so not all is lost.

Ridge’s win over Bridgewater Friday helps put them 5th, followed by Linden at 7, Colonia at 10, Sayreville 13th (thanks to a big win over No. 1 North Brunswick Friday night) and Scotch Plains at 15th. North Hunterdon is knocking on the door in 17th.

North Group 3

Cranford at 2-0 leads the pack here, ahead by just over 5 UPR points of Montville and Nutley, with 2-1 Summit – the team Cranford just beat this weekend – in fourth. A Hilltoppers win, and they might be flip-flopped right now.

Warren Hills checks in 8th, while 1-2 North Plainfield is on the other side of the peephole in 17th.

South Group 3

Somerville always struggles here. Not on the field, or in the playoffs, but to get that top seed. Though they do have one loss (to Northern Highlands, not a bad one) they sit in 5th behind Rumson, Delsea, Cedar Creek (all undefeated) and Woodrow Wilson – which they lost to in the South 3 finals in 2019.

To have a shot at one of the top seeds, the Pioneers likely have to win out, or have the teams above them trip.

South Plainfield checks in at 18.

South Group 2

Raritan, Pt. Pleasant Boro and Camden lead the pack here, with two BCC teams – Delaware Valley and Bernards – in fourth and fifth, respectively.

Hillside checks in 12th, and then two teams who square off Friday night are 14th and 16th: Bound Brook and New Providence. The winner will get a big boost; the loser will have dropped two straight and most likely be on the outside looking in.

South River checks in 18th, and with a week schedule and a 2-1 record, might very well have to win out to qualify.

Remember, undefeated teams qualify no matter what, but the Rams already have a loss. Bottom line: there’s little margin for error with Rich Marchesi’s squad due to their schedule.

North Group 1

Brearley is the only team in the hunt here at 2-0, standing in 10th. Hasbrouck Heights leads the supersection.

South Group 1

Despite a 1-2 record, but thanks to good competition, Middlesex is in 12th in a supersection led by deep south teams like Woodbury, Salem, Audubon, Paulsboro, Gloucester City and Penns Grove.

(Do the Blue Jays really belong in this section?)

You have to go to all the way to No. 7 to get to a remotely “Centrral Jersey” team in Shore Regional from Monmouth County.

Manville checks in at 16, with the Mustangs owners of a 2-0 record.

Non-Publics

This year, the NJSIAA pared the non-public sections down to two: A and B. A has the larger schools, and B has the smaller ones. The local teams are split with Pingry (not in the BCC) and St. Joe’s of Metuchen in A; Immaculata (not in the BCC) and St. Thomas Aquinas are in B.

These sections will be seeded by committee, using the UPR as one of several factors. Due to the human element, we won’t be projecting matchups throughout the year, but as of now, Pingry is 13th out of 16 teams in Non-Public A, while the Falcons are last.

In Non-Public B, Immaculata is 4th our of 16, while St. Thomas Aquinas is right behind in 5th

What does it all mean?

Not a lot yet. The best teams will be near the top, those that likely won’t contend are well out of the mix already, with a few exceptions of teams that could make a dent.

But the bottom line is, it’s so early. For OSI, which is an average, three games doesn’t say a lot. Give it another two weeks before hitting the panic button, or going into cruise control. A lot can happen – and will – between now and Cutoff Weekend.

“Mr. Old Bridge,” Ron Mazzola, does a little bit of everything for Knights, Chargers, GMC

He’s been at it a while, seen a lot, and does a little of everything.

Ron Mazzola is most well-known to the average fan as being the PA voice of Old Bridge football. His first game was by accident, a rescheduled game due to rain that ended up being played at Edison, and the main announcer, Gus Persch, was unavailable.

The Knights beat No. 2 Hillsborough that day 49-0. The rest, as they say, is history.

But even before that, Mazzola was busy behind the scenes, not long after he graduated Madison Central High School in 1978, having played baseball and basketball for coaches Walt Peto and John Somogyi.

He was involved in many youth sports and did PA on frequent Madison and Cedar Ridge night soccer games.

He’s done video for Old Bridge teams, helped run the GMC wrestling tournament and gymnastics championships.

He even helped run the first “unofficial” Big East wrestling tournament in 1996 at the behest of then-Rutgers coach John Sacchi.

In the midst of it all, after having worked at various now-gone sporting goods stores like Herman’s, Gervin’s and Route 18 Sports, he opened his own business – Prestige Imaging – which still thrives to this day, despite a downturn during the pandemic, and provides the Greater Middlesex Conference with all its postseason awards.

They even helped create the new Old Bridge uniforms after the Madison-Cedar Ridge merger. (He’s still got the rejected color combo jerseys -“retro” jersey day, anyone?)

I sat down recently with Ron to talk about his involvement with local sports.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko’s interview with “Mr. Old Bridge,” Ron Mazzola:

Week 3 Friday night hot takes: No. 1 upended, Cougars and Mustangs and more start hot

The big news of the night of course was the No. 1 North Brunswick Raiders, who surely won’t hold that position next week.

That takes nothing away from the Sayreville Bombers, who upended the Raiders 35-22 on their home field Friday night to pick up their first win of the season against two losses, albeit to teams who are both in the top ten in the Big Central Media Poll (and maybe at least one of those teams warrant another look in the CJSR rankings).

But that was the big story line Friday night, along with a host of others.

Sayreville has had a couple of down years since winning the inaugural South 5 “bowl championship” in 2018, beating Williamstown in their very own of the Miracle at the Meadowlands.

But the program has persevered under alum Chris Beagan, now in his seventh season at the helm.

HEAR MORE: Sayreville topples No. 1 Raiders, wins it with defense as much as offense

Consider the fact that the Bombers first four opponents all are or have been in the Top Ten this year, in one or both polls.

Bridgewater-Raritan from Week One is in the Media Poll, Woodbridge is in both and got a first place vote each of the last two weeks in the Media Poll, North Brunswick was Number One the last two weeks in the Central Jersey Sports Radio rankings, and this week as well in the Media Poll, and Edison – next week’s Bombers’ opponent – was in the lower half of the top ten before getting bounced last week after a loss to Colonia.

Sayreville is what they call a tough out. After Edison, the Bombers have St. Joe’s, Pisctaway (both 0-2), and South Brunswick (1-2) before finishing with New Brunswick (2-1) and Old Bridge (2-1).

Time to turn those tough outs into hits.

Manville pouring on the points…

No one wants to hear about any more water in Manville, but the Mustangs are making it rain.

After their season opener was cancelled and declared a “no contest” after Ida’s remnants devastated the majority of the town and drew a visit from President Biden, Manville has gone out and won two straight, by a combined score of 89-6 over Dunellen and Montclair-Kimberley Academy. Shaun Purcell had another great game with a rushing and receiving touchdown, while QB Danny Wildgoose and runningback Brandon Flores also got into the scoring column.

They could be on the opening chapters of writing a great book this season. Manville last made the playoffs in 2017, only their third playoff berth, and has never won a playoff game. That’s a long way away, but maybe they can dream…

Cranford is hot out of the gate, too…

Maybe things would have gone differently in Week Three had the Cougars not come out on the right side of last week’s 33-27 overtime decision at home against North Hunterdon.

Then again, as solid a program as Cranford has built – with a lot of multi-sport athletes who head coach Erik Rosenmeier says are not just allowed to, but encouraged to play other sports – it might not have made a difference.

No matter, the Cougars are off to a 2-0 start, with senior QB Shane VanDam leading an offense that has put up 88 points in two games.

HEAR MORE: Cranford wins a battle of top Union County QBs, Cougars off to 2-0 start

The big difference Friday night was that it was nowhere near as close as the opener; the defense held Summit to just eight measley points.

Things are looking good in the tiny Union County town.

Monroe back down to Earth, but are still hot…

Speaking of teams that have put up a lot of points, Monroe outscored its first two opponents 121-26, but cooled off a bit Friday night when they edged out Hamilton out of the West Jersey Football League 18-13.

Still, the Falcons are off to a 3-0 start, their best record out of the gate since winning five-in-a-row to start 2013 under Chris Beagan. They dropped four of their last five that year to finish 6-4, with the last two losses coming in the regular season finale and the opening round of the playoffs, both to Sayreville.

In their 11-1 state title season, they started 1-1 before winning ten straight to take the Central Jersey Group 3 title over Middletown South 30-10 in the snow at the College of New Jersey.

Sayreville topples No. 1 Raiders, wins it with defense as much as offense

In a game that was tied 8-8 at the half, Sayreville made some halftime adjustments that paid off for a very young team.

The Bombers knocked off Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Number One team the last two weeks, beating North Brunswick 35-22 on the road, to pick up their first victory of the year.

Sayreville (1-2) was tied 8-8 with the Raiders (2-1) at the half, and led 13-8 in the third quarter, but pulled away to win by 13.

Click below to hear Sayreville head coach Chris Beagan talk with Mike Pavlichko about the victory:

Cranford wins a battle of top Union County QBs, Cougars off to 2-0 start

Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier believes football is a fall sport. He believes summer is for vacation, and that’s why his team didn’t play in Week One.

It had nothing to do with the remnants of Ida that caused major damage in some parts of town along the Rahway River.

Either way, his team is off to a 2-0 start, following up on a 43-37 OT win over North Hunterdon in the opener with a 45-8 home win at Memorial Field over Summit.

Senior Shane Van Dam and the Cranford offense got the better of Summit and QB Charlie Schaffer, whose attack managed just a single touchdown on the road against the Cougars.

Van Dam threw three touchdown passes to three different receivers, and ran for another.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk about the win – and expectations for the season – with Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier:

No. 5 Old Bridge routs South Brunswick as Hunter, Haughney star

Lawrence Hunter III was poised to have a big season for the Old Bridge Knights.

And he came through Friday night in a big way.

Hunter scored three touchdowns at Mike Elko Field in a 40-11 blowout of South Brunswick in the Big Central Game of the Week, driven by Mark Montenero and his team at the world-famous Autoland.

The three scores give Hunter five rushing touchdowns on the season, all coming in the last two games, and for tonight, earned him Big Central Player of the Game honors; Hunter – who rushed two dozen times for 231 yards, unofficially, will receive a custom game ball at the end of the season, courtesy of Autoland.

Fellow senior, quarterback Owen Haughney, also rushed for two touchdowns, while throwing for a 63-yard score.

The win puts Old Bridge at 2-1 on the season, and they Knights are in first place in Division 5C with a 2-0 mark. Monroe is the only other division team without a loss; they beat Hamilton Friday night 18-13, but play the next four on the road, the first of which comes against Old Bridge next week at Vince Lombardi Field at Bob DeMarco Stadium.

Click below for postgame reaction from No. 5 Old Bridge’s 40-11 win at South Brunswick:

Old Bridge senior RB Lawrence Hunter III

Old Bridge head coach Anthony Lanzafama

Vikings will need to use all “options” when defending No. 5 Old Bridge offensive attack

South Brunswick head coach John Viotto was impressed with his team’s Week Two defense.

In a 27-0 shutout of Piscataway, the Vikings (1-1) limited the Chiefs – in their first game played in two years – to under 200 yards, and had four takeaways.

It was a turnaround from Week One, when they allowed 56 points to now-No. 1 North Brunswick. Of course, Old Bridge (1-1) – the Vikes’ opponent tonight in the Big Central Game of the Week driven by Mark Montenero and his team at the world-famous Autoland – also had their problem with the Raiders, so maybe all things are equal for this game?

Then again, they will face a well-oiled machine in No. 5 Old Bridge’s vaunted triple-option.

Tonight’s game is an early kickoff at 6 pm, with pregame starting at 5:45. Click here to listen to Justin Sontupe and Tim Catalafamo call all the live play-by-play on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

For South Brunswick, it’s their home opener, which also means its the first time fans – besides parents and family – have been able to see their team on their home field.

And that can only be a good thing for the Vikings, who have lost two straight in the series, both at Old Bridge, making this the first home game in the set for third-year head coach John Viotto. Both have been nailbiters: 22-18 last year at Old Bridge, and 36-22 in 2019 at Lombardi Field, the final year of GMC play.

Click below to listen to Justin Sontupe talk to South Brunswick head coach John Viotto:

No. 5 Old Bridge looks to rebound at South Brunswick

The Old Bridge offense played well, according to head coach Anthony Lanzamafa, but the Knights need to limit the big play.

That might have been easier said than done last week when the Knights lost 34-27 to No. 1 North Brunswick, but Old Bridge (1-1) hopes to right the ship tonight when they visit South Brunswick (1-1) in the Big Central Game of the Week driven by Mark Montenero and his team at the world-famous Autoland.

Kickoff time is at 6 pm at Mike Elko Field in Monmouth Junction, with pregame set for 5:45; Justin Sontupe and Tim Catalfamo will have the call. Click here to listen live.

Old Bridge continues to run the triple-option under Lanzafama, and the big stars this year – as they were last year – are Owen Haughney and Lawrence Hunter, both seniors.

Hunter – a runningback – paces the Knights with 378 yards on 59 carries, for an average of 6.5 yards per touch, while scoring two touchdowns.

Haughney is the quarterback who owns a better than 64-percent completion rate, on 25-of-39 passing for 254 yards and three touchdowns, but he’ll want to cut down on the interceptions, after throwing two last week against the Raiders.

Haughney enters the game 36 yards shy of the 2,000 mark for his career, a solid number for a three-year starter running the option.

Click below to hear Tim Catalfamo talk with Old Bridge head coach Anthony Lanzafama:

This Week in the Big Central – Episode 4: The Mr. Old Bridge

A pair of big wins for a pair of Raiders, and the Big Man in Old Bridge.

Those are some of the highlights of Episode 4 of “This Week in the Big Central,” driven by Mark Montenero and his team at the world-famous Autoland.

We take a closer look at the top-ranked North Brunswick’s big win at Old Bridge, thanks to a big night from Marqis Perry. Then Hillsborough came up with a statement win over Phillipsburg in overtime.

Later, host Mike Pavlichko talks with Bellamy & Son Paving Big Central Player of the Week Tommy Amankwaa, and sits down with Mr. Old Bridge, Ron Mazzola, to talk about his PA work for Old Bridge and Spotswood, work with GMC wrestling and gymnastics, and great moments in Knights’ football.

Then, Dom Savino slides into the chair across from Mike to preview Week Three action in the Big Central.

Brearley off to hot 2-0 start, looks to keep it going against rival Roselle Park in Week 3

Brearley head coach Scott Miller had been saying all summer his team’s success in 2021 would be a direct result of its offensive line, whether they could jell, and how far they could progress.

Through two games, the results are better than he could have imagined.

And that’s a big reason why the Bears are off to a 2-0 start.

Of course, the skill positions need to come through, and that’s where the numbers have been.

Brearley won its opener against Johnson two weeks ago 36-0, then went to Charger Stadium and beat Spotswood Saturday afternoon 32-0.

Offensively, quarterback Matt Sims ran for 175 yards on 24 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns, then threw for another 49 yards and scored twice more. Runningback Quinn Lonergan added a touchdown and rushed for 137 yards in the victory.

And the defense? What else can you say other than they’ve pitched two shutouts.

Miller knows Roselle Park – a big rival just a short, two-mile drive away – will be a big challenge this Friday night, so he’s not having his team take their collective feet off the gas pedal anytime soon. And wins will be crucial with a late-season stretch of Bernards, New Providence and Bound Brook on the schedule.

Click below to hear Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko talk with Brearley head coach Scott Miller about his team’s 2-0 start to the season: