Author: Mike Pavlichko

Group 5 playoff analysis: Phillipsburg and North Brunswick hold top spots overall in North and South, but will it hold?

With the second half of the high school football season officially kicking off this weekend, it’s time to examine the playoff races with a closer eye. Here’s a look at where the Big Central teams in Group 5 North and South stand, using official standings calculated by Gridiron New Jersey.

NORTH 5 (Click here for official standings)

There’s little surprise here that Phillipsburg, which has established itself as one of the top teams in the state this year, is leading the pack in the supersection. In fact, they have the top OSI in all of Group 5. Only Cherokee has a better power point average, but that’s because they have played two multipliers already, Holy Spirit and St. Augustine. (More on that when we get to South 5).

The Stateliners are 4-0 with a UPR of 1, OSI 74.01 and an 18.5 power point average. Right behind them is Ridgewood, also 4-0, UPR 2, OSI 70.13 and an 18.25 power point average. Should they keep winning, P’burg should be able to hold on to at least one of the top two spots. The ‘Liners and Maroons are the only undefeated teams in the section. The schedule is favorable, having played their first four games all against ranked teams (Sayreville is 8th, Ridge has been previously ranked, North Hunterdon is 10th and Hillsborough is 5th). The last four are at Hunterdon Central, home to Bridgewater-Raritan and Union, before closing at East Brunswick on the Friday of Cutoff Weekend.

That’s could be a good news/bad news scenario for the Stateliners – or maybe not – when it comes to the overall No. 1 seed. Ridgewood’s first four games were weaker than P’burg’s. Their next three opponents (Eastside Paterson, Wayne Hills and Montclair) are all 2-2, while Ramapo is 4-0. If both teams win out, it’ll come down to who has the stronger schedule the rest of the way.

The next Big Central teams down the list, after Passaic Tech third and Clifton fourth are Westfield in fifth (3-2, 5.8 UPR) and Watchung Hills (3-2, 6.6 UPR) in sixth. With a decent gap between them and the number nine teams Morristown and Bridgewater-Raritan, with 10.6 UPRs – following Union City and West Orange – if the Blue Devils and Warriors keep winning, they will likely finish in the top eight, which would guarantee at least a first-round home game. A top-four seed could be in play as well, depending on how well they do down the stretch, and if any of the teams above them slip.

Bridgewater-Raritan is having the epitome of an up and down season; at 2-3 they’ve yet to win back-to-back games. To get to a first-round home game, they’d have to string a couple of wins together. They have Ridge, then visit Phillipsburg and Elizabeth, before a Cutoff Weekend home matchup with Old Bridge.

Speaking of which, Elizabeth – on the strength of Saturday’s massive win over St. Joseph-Metuchen – jumped from 16th to 11th in the standings, now with a UPR of 10.8. At 1-3, a few wins in a row would boost them even further. The Minutemen have a shot, with Somerville this weekend, then at Union, Bridgewater-Raritan home, then a Cutoff Weekend Friday night visit to Watchung Hills. All of those teams have Strength Index values well above their current OSI, so anything would be a big boost.

Union and Piscataway are in the last two playoff spots at the moment.

The Farmers are 15th at 1-3 with a 15.4 UPR. But, remember: a minimum two wins are needed to make the playoffs, so even if they finished there, they would still need to win one more game to even be eligible. Union has games at Hillsborough, home to Elizabeth, at Phillipsburg and home to Ridge – a tough slate.

The Chiefs are 2-2 and in 16th place. They have a decent schedule upcoming: Old Bridge this Friday, followed by road games at East Brunswick and Sayreville, then home to New Brunswick in a game originally scheduled for Friday night of cutoff weekend, but which has been moved to Saturday afternoon.

Both teams will have to win a few, and try to hold off the teams behind them.

