Author: Mike Pavlichko

No. 6 Old Bridge and No. 2 Hillsborough have a lot at stake when they meet Friday night

Friday night’s clash at Noonan Field is a big one for a lot of reasons.

Both teams are ranked.

The 6th-ranked Knights have just one loss on the season, while No. 2 Hillsborough is undefeated.

It’s the triple-option with Lawrence Hunter III and Owen Haughney against the one-two punch of Tommy Amankwaa and Tyler Michinard.

It’s also huge for the playoffs.

The Raiders are currently fourth in the South Jersey Group 5 UPR standings, with Old Bridge fifth. And both are still in play for a potential top two finish, which would give them a top seed once the teams are sorted out, and home field through the sectional finals.

But, perhaps after Friday night, only one of those teams will be in play.

Pressure, anyone?

Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Tim Catalfamo will be providing live updates of the contest during the Big Central Game of the Week driven by Autoland, No. 7 Cranford at No. 4 Woodbridge, which begins at 7 pm. He’ll also have postgame reaction on cjsportsradio.com later in the night.

Click below to hear Tim Catalfamo preview the matchup with both coaches:

Hillsborough head coach Kevin Carty Jr.

Old Bridge head coach Anthony Lanzafama

Week 6 Group 3 playoff analysis: Cranford in the drivers’ seat for a top seed in the North; Somerville may end up on the road in the South

There they are, right at the top: Cranford – undefeated at 5-0 with a huge game at Woodbridge Friday night (7 pm, CJSR) – leads the entire North Group 3 supersection, the only team from the Big Central Conference to hold such a lofty position in the Week 6 playoff standings.

The Cougars are 1.7 UPR points ahead of West Morris (2.8), while West Essex (3.2) and River Dell (3.8) are not far behind. But there’s no real advantage to being first or second overall, other than the first-place team gets the 16th overall team in the opening round, while the second-place team gets the 15th overall team. And in the playoffs, it’s always more about matchups anyway.

For just this one more season, home field will end at the sectional finals, and the “regional championships” will be held at Met Life Stadium. But next year, when football plays down to overall group champions – finally! – those games will be at neutral sites, and it remains to be seen if the “regional championships” – soon to be “group semifinals” – will be held at neutral sites as well, or at the higher seeded team’s home field.

Nonetheless, it’s stating the obvious that a win against Woodbridge would be huge. But, practically-speaking, it’s an opportunity to shore up a top-two spot for Cranford. A loss, and they still might get it. That may depend, in part, what happens the rest of the way with West Morris (4-2) and West Essex (5-1), and to some extent, possibly River Dell (4-2).

The next team down in North 3 is Summit, where the Hilltoppers are in the 9th spot with a UPR of 8.4. They’re more likely to move up than down, in our estimation. There are two teams ahead of them within two UPR points, Lincoln (8.2) and Montville (7.6). But the teams behind them are at least 2.4 UPR points away. Pascack Valley is a 10.8 and Vernon has an 11.6 UPR.

The only other team from the BCC with a remote possibility here here is North Plainfield. The Canucks are 3-3 but have won two straight. And they may win out, with three road games coming up to finish the regular year at Governor Livingston and South River; those opponents have a combined four wins, and the best of them is South River. The Rams are 3-2 with a 48.25 SI. That Strength Index will help North Plainfield, as will the 15 power points they’ll get. But whether it’s enough to offset the drop they’ll possibly see even if they beat their previous two opponents may not be enough to overcome.

The next two weeks will bring that into clearer focus for cutoff weekend.

South Group 3:

Rumson-Fair Haven, which has one of the toughest schedules in the state among public schools – and also has benefitted from a mutliplier win over Donovan Catholic – leads the pack here, followed by undefeated Cedar Creek, the only seven-win team in the state at the moment.

This is one of the sections where we will differ from Gridiron New Jersey, which did not use the Week 5 Strength Index update for Out of State teams as it outlined in a post last Friday. Those SI numbers are to be updated at mid-season, then again after Week 8 when all the other SI values are fixed heading into the final weekend.

This affects Somerville, which is also one of the teams whose OSI is off because of the discrepancy. The Pioneers played Olney Prep of Philly in Week Zero. Holmdel is off, too, as they played St. Joe’s by the Sea (NY) on Week One.

By CJSR’s calculations, Somerville is in 6th at the moment (Gridiron has them 8th) but there’s also the matter of the Pioneers’ forfeit against Phillipsburg, which will go down as a loss after week eight if it’s not made up, but has not been added to the mix yet. If it were factored in now, the Pioneers move to tenth, and would be two places out of at least a first round home game.

That’s rare territory for Somerville, which is used to battling for a top seed. But that’s what two losses will do, no matter how they come.

In any event, it’s critical for the Pioneers to win out, and a victory at St. Joseph of Metuchen Saturday (2 pm, CJSR) would be a big help, since they’re a multiplier that would get them 42 points for a win. Warren Hills (4-2) is next, and then Summit on Cutuoff Weekend (5-1).

They can win out, and need to if they want a shot at a home game at least in the first round of the playoffs, although they still might get it with a loss to the Falcons and wins over the Blue Streaks and Hilltoppers, as St. Joe’s is worth 28 points for a loss.

The only other Big Central team in this race is Rahway, which has won two straight after dropping their first three, and stands in 15th place. A tall task for the Indians comes this weekend in a road game at Donovan Catholic, but they’re a multiplier, so even a loss will give them a boost. That’s a 42/28 multiplier, so even the 28 for a loss would jump their power point average from 8.8 to 12. That would jump them from 16th to 11th in power point rank (assuming no one else moves), which is good for 2 full UPR points, and would likely move them to a more comfortable 12th or 13th place. They close at South Plainfield and Hillside, which both could be must-wins. We’ll have to see how this week shakes out.

This Week in the Big Central – Episode 8: The Big Trio

Episode 8 of “This Week in the Big Central,” driven by Mark Montenero and his team at the world-famous Autoland, is highlighted by a trio of top ten games, as the regular season enters its final three weeks.

Mike Pavlichko and Dom Savino talk about two breaking stories out Wednesday: the NJSIAA warning teams not to “mutually cancel” games that would benefit a team’s playoff standings, and the Shore Conference killing its plan for “playoff pods” in the final two weeks of the regular season, assigning set matchups instead. They debate whether one is just like the other, and if anything is really wrong with scheduling a better opponent to help a team’s playoff push, while letting a lesser team find a more competitive game, which would seem to benefit both schools.

We debut a new feature with founding sponsor Elite QB, the “Elite Performers of the Week” with quarterbacks coach Matt Bastardi.

Then, it’s a look at the Bellamy & Son Paving Player of the Week, Rahway’s Zaon Laney, who contirbuted in all three phases in the Indians’ win over 4-1 Warren Hills.

Mike and Dom Savino wrap it up with a look at the Week 7 slate.

Elite QB’s Matt Bastardi debuts highlights of his Elite Performers for Week Six

In a new feature to continue for the remainder of the season, Central Jersey Sports Radio sponsor Elite QB will be highlighting the program’s “Elite Performers of the Week.”

Run by Matt Bastardi, a former high school and college quarterback who has either played the position or coached it for over 40 years, Elite QB trains players at all position levels, with an emphasis on QBs.

Each week for the rest of the 2021 campaign, Matt will highlight the key stats for players under his tutelage.

Click below to listen to the Elite QB “Elite Performers of the Week” for Week 6:

Click here to visit Elite QB’s website and find out more about how to train with Matt Bastardi at Elite QB.

NJSIAA to football schools: “Don’t drop games to boost playoff chances”

Apparently, the complex UPR system that determines playoff qualification through a mix of power point average and OSI isn’t that complex after all.

Apparently, enough coaches understand it well enough that some have been exploring ways to “mutually cancel” late season games that would have hurt their power point or OSI standing, in an effort to schedule stronger opponents that can help their cause.

And rightly so, the NJSIAA and the New Jersey Football Coaches Association are wagging their fingers at them, saying “Don’t do it.”

In its weekly e-mail newsletter sent to coaches, obtained by Central Jersey Sports Radio, NJFCA Commissioner John Jacob said it fully endorsed the NJSIAA’s stance – outlined in no uncertain terms – that the practice is strictly forbidden.

“It has come to our attention that some football programs are engaging in discussions to mutually ‘drop’ a football game prior to the cut-off in an effort to improve one or both teams’ ranking for postseason seeding purposes,” the NJSIAA memo said.

The association expects games to go on as scheduled, unless there’s a “legitimate” reason for not playing, such as COVID. But when that’s the case, the team cancelling the game takes a forfeit for power point and OSI purposes, and the other gets a win. So some schools have been looking to mutually cancel games, so they don’t go down as forfeits. Then, they would conceivably find another opponent that would help their playoff standing, win or lose.

“Any game not played by mutual agreement may be viewed as a violation of the NJSIAA Sportsmanship Policy and may be referred to the NJSIAA Controversies Committee,” said the NJSIAA statement shared by Jacob in the newsletter.

While teams could have always tried this practice with power points back when it was the only calculation used for playoff qualification, the use of OSI makes it more enticing in that teams are rewarded more in OSI than in power points for losing to strong teams.

For example, a Group 2 team with a power point average of 12 and an OSI of 35 trying to make the playoffs, a loss against a Group 3 team with 7 wins and an 80 SI rating would be more appealing than a win over a Group 1 school with an SI of 25 points and no wins. Beating the Group 1 would be worth 7 points (6 for the win, 1 for the group and no residuals) and 25 OSI points, while losing to the Group 3 would be worth 8 residuals, and 40 OSI points (half the team’s SI for a loss).

Shore Conference drops championship pod plan, will handout matchups without “tournament” play

The Shore Conference announced with much fanfare in the off season that its last two weeks of regular season play would include pod championships, inspired by what leagues did during the 2020 COVID season when the NJSIAA decided not to have state playoffs. They would group the top four teams in a bracket, followed by the next four, and the next four, and award trophies to each champion.

But on the week those pods would have been announced, a surprise announcement: that plan is dead in the water.

As first reported by NJ Advance Media, the surprise announcement came today, along with a full, pre-determined schedule of games for Weeks 8 and 9.

Marlboro Athletic Director Dave Ryden told NJ Advance’s Joe Zedalis that the pods turned out to be a logisitcal nightmare, including issues like finding buses on short notice, rematches from earlier regular season games, and getting intent cards to the NJSIAA with unnamed opponents.

The NJIC up in North Jersey has run a similar system for years now, seemingly without such major issues, and will continue to do so this year.

The full schedule of Week 8 and 9 games can be found here.

The changes could affect Big Central conference teams vying for playoff berths, home playoff games, or even one of the top seeds in the sectionals. A strong team might have faced two similarly strong opponents, and lost both. Now, opponents will be predetermined both weeks.

There are 30 undefeated teams remaining in New Jersey: How do the Big Central schools stack up?

After seven weeks of play (yes, we’ve only finished Week 6, don’t get us started about “Week 0”) there are 30 teams remaining in New Jersey without a single loss.

Five of them are in the Big Central, including Cranford (5-0), Delaware Valley (6-0), Hillsborough (6-0). St. Thomas Aquinas (5-0), and Woodbridge (6-0). That number will be reduced to four this weekend, after Woodbridge hosts Cranford Friday night on the Big Central Game of the Week driven by Autoland (7 pm on CJSR).

But we decided to take a closer look at those teams and how they stack up against the rest of the state.

(We skipped the two schools – Bogota and Dumont – who are in the NJIC and NJSFC divisions that include schools that requested “schedule relief” and therefore are ineligible for the postseason.)

Of the 28 undefeated teams eligible for the playoffs, St. Thomas Aquinas is the only one to have not allowed a single point all season long. The Trojans are 5-0, pitching shutouts in all five games, against Woodstown, Roselle, Spotswood, Johnson and Belvidere. Their remaining schedule includes a road game against Middlesex this weekend, a home game against Governor Livingston, then a huge test in the regular season finale, hosting Delaware Valley.

Aquinas leads the entire state with its five goose eggs.

Among undefeated teams, Ocean City and Central each have four, but have played six games. Woodstown (5-1) also has four shutouts.

The largest margin of victory among the undefeated teams also belongs to Aquinas, which is winning this season by an average of 41 points per game. And that’s including a 6-0 season-opening win over Woodstown, the Wolverines only loss this season. Five of their six games have been shutouts, four in their favor.

After Aquinas, there are three undefeated teams that have not allowed more than a touchdown in any game this year.

Ocean City, with its four shutouts, has not allowed more than seven points in its other two wins. Rumson-Fair Haven – with one of the toughest schedules in the state – has been even more impressive; the Bulldogs have only two shutouts, but have never allowed more than seven in a game. The same goes for Cedar Creek, the only seven-win team in the state.

The smallest average margin of victory of the 28 teams belongs to Middletown South. And 5-0, they’re the only team that has not scored more than 100 total points this year, outscoring opponents just 96-36, with an average margin of victory of 12.2 points.

Eight teams with unbeaten records have allowed fewer than 20 points in every game this year. In addition to Aquinas, Ocean City, Rumson and Cedar Creek, Middletown South, Delsea, Nottingham and Woodbury are on the list.

Below is the full list. Schools of the same group size are linked by color, starting with Group 5, working down to Group 1, then Non-Public A and B:

Week 6 North 4 Playoff Analysis: Woodbridge aiming for a top-seed, six BCC teams in bottom half

NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect today’s cancellation of the Shore Conference pod championships.

The only Big Central team with any virtual certainty of their playoff positioning in the North Group 4 supersection should be the Woodbridge Barrons. With a big game Friday night against undefeated Cranford (CJSR, 7 pm), Woodbridge (6-0) currently sits third in the standings.

With the top two in the section getting home games throughout the sectional finals, the Barrons aren’t that far off. But neither is Middletown South. Both teams have a UPR of 3.2, which is just two-tenths of a point behind second place Ramapo. That means if either gains one position in power point or OSI rank, they’ll likely surpass Ramapo.

Continue reading “Week 6 North 4 Playoff Analysis: Woodbridge aiming for a top-seed, six BCC teams in bottom half”

Solimini-led East Brunswick, off to its best start in almost two decades, looks to finish strong

The year was 2004.

George W. Bush was President. Gas was $1.23 a gallon. Brian Williams took over for Tom Brokaw on the NBC Nightly News. The Red Sox squashed the Curse of the Bambino. Carrie Underwood was an undiscovered Okie from Muskogee.

It was also the last time East Brunswick started a season 5-1, until this year.

Third-year head coach Andy Steinfeld has his team grooving right now, with a legitimate shot of finishing 8-1 before the playoffs begin, in which they’ll participate for the first time since 2014.

Click below to hear Central Jersey’s Mike Pavlichko talk with junior quarterback Ben Solimini and head coach Andy Steinfeld about the Bears’ 2021 season so far:

Junior quarterback Ben Solimini

Head coach Andy Steinfeld

Week 6 South 5 Playoff Analysis: Three BCC teams in play for a top seed, 7 Big Central teams in legit contention

NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect today’s cancellation of the Shore Conference pod championships.

A number of Big Central teams have a good chance of making the playoffs in the South 5 supersection, with Hillsborough leading the pack, three teams solidly in, another needing to right the ship to stay in, and two more knocking on the door.

We start with Hillsborough, which is fourth, followed by Old Bridge fifth and North Brunswick sixth. All those teams have a lot to play for and some big opportunities in front of them.

Let’s start at the top, where Manalapan (UPR 2) is followed by Washington Township (UPR 3) and Cherokee (UPR 3.2). The trio from the BCC is not far behind. Hillsborough has a UPR of 3.4, Old Bridge is a 4.6, and North Brunswick has a 5.6 UPR. Remember every one place up in OSI is 0.6 UPR points, and every place up in power points is 0.4 UPR points.

Hillsborough is in striking distance with a gain in either of those categories. Old Bridge is 1.6 behind the second place team (top two spots get byes in their respective sections). And North Brunswick is 2.6 points behind.

Continue reading “Week 6 South 5 Playoff Analysis: Three BCC teams in play for a top seed, 7 Big Central teams in legit contention”