SOUTH 5 (Click here for officials standings)

North Brunswick is now at the top of the pile in the supersection, breaking a previous tie with Toms River North, which – of all things – had at least something to do with Cherokee leading – by a wide margin – the power point rankings, due to the new double-multiplier rule this year; two are allowed by the NJSIAA, and the Chiefs took full advantage with Holy Spirit and St. Augustine on the schedule.

The Raiders are 4-0, with a 1.4 UPR, a full point ahead of Toms River North (5-0). But whether their strength of schedule is good enough the rest of the way to hold onto that spot is another story. Their next three opponents – Franklin, New Brunswick and East Brunswick, are a combined 1-12, which does no favors for their power point average. It’s an 18.25, but right now, Franklin and East Brunswick are only worth 11; New Brunswick is worth 14.

Cherokee – at just 2-2 – is in third (UPR 2.8) – with Hillsborough alone in fourth, despite a loss to Phillipsburg last Friday night. Those Raiders are still a pretty good bet for a top-four seed, which would guarantee home field through at least the sectional semifinals, as long as they get back to their winning ways. Their schedule is strong enough, at least from a Strength Index perspective, that they could make a push forward, with Union, Hunterdon Central, Somerville and Westfield ahead.

It’s a long trip down to the next Big Central team, with Washington Township in fifth, followed by Rancocas Valley, Kingsway, Atlantic City, Marlboro, Southern and Lenape. Then, three BCC teams: Edison 12th (3-2, UPR 13), South Brunswick 13th (2-2, UPR 13.6) and Old Bridge 14th (3-2, UPR 13.8). Those teams all could go truly any which way. A top-eight seed and a first-round playoff game would be a challenge; it’s highly unlikely all three could end up there, anyway. They could get close, but any of them could also miss the playoffs if they don’t win some games down the stretch.

And then there’s Hunterdon Central. The Red Devils are seeking their first playoff berth since 2018, when they bowed out in the opening round to 5th-seed Manalapan. At 2-3, they have a 16.4 UPR, one point behind the two teams tied for 15th – Cherry Hill East and Howell – with 15.4 UPRs each. Central is a bubble team right now, just on the outside looking in. If they could pick up a win the next two weeks – either this Friday night at Stewart Field against top-ranked Phillipsburg, or next Friday night at Hillsborough – then take care of business the last two weeks with wins at home against Franklin and at Perth Amboy, the Red Devils should be in. Going 2-2 with wins in those last two games may not be enough.

East Brunswick seeks first win when Sayreville visits Friday night

The long series between the teams hasn’t always been kind to East Brunswick.

The Bears have had their moments against Sayreville, like a great revenge win in 2019, avenging a regular season loss with an upset of the top-ranked Bombers in the semifinals of the Central Jersey Group 4 playoffs en route to East Brunswick’s second state title under longtime head coach Marcus Borden.

Now, one of his many proteges will try to get his team’s first win of the season against a Sayreville team jockeying for position in the middle of the North 4 playoff race.

The Bears (0-4) and 8th-ranked Bombers (2-2) will square off in East Brunswick Friday night in the Big Central Game of the Week on Central Jersey Sports Radio, with kickoff from Jay Doyle Field scheduled for 7:00, and pregame at 6:45 pm.

Mike Pavlichko and Dom Savino will call all the action; click here to listen.

East Brunswick has struggled to put points on the board this season, but has been in all but one of its four games. After dropping their opener on a Thursday night in Hillsborough, 42-6, they were within ten points in a loss at Monroe, 15 in a home loss to South Brunswick, and lost 17-7 last week at Old Bridge in the Battle of Route 18.

While last year’s group was a senior squad with experience (read: many two- and three-year starters), this year’s senior-laden group has less time under their belt, and that’s shown. Fourth-year head coach Andy Steinfeld is just focused on them getting better, and avoiding costly and untimely mistakes.

Running an option with some spread, the BEars are easily led offensively by Ben Solimini, a senior quarterback who’s more of a threat to run than pass. He’s the team’s leading rusher with 506 yards in four games – three over 100 – and has scored five touchdowns, the only rushing touchdowns the team has.

He’s only thrown for 123 yards and one touchdown this season, and his longest connection went for 17 yards.

Click below to listen to Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko talk with East Brunswick head coach Andy Steinfeld about the 2022 Bears:

Group 4 playoff analysis: North Hunterdon leads BCC teams packed tightly behind them

As we head into the final four weeks of the regular season before Cutoff Weekend in high school football, it’s time to start taking a closer look at the race for the playoffs. Here’s a look at Group 4; note that we only give a detailed breakdown of the North section since South 4 doesn’t include any teams from the Big Central Conference, the only such supersection in the state.

NORTH 4 (Click here for official standings)

Ramapo is the leader in this section, with Randolph right behind, but both UPRs are in the twos (2.2 for Ramapo, 2.4 for Randolph). That oddity is because while they are 1-and-2 in OSI, Ramapo is fourth in power points, while Randolph is third. (OSI weighs 60%, power points 40% in the state UPR formula).

The highest Big Central team is North Hunterdon in fifth, and there are a bunch of league teams sort of right behind them, and they play two of the three in the next couple of weeks. The Lions have a 5.6 UPR, followed by Wayne Valley (5.8) and Colonia (6.6). Rahway is eighth with a 9 UPR, and Montgomery – with a 10 UPR – is in tenth, followed by Sayreville (10.4 UPR).

That’s a fairly good-sized gap in the middle of the pack. It essentially means that the top seven teams are all tightly packed in the top of the power point and OSI standings; i.e. there’s no team in the top seven that’s very high (say, fourth) in one and very low (say, 12th) in the other.

North Hunterdon can really solidify things and maybe make a run at a top-four seed (and home field through the sectional semifinals) with wins the next two weeks. They host Colonia Friday night – where Central Jersey Sports Radio will have live updates during the Sayreville at East Brunswick game, which kicks off at 7:00 – and next week, North Hunterdon travels to Montgomery.

Now back to that gap: it’s a lot to make up, and if nobody can do it, we’ll have Rahway, Monty, Sayreville, Chatham and maybe more battling it out for that eighth spot, which means a first-round home playoff game.

Ridge in 14th is a good bet to make the playoffs, but Linden in 15th is a little more on the bubble, but at least on the good side.

Woodbridge, however, at 1-4, is in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 2018. They are in 18th, with a 17.4 UPR. They may need to run the table, which would include not only winning at Perth Amboy this weekend and beating in-town rival JFK at home next week, but then winning out in Clinton over North Hunterdon on October 14th, and beating Sayreville at home on the Friday night of Cutoff Weekend.

Put it this way: for the Barrons, the playoffs start now.

SOUTH 4 (Click here for official standings)

Again, there are no Big Central teams here, but with the NJSIAA going to group finals for the first-time ever this year, it warrants a brief look.

The top two teams here are Middletown South (3-1) and Millville (2-1). They might not be were it not for the multiplier effect, as Middletown South lost to Red Bank Catholic – and still has Donovan Catholic later on. Millville beat St. Augustine two weeks ago.

There’s only one undefeated team in this section: 4-0 Pennsauken, in 6th place right now, with a 7.2 UPR. Their power point total is what hurts them

Group 3 playoff analysis: Somerville needs some wins, and badly, while Cranford battles for a home game

With the midway point of the high school football season upon us, we start to take a closer look at playoff standing and the chase for the postseason, with Cutoff Weekend just four weeks away. Below is a look at Group 3:

NORTH (Click here for official standings)

Defending North 3 Regional Champion West Morris remains the class of the section this year, as the Wolfpack sit 5-0, with a UPR of 1.0, and Old Tappan behind them with a 2.4 UPR. Two undefeated teams lie ahead, both 4-0 at the moment: Morris Knolls this Friday night, and Randolph on the road two weeks later.

Cranford – which won the North 2, Group 3 section last year, but lost to West Morris in the regional final at Met Life Stadium – is the highest-ranked Big Central team here, at 2-2. They have wins over Summit and Woodbridge, with losses to North Hunterdon and St. Thomas Aquinas. If those schools continue to have good years, it will bode well for Cranford, with the goal here to earn at least a first-round playoff game, which necessitates a top eight finish.

They visit Rahway this Friday, which just took its first loss of the season Saturday on Central Jersey Sports Radio, 20-0 to winless Summit. That’s a big game, and then there’s a huge one cutoff weekend at home against North Brunswick. Should they beat the Raiders, that could seal the deal.

To find the next team in the section, you need to go all the way down to No. 17 to find Summit, a full UPR point behind Wayne Hills, with a 15.6 UPR. The Hilltoppers’ win over Rahway could be a turning point for the season, with winnable games against Scotch Plains-Fanwood (2-2) and Linden (1-3) the next two weeks before facing some of the big boys – Colonia (5-0) and St. Joseph-Metuchen (3-1) – the last two weeks.

After an 0-2 start, which has hurt them, Governor Livingston has all of a sudden won three straight. But they’re in 21st place, and the Highlanders have a tough schedule the rest of the way, though. South Plainfield, Carteret, South River and Bernards are a combined 14-4. The good news is this: beating those good teams will boost their chances a lot.

SOUTH (Click here for official standings)

This is a playoff section where – for the last several years, it’s been Somerville mostly trying to get over the hump to earn a top-seed despite their weak schedule. And more often than not, there was nothing they could do about except win and hope for the best.

That will be the thinking again this year, but that’s just to make the playoffs. After five straight playoff appearances (not counting 2020 where there were no playoffs) with one title and three finals berths, the Pioneers are in drastic danger of snapping that string under first-year head coach Ian Pace.

They sit in 23rd place, with a 22.2 UPR, ironically right behind Camden East Side (nee Woodrow Wilson), the team they lost to in their last finals appearance, in 2019. They will have to make up oodles of ground to get into the top 16, with Manasquan holding that last playoff position with four weeks to go, with a 16.8 UPR.

The good news is that if Somerville can get it in gear, their tough schedule will help it immensely. They play five Group 5 schools to finish the regular season, starting this weekend at Elizabeth, which just knocked off St. Joe’s in Metuchen Saturday afternoon for its first win of the season. Then, they have Westfield and Hillsborough at home before closing on the Friday night of Cutoff Weekend at South Brunswick. All will boost their power points and OSI – if they can beat them.

The highest-ranekd team here is South Plainfield in ninth, as Bill Hamilton has the Tigers 4-0 in his second season as head coach. Can they crack the top eight to earns first-round home playoff game? Too early to say, as their schedule the rest of the way is a bit weak after a Saturday afternoon road game at resurgent Governor Livingston. That’s the best team left on their schedule, with a road game at Voorhees the next week, followed by Perth Amboy at home and Monroe on the road.

Want a shot at a home game? GL is a must win.

Carteret is also having a fine season. Kevin Freeman’s squad is 4-1, their lone loss to South Plainfield, and they sit in 13th. Considering that among the teams behind them are Manasquan (0-3) and Triton (1-3) and the minimum number of wins to make the playoffs is two this season (up from one last year) it would appear Carteret, should they continue their excellent play this year, is a good bet to make the playoffs, and end up on the road in the first round. Next up is Group 5 JP Stevens in Edison this Friday night, the third Group 5 team they’ll play this year. (They’ve already beaten Perth Amboy and Plainfield.)

Tropeano’s 400+ passing yards power Elizabeth to huge win, earns Week 4 Bellamy & Son Paving Player of the Week honors

Through the first three games of the season, Vito Tropeano, Jr. had not thrown for more than 128 yards in a game, and that coming in a 28-21 loss at Hunterdon Central in Week Two.

One school of thought might say that’s about what to expect, but the other might say he was due for a big game.

Saturday afternoon, he had that big game.

Tropeano threw for 409 yards on 18-of-24 passing in a dramatic 23-21 road win over previously-No. 4 and undefeated St. Joseph-Metuchen, earning him Bellamy & Son Paving Player of the Week honors for Week Four.

Tropeano will receive a custom football at the end of the year with his statistics from the game, and one of the Player of the Week winners will receive a $500 scholarship from Bellamy & Son Paving.

“Vito was consistent throughout the game,” said first-year Elizabeth head coach John Fiore, who is working to rebuild the Elizabeth program after spending eleven seasons at Montclair, where he won four state title and had three unbeaten teams.

Tropeano had an even game: 193 passing yards in the first half, and 216 in the second. With the score tied at 7 in the third quarter, he engineered a scoring drive that included a stretch of eight straight pass completions for 206 yards.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with Elizabeth junior quarterback Vito Tropeano, Jr:

Honorable Mentions

  • Connor Laverty, Bernards – The junior quarterback helped his team win a big game at Del Val, 17-14, as heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio Friday night. He threw 12-of-23 passing for 155 yards and a TD to Enzo Britez, but it was his game-on-the-line two-yard dive into the end zone with 2:40 to go that perhaps was even more impressive. Laverty ended up with six carries for 51 yards, including the two-yard score. Read more about the game and hear our postgame interview with Laverty here.
  • Chiekezie Ogbuewu, Dunellen – An honorable mention for the second week in a row, the junior RB/DB carried 32 times for 369 yards and six touchdowns in a 43-42 overtime loss to Middlesex. His touchdown runs were 3, 3, 5, 40, 42 and 77 yards, adding a pair of two-point conversions for a total of 40 points scored.
  • Kente Edwards, North Hunterdon – The senior runningback and safety carried ten times for 106 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-13 win at Plainfield Saturday. He also had a 52-yard touchdown catch, and an 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. On defense, he logged five tackles, plus an interception.
  • Will Deady, Ridge – In a 35-7 win over Hunterdon Central Friday night, the junior fullback carried 24 times for 208 yards and three touchdowns, while also hauling in two passes for 64 yards. At safety, he made five tackles, had one TFL and a pick.
  • Anthony Christian, Spotswood – The senior was responsible for three touchdowns, three different ways, in a 28-21 win over arch-rival South River Saturday afternoon at Chargers Stadium. He had a 20-yard pick-six, a 31-yard rushing touchdown, and a 55-yard passing touchdown on a throwback to their quarterback Trey Lazar. Overall, he rushed for 81 yards on 17 carries. Hear more about Spotswood’s thrilling win here, as Mike Pavlichko talked with Chargers’ head coach Chris Meagher Saturday afternoon.

Other Nominations

  • Isaac Levitan, Voorhees – The junior QB/LB stood out on both sides of the ball for the Vikings in a 41-6 win over Bound Brook. He was 2-of-2 passing for 131 yards and touchdown passes of 77- and 54-yards, while also carrying six times for 79 yards and a score. On defense, he had six tackles, and one TFL.
  • Gavin Guidette, Montgomery – The Cougars aren’t 5-0 for the first time in program history without players like the senior linebacker/runningback. In a 41-2 home win over Hamilton Friday, Guidette – “the QB of the defense,” according to head coach Zoran Milich – helped hold Hamilton to 117 yards rushing and just four yards passing with his physical play, including four solo tackles, a TFL and a fumble recovery. On offense, he rushed nine times for 84 yards and a score.
  • Nino Garcia, Watchung Hills – In a 38-14 win at Bridgewater-Raritan, the senior runningback carried 20 times for 102 yards and a touchdown, while adding two catches for 26 yards.
  • Dylan Wragg, Westfield – The senior runningback – in a 30-0 win Saturday at home against Scotch Plains-Fanwood – carried 15 times for 202 yards (that’s 13.5 yards per carry!) and three touchdowns. He also had a 30-yard reception.
  • Ryan Schnall, Summit – The junior runningback scored twice in a 20-0 home win over Rahway, the Hilltoppers’ first victory of the season. He carried 17 times for 105 yards in the game, which moved Summit to 1-3 on the season.
  • Selbin Sabio, Edison – The senior linebacker impressed on defense and on special teams as the Eagles, kicker in a 34-7 win over Franklin. He registered 16 tackles and 2 TFLs on defense, while kicking three of four extra points and sending two kickoffs for touchbacks.
  • Erminal McNaully, Hillside – In a 42-7 win over New Providence, the junior strong safety has 12 tackles, two TFLs, a sack and two pass breakups. Head coach Barris Grant calls him a “tackling machine.”
  • Dom Parenti, Middlesex – In a 43-42 overtime win over Dunellen, the sophomore QB aired it out to the tune of 89 yards and two touchdowns that came at critical moments. The first ultimately tied the game in regulation, while the second tied it in OT, winning it on the PAT. He was 5-of-12 passing, while adding a two-point conversion, and rushed eight times for 92 yards and another score.
  • Zahmir Dawud, North Brunswick – In the No. 2 Raiders’ 22-0 win over then-No. 4 Sayreville, the senior wide receiver was quite the hybrid. He had a nice five catches for 65 yards but took 12 carries, too, for 71 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Michael Green, South Plainfield – In a 48-22 win over JP Stevens on Friday, Green scored three times: twice on the ground, with a third on a kick return.

Group 2 playoff analysis: Bernards benefits from big win at Del Val, while Terriers drop

With high school football season at its midway point, it’s time to start taking a look at the playoff picture, with Cutoff Weekend just four weeks away. Here’s a look at Group 2 teams in the Big Central Conference, and where they stand:

NORTH (Click here for official standings)

The only Big Central team here is Bernards, whose game Friday night at Delaware Valley was billed as a boon for whoever won. It was the Mountaineers, 17-14, and they jumped from eighth place to third with the victory over the Terriers; it was a solid Strength Index and power points game. OSI went from 49.01 to 53.52, while power point average climbed from 10.75 to 12.80. That puts them behind leader Westwood (4-0, 1.6 UPR) and Caldwell, owner of the state’s longest winning streak, now at 19, dating back to their last three games of 2020.

Caldwell may not lose again this year, and the SI of their last four opponents are all 67 or higher. Bernards, on the other hand, has winless North Plainfield and Bound Brook, plus Governor Livingston and New Providence. The Highlanders have won three straight since starting 0-2. If they can continue that run, it’ll help the Mountaineers.

We don’t think they’re a solid top four team yet – which would mean they’d be a 2-seed in either section and guaranteed home field at least through the sectional semifinals – but if they run the table, they at least have a shot at it. It depends who can come up from behind on them. Bernards has a 3.6 UPR, but at 3.8, Ramsey (4-0) is right behind them. Rutherford, though, in fifth, is a healthy 2.8 UPR points behind Bernards.

SOUTH (Click here for official standings)

Little surprise here that Rumson-Fair Haven is in familiar territory, atop the supersection. It could be surprising when you look at their 2-2 record, until you realize one of those losses is to a multiplier, in Donovan Catholic. And since they also play Red Bank Catholic – another multiplier – on cutoff weekend, well, you can just sew it up right now for the Bulldogs. (Is that fair? Definitely not, but that’s a rant for another time.)

The highest-ranked team here is Delaware Valley, which dropped from third to tenth after Friday night’s home loss to Bernards, its first of the season, leaving them 3-1 on the year. And they’ve still got Hillside to go, with the Comets’ powerful run game. Likely bet that the Terriers will make the playoffs, barring a collapse, but they may be hard-pressed to get a first-round playoff game out of it – unless they can knock off Hillside, Saturday afternoon road game the week before Cutoff Weekend, October 15th.

Johnson is right behind Del Val, at 4-0, having a nice year so far, with a UPR of 11, one full point behind the Terriers, who have a 10 UPR. They’re at New Providence this Friday night, with the Pioneers in 14th with a UPR of 15. That’s a big game for either team, and a loss could relegate whoever’s on the short end of the stick to bubble status, though likely on the inside – and it’s more harmful to New Providence than the Crusaders.

Dayton is in a 16th place tie for the final playoff spot with Haddon Heights. The Bulldogs are 2-2, while the Garnets are 3-1, both with 16.6 UPRs. Dayton will need to keep winning, and have a middle of the road schedule the rest of the way.

They play their next three on the road, and the games get progressively tougher – at Highland Park this Friday night, at Spotswood the following Saturday, and at South Hunterdon on Friday, the 14th – before coming home to face Metuchen the Friday night of Cutoff Weekend. They might have to win out.

The next question is: What about Spotswood? The Chargers are 4-1, their best start since 2016. Can they pick up enough power points and OSI value to get in, even if they go 4-0? The jury is still out and it’s probably too early to tell. JP Stevens is their final opponent – yes, Group 5 JP Stevens – and that will at least soften the blow from the Hawks not having won a game yet this season. (They’ve lost 27 straight, in fact, the second longest streak in New Jersey at the moment.)

Will it be enough? Stay tuned.

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South River – despite a 2-2 mark – sits in 24th place, and would be hard-pressed to make a dent. Then again, their last three games are at Delaware Valley and Governor Livingston, then home to Johnson. Should they win at least two of those, maybe – maybe – they have a shot. Check back in a couple of weeks.

Group 1 playoff analysis: Manville stays near the top after blanking South Hunterdon

At the midway point of the season, it’s time to start honing in on the playoff picture, with just four weeks to go before the state cutoff for public schools. We begin our analysis with Group One.

SOUTH (Click here for official standings)

Manville didn’t move an inch in either direction in the South Group 1 UPR standings after a huge 13-0 shutout win at home over South Hunterdon Friday night, but it still helped them immensely.

After missing the playoffs with a 6-2 record at the cutoff last year – and a late loss to Metuchen hurting their cause – the Mustangs are looking solid in a bid to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

Manville remains in fourth place, 4-1, with a UPR of 3.6. With the 16th place team having a 16.2 UPR, we think the Mustangs may have locked up a playoff berth with the win, providing they take care of business the rest of the way. And they should; of their next four opponents, Dunellen (on the road Friday night) is the only one with any wins this season (2-2). The remaining three – Belvidere, Highland Park, and on the road at Bound Brook, in that order – all are winless in 2022.

Even with an inexplicable loss to one of those clubs, Manville should still make the playoffs, but should they run the table, it’s a pretty safe bet the Mustangs will open the playoffs at home.

Woodbury is the top team in the supersection, followed by Salem. It’s unlikely Manville would catch either, based on their schedule, and they could slip a bit the next few weeks depending on what teams around them do, and what their schedules look like. For example, the teams ahead of them may have tougher schedules, but they also may be more likely to lose a game than Manville.

The picture will become clearer in a few weeks.

South Hunterdon drops one spot to 9th with the loss. And a defeat to a good team like Manville (or if the Mustangs had lost to the Eagles) actually would do less to hurt them than a loss to lesser teams, which is why the drop wasn’t more precipitous.

But South Hunterdon has a stronger schedule, and only three games left, starting with a road game in Kenilworth against undefeated Brearley this Friday. That’s two big ones in a row for South Hunterdon. (More on Brearley when we look at North 1.)

Middlesex is a bubble team at this point, checking in at 15, with a 16.2 UPR after a 43-42 overtime win over Dunellen. Behind them is Pitman at 16 with a 16.2 UPR and Palmyra with a 16.4 UPR in 17th place.

NORTH (Click here for official standings)

There are a lot of good teams at the top of this supersection, with five undefeated squads among the top seven. From the top down, it’s Mountain Lakes and Wood-Ridge in the top two spots, both 4-0, followed by a pair of Cedar Grove (4-1), Park Ridge (3-1) and another 4-0 team, Waldwick, in fifth.

Brearley is in 6th, also with a 4-0 mark, tied with Weequahic out of Newark with a 5.8 UPR. The South Hunterdon game is critical this Friday night because it’s the best remaining team on their schedule, with a 63.56 Strength Index value.

This week’s opponent for the Bears, Highland Park (0-5), is down to 18.9 in the Strength Index (but NJSIAA rules set a minimum 20 pts for OSI calculation), so even a win their will cause Brearley’s 46.3 OSI to drop. Assuming they get at least 20 for beating the Owls, they will drop to a 41.04 this week (pending the change in value of other teams they’ve played).

The computers agree: Phillipsburg is tops in the Big Central, but on the rest? Not so much

There’s no mistaking who the computers say is the No. 1 team in the Big Central Conference at the midway point of the season: the Phillipsburg Stateliners.

Their Strength Index rating of 90.44 is by far the highest in the league, 10.75 points higher than the next closest team, Hillside, which has a 79.69 SI value. It’s also the largest gap between teams in the league.

Statewide, Phillipsburg is the only team in the Big Central in the top 25 for SI, sitting in sixth, behind only Red Bank Catholic (97.7), Ramapo (94.06), Don Bosco Prep (92.94), Toms River North (92.77) and Donovan Catholic (91.28), making it the third-highest ranked public school in the state.

Since Strength Index doesn’t take into account group size, or any “large school bias” that can sometimes occur in human polling, the math says Hillside is the second strongest team in the Big Central, with a rating of 79.69, just ahead of North Brunswick at 79.29 and St. Thomas Aquinas at 78.79, and Hillsborough with a 78.28 Strength Index value. Ridge is right behind the Raiders with a 77.16 SI.

Essentially, all these teams are considered “even,” essentially within a field goal of each other for calculation purposes.

Interestingly, Union – with just one win, having just beaten Somerville to improve to 1-3 – is in the top ten, mainly based on their strong rating at the start of the year, which is where they ended 2021. Union was a favorite to win its playoff section until COVID cost the team its season.

“The Big Central in 2 Minutes” – Week 4: Liners stake their claim, and who had the biggest upset?

On this week’s trip through “The Big Central in Two Minutes,” Mike Pavlichko weighs in on Phillipsburg’s claim to the No. 1 ranking in the league, who had the biggest upset wins of Week Four, and whether Somerville should be in a division with Group 5 schools/

Click below to listen to the Week Four edition of “The Big Central in Two Minutes”:

Stateliners grab another first place vote, still lead Big Central Media Poll, as other teams shake up

Another week, another vote for first in the Big Central Media Poll for Phillipsburg.

The Stateliners picked up a season-high 48 points and got four of the five first-place votes in Week Four, ahead of North Brunswick, which got the other first-place vote.

The teams don’t play each other this regular season, and could only meet if they both make the inaugural Group 5 final at Rutgers’ SHI Stadium the first week of December.

Hillside climbed a spot to third, while St. Thomas Aquinas jumped three spots from seventh to fourth.

The poll saw a bit of a shakeup this week, with previously-third ranked Hillsborough dropping two spots to fifth after a 34-0 loss at P’burg Friday night. Previously-No. 7-ranked St. Joseph-Metuchen dropped two spots after losing to unranked Elizabeth Saturday, 23-21. And Sayreville dropped from No. 6 to No. 9 after a 22-0 loss to No. 2 North Brunswick.

Montgomery – 5-0 for the first time ever- continued its ascent, up two spots to fifth. Colonia (5-0) dropped a spot simply by other teams making gains, and North hunterdon – which got votes last week – entered the poll in tenth.

Ridge (2-2) dropped out as well.

The full Week 4 Big Central Media Poll is below: