Category: Football

This year’s state playoffs were great; here are 5 suggestions to make them even better

For the first time ever, New Jersey has just seven state champions – five public and two public – and by all accounts, it was a blast. The new thing, of course, were the public school group championships, held for the first time at Rutgers. And Toms River North, Old Tappan, Caldwell, Millville, and Woodbury all left Piscataway with hardware.

The group championships didn’t cheapen the sectional championships at all, something a few coaches feared. There was plenty of glee in Edison and Annandale when the Eagles and Lions won sectional titles that will be celebrated for decades to come.

But nothing is ever perfect, and far be it from us not to have a few suggestions for how to make things even better. Some may never get off the ground, but that’s ok. This is our take on five things to improve the NJSIAA state football playoffs:

1. Bring back true geographic playoff sections

When the playoffs changed drastically with the advent of the NJ UPR system, the state did away with traditional sections, in a way. Instead of four pre-determined sections in each group, it split each group into north and south supersections, then divided the top 16 teams into fields of eight by Northing number (geographically).

But some felt that left some sections “stronger” than others, so beginning in 2019, the brackets were “snaked,” so that the top two teams earned No. 1 seeds, the next two were the number two seeds (with the overall 2 belonging with the overall 3, and overall 1 with overall 4), etc. This conceivably resulted in a much more even bracket.

But it also resulted in some long trips, particularly those in the South supersections. With more density among high schools up North – about two thirds of the schools are in the top one-third of the state, geographically – many schools had bus rides close to two hours.

Among Big Central teams, Delaware Valley had the longest ride, over two hours down to Oakcrest, a 107-mile bus trip down to near Atlantic City. That’s fine for a vacation, but not for a first round playoff game. New Providence had to go all the way down to Willingboro.

And just so its doesn’t sound like we’re whining about the Big Central, Camden Eastside had to come all the way up to play at South Plainfield in the first round.

And as far as those matchups, who cares? Playoffs are better when you see rivals, and you build those by playing the same teams every couple of years. Piscataway had some a great playoff rivalry with Hunterdon Central, which initially began in their Mid-State Conference days. They played epics with Phillipsburg, too.

Johnson-Pleasantville? Somerville-Seneca? South Plainfield-Camden Eastside? Other than a game that advances you in the playoffs, there’s just no juice to these games.

Titles also carry more cachet when you actually win the geographical section you’re in. Salem is not remotely in Central Jersey, and shouldn’t be winning Central Jersey Group 1 any more than Manville should have a crack at South Jersey Group 1.

Throw in inflation and today’s gas prices, and it’s just a smarter idea to play these games more locally. Your section is loaded? Them’s the breaks.

2. Play Group Semifinals at bigger venues

I wasn’t down at Cherokee for the South group semifinals, but I was at Franklin, and Athletic Director Ken Margolin and Anthony Brito were tremendously accommodating and ran a fantastic show. They have a fantastic facility, with a large concession stand, plus heated bathrooms that came in real handy for the North Group Semifinals. There’s plenty of parking, the roads can handle the traffic, and even the mobile service in the area has improved (they’ve got 5G now).

We’re immensely grateful, of course, that they helped get Central Jersey Sports Radio get some room in the press box as well, so we could broadcast the game live. We got in, so there’s no complaint there.

But the attention these games get require a bigger facility than any high school in the state can provide. In a shrinking media landscape, the idea of putting all these games at a neutral site is to have just two sites where you can send reporters, instead of ten, and the newspapers would have to choose one over another. And that’s a good idea. But there’s not enough room to accommodate everyone in high school.

Then, what about the coaches? The “eye in the sky” guys should be indoors, especially in mid-November, when you can have rain, wind, snow and brutally cold weather. The fact that we had all of that except for rain on group semifinal weekend underscores that point. These games don’t have to be at Rutgers, but could be at Kean, Montclair State, Rowan or TCNJ. They’ve hosted state finals before, they should be good enough for state semifinals.

It’s likely a money issue, and we get that, but maybe better deals could be worked out with these schools. After all, sheer math tells you a greater amount of New Jersey high school talent will play at any one of these four schools than will play at Rutgers. It’s a good recruiting tool, and better for the NJSIAA. It’s a win-win.

3. Get rid of multipliers… or expand them

Of the two top seeds in the South Jersey Group 5 section, one team was head and shoulders above the others. That’s Toms River North. The Mariners finished the year as the first 14-0 team in state history and are the top-ranked public school in the state in all the year-end polls for good reason. But the other No. 1 seed was Lenape, which was 4-4 at the cutoff, with two losses to multipliers in St. Joe’s of Hammonton, and St. Augustine.

They might have lost those games by a combined eight points, but a loss is still a loss. It was all set up for Lenape: top seed, home game in the finals, and yet – with all due respect – they lost that final at home to a sixth-seed – Edison – after getting the choice whether to move the game or not due to the miserable, rainy, windy weather. They kept it where it was, ostensibly to gain an advantage over the Eagles and their passing game – as is entirely 100% their right. And it still didn’t help.

Edison shouldn’t have been the No. 1 seed, let’s be clear, even though they won the title. It took a skillful miracle against North Brunswick to even get to the finals. But should Lenape have been a top seed? They were clearly aided by the multipliers – and not only that, but got credit for both mutlipliers, a new wrinkle this year added by the NJSIAA.

I’m not a fan of them to begin with, but to allow getting credit for a second multiplier when the Shore Conference and West Jersey Football League clearly have a multitude of scheduling options is terribly wrong, and a move in the wrong direction.

Those on the other side of this argument say, “Well, then schedule a mulitplier instead of complaining!” But not every one can. The Big Central Conference has 59 teams, but only two private schools – St. Joseph-Metuchen and St. Thomas Aquinas – and neither is a multiplier. You think St. John Vianney is going to help out a Central Jersey public school? Of course not.

And even if St. Joe’s and Aquinas become multipliers next year, if they all played different Big Central teams, still only 18 of the 57 remaining teams could schedule them. Still not a level playing field.

And what’s the difference, really, between Vianney and Aquinas? The Trojans beat SJV this year in a Week 9 game. Why isn’t STA a multiplier? They’re just like Vianney in that they can pull from multiple towns, unlike public schools.

Look, this whole thing started when North Jersey non-publics like Don Bosco and Bergen Catholic has “trouble” scheduling opponents. Multipliers were an incentive, even if only a handful of public schools took advantage of them. They don’t have that issue now, so why do we have them anymore? St. John Vianney is in a public school division, they have no issue scheduling opponents. And with the NJSIAA seeding non-public playoffs by committee, they can – and clearly did this year – deviate from the UPR formula for seeding, so what’s the worry here?

Either get rid of them entirely, or give them to every non-public school in the state. And while we’re at it, why not choice schools, which also can attract kids from anywhere else in the state? In that case, make the multiplier a “true” multiplier. That is, a natural power point value times a certain amount. This way, there’s a difference between an 8-0 multiplier school and one that’s 4-4. You should get more for beating or losing to a multiplier that’s 8-0 versus one that’s .500.

4. Consider one formula or another, but not both, in the coming years

The NJ UPR formula – even with out-of-state opponents out of the mix – is still way too complicated. It’s been in place now since 2018, and there are still coaches who can’t follow it. And some of it makes no sense. In some cases, you have to jump a team behind you in UPR in either power points or OSI to make a move up in the standings. It’s just counterintuitive.

That said, 2023 is not the year to make a change. We really don’t have that much data yet, or enough to make a good, informed decision. That’s how we ended up with the Born Power Index fiasco in 2018. And with no playoffs in 2020, we really only have three years worth of playoff data to analyze.

Some teams had complaints with the old power point system on its own. Some people have legitimate complaints with the UPR system. And if we went to OSI on its own, some would have complaints about that, too.

The bottom line is this: No system is perfect. So why have a complicated imperfect system when you could have a simpler one, just different teams complaining?

Don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying to make a move one way or the other, or even saying to do it right now. Even with three playoff years to analyze, it’s not enough. Take a few more years. Look at five or six seasons of data, then think about it.

Now, one might look at the playoffs this year, and those five public group champions, and say the best teams certainly won. No one could even say any of the ten teams in the group finals didn’t deserve to be there.

My thinking is this: if those teams are good enough, they’ll get there, whether they’re a one-seed or an eight-seed. If they’re the best team in the bracket, they should beat anyone, right? If we could get to the same seeding with a simpler model, give it a go.

Don’t do it – yet. Just think about it.

5. Helping out the small schools

The Big Central has a scheduling problem. It doesn’t have enough “good” small schools for teams like Brearley or Manville to play without hurting their playoff chances. And there aren’t enough teams for Highland Park or Dunellen (or Bound Brook this year) to play without hurting their league-mates. So, what to do?

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of those teams like Highland Park or JP Stevens to make an Ivy division (similar quality schools that agree to play only each other, but aren’t playoff-eligibile) like they have in the Super Football Conference and the NJIC. So how can the Big Central get some help?

Currently, any team whose SI is below a 20 counts as a minimum of 20 for their opponents’ playoff qualification. Inotherwords, if Manville plays Highland Park, and the Owls’ SI is a 13.4, they get 20 minimum toward their for a win.

Our thinking? That’s too low. That number needs to be closer to 30, or maybe even 35.

And if you tell me that’s a concession to Central Jersey by the NJSIAA, absolutely it is! But so was adding a second multiplier for playoff qualification. Clearly none of the northernmost leagues asked for it. That was a gift to the Shore Conference and WJFL.

Now, the NJSIAA needs to give the Big Central a gift.

Ridge leads Big Central in final 2022 Strength Index rankings

With the 2022 high school football season now complete, the numbers are in: five state sectional finalists and two champions. And who knows what 2023 will bring.

But according to Central Jersey Sports Radio’s unofficial Strength Index calculations, Ridge came in with the highest rating of all 59 teams at the end of the year.

Strength Index doesn’t so much take into account wins and losses. Rather it looks at how a team performed against another team relative to their ratings. A team consistently ranked 30 points lower than its opponents that loses all its games by just a field goal would increase its Strength Index, the thinking being that the team is better than the rankings indicated.

Those numbers would indicate Ridge is a “tough out.” At 7-3, their three losses came by 18 to North 2 Group 5 finalist Phillipsburg, by 10 to Hillsborough (before injuries forced the Raiders into their third-string quarterback), and by seven to North 1 Group 4 finalist Ramapo.

All five teams that ended up in sectional finals finished in the top eleven, with North Hunterdon second, Phillipsburg, Hillside and Edison fifth through seventh, and Brearley at No. 11.

Westfield and Roselle saw the biggest gains, nearly 20 points, from the start of the 2022 season. Westfield was 4-6 a year ago, but finished 8-3 this year. Roselle was 5-6 last year, and started this season 0-4, but didn’t lose the rest of the way, finishing with a strong 8-4 record.

The biggest falls were seen by North Plainfield (-23.85), Belvidere (-27.25) and Bound Brook (-32.43).

Overall, 30 teams increased their SI rating, while 29 saw their Strength Index value fall.

The end-of-year SI values are used to determine next year’s starting numbers, with all teams reduced or increased towards 60, which is considered the mid-point.

For example, a team rated 90 – which is 30 above the midway point of 60 – would see its SI reduced by 10, or one-third of 30, and start next season at 80. Alternatively, a team rated 51 – which is nine points below the midway of 60 – would increase by three points, or one-third of nine, and start next season as a 54.

Those Strength Index numbers – which change throughout the season – are used to calculate the Opponent Strength Index, which is 60% of the NJ UPR formula to determine playoff seeding. Playing strong opponents – not just beating them – helps a team’s OSI.

Knowing the starting values for next year can help leagues create favorable schedules for their teams to make the playoffs, and can help schools know what kind of out-of-conference opponents they shoudl schedule.

The average SI value among Big Central teams in the final unofficial 2022 calculations was 58.1.

Below are the 59 teams in the Big Central, with their starting SI, final SI, and the amount of change:

TEAM2022 STARTFINAL SICHANGE
1Ridge73.7890.3416.56
2North Hunterdon69.4984.4915.00
3Westfield63.3483.2019.86
4Cranford76.2783.116.84
5Phillipsburg72.3383.0210.69
6Hillside68.1282.0413.92
7Edison62.5280.5718.05
8St. Thomas Aquinas72.8478.966.12
9Watchung Hills60.2178.3818.17
10North Brunswick69.0975.586.49
11Brearley61.5375.0513.52
12Bernards66.0673.177.11
13Hillsborough84.8771.05-13.82
14Roselle49.5569.2819.73
15Montgomery60.2369.188.95
16Somerville75.3768.95-6.42
17Piscataway52.0568.7716.72
18Plainfield54.3268.4614.14
19Delaware Valley68.0167.53-0.48
20Summit61.8467.515.67
21Manville48.8466.4017.56
22Union82.2365.32-16.91
23Hunterdon Central54.2565.2210.97
24Woodbridge63.5464.741.20
25Linden59.5264.254.73
26Bridgewater-Raritan66.3564.21-2.14
27St. Joseph-Metuchen63.7763.76-0.01
28South Hunterdon59.3662.993.63
29Sayreville71.8659.94-11.92
30Colonia70.4159.90-10.51
31South Brunswick59.6259.28-0.34
32Johnson42.8658.7615.90
33South Plainfield51.9656.614.65
34Carteret53.0356.543.51
35Rahway65.1156.54-8.57
36Old Bridge61.7855.15-6.63
37East Brunswick65.1954.73-10.46
38New Providence66.8052.38-14.42
39Scotch Plains-Fanwood59.6051.25-8.35
40Elizabeth58.6349.97-8.66
41Monroe53.1548.80-4.35
42Franklin57.3748.07-9.30
43Voorhees48.9247.10-1.82
44Perth Amboy42.4346.263.83
45JFK52.8144.18-8.63
46Roselle Park39.9142.682.77
47Spotswood34.0140.586.57
48Middlesex51.8139.30-12.51
49New Brunswick58.0738.87-19.20
50Dunellen34.5837.202.62
51Governor Livingston44.8036.56-8.24
52Dayton46.5136.11-10.40
53South River47.8535.33-12.52
54North Plainfield56.7832.93-23.85
55Metuchen46.5929.48-17.11
56JP Stevens33.3725.41-7.96
57Belvidere51.5524.30-27.25
58Bound Brook54.2621.83-32.43
59Highland Park26.3215.65-10.67

As for the rest of the state, it’s little surprise who’s at the top of the rankings: the two teams widely considered the best among their peers this season in the non-public and public realms.

Non-Public Group A champion Bergen Catholic finished with the highest Strength Index value in the state, at 111.19. While the Crusaders only gained 15.83 points this year, the next team on the list gained a lot more: Toms River North. The Mariners – the state’s first-ever Group 5 champion, and first-ever 14-0 team in state history – ended the year with a 107.01 SI rating.

Ridge – tops in the BCC – finished 11th overall in the state, with north Hunterdon – second in the BCC – at 29, and Westfield (33rd), Cranford (34th), Phillipsburg (36th), Hillside (40th) and Edison (43rd) all in the Top 50.

The Super Football Conference had seven of its teams in the top ten, while the Shore Conference had two and the West Jersey Football League had one. Six of the top ten were public schools.

Below is a downloadable PDF version of the full Strength Index values – according to Central Jersey Sports Radio’s unofficial calculations – for every team in the state of New Jersey, including starting 2022 SI number, final number, and the amount of change.

Big Central Conference announces All-Division football teams

With the 2022 football season in the rear view mirror for the Big Central Conference, in its third season of existence, the league has announced its All-Division teams, as chosen by the coaches. Each Division picked a First and Second Team.

Below are the Big Central’s honorees, by division, and by team:

AMERICAN GOLD

First Team

  • Elizabeth: Davion Davis (Jr, DE); Thian Grimaud (Sr, LB)
  • Somerville: Mike Miller (Sr, QB); Wes Hack (Sr, WR); Terrell Michell (Soph, RB)
  • St. Joseph-Metuchen: Christian Magliacano (Jr, LB/FB); Daniel DeGennaro (Jr, QB); Jeremy DeCaro (Jr, HB/FS); Jo Jo Huntley (Sr, HB/DB); Dan Bellavia (Sr, DL/OL)
  • Union: Kordal Hinton (Jr, LB); Omar Ibrahim (Sr, WR/DB); Renick Dorilas (Soph, WR/DB); Zach Menon (Jr, OL/DL); Elijah Stewart (Sr, RB)
  • Westfield: Trey Brown (Sr, QB); Dylan Wragg (Sr, RB); Gabe Dayon (Sr, OL); Jack O’Connor (Sr, LB); Dan Hanlon (Sr, LB); Jullian Montez (Jr, DL); Max Romano (Jr, OL/DL); Sergio Cabrera (Sr, DL)

Second Team

  • Elizabeth: Gerald Baker (Sr, NT)
  • Somerville: Ramin Farzaie (Jr, OL/DL); Hashym Hobbs-Harris (Sr, DB/RB)
  • St. Joseph-Metuchen: Omari Jones (Sr, RB/FS); Ben Masella (Sr, DE/TE); Kai-Lin Martinez (Sr, OL/DL)
  • Union: Todd Francis (Sr, RB), Omalley King (Soph, QB); Ramsey Lafond (Sr, K)
  • Westfield: Brandon Love (Sr, OL/DL); Owen Shakal (Sr, DB); Quinn Wojick (Sr, LB)

AMERICAN SILVER

First Team

  • Bridgewater-Raritan: Colin Kurdyla (Sr, TE); Joe Spirra (Jr, LB); Colin Knapp (Sr, OL)
  • Hillsborough: Jonathan Lobelo (Jr, LB); Joey Witcoski (Sr, LB); Shane Donoghue (Sr, WR); Christian Quandt (Sr, OL); Kevin Shelton (Sr, DB); Jack O’Donnell (Sr, WR)
  • Hunterdon Central: Trevor Fisch (Sr, WR); Chris Brinkofski (Sr, OL)
  • Phillipsburg: Qian Walters (Sr, OL); Xavier Moore (Sr, RB/DB); Hunter Cleaver (Sr, DE); Connor Hille (Sr, TE/LB); Caleb Rivera (Jr, FB/DE); Kevin Burgess (Jr, WR/DB); Matthew Scerbo, Jr. (Soph, WR); Jett Genovese (Soph, QB)
  • Ridge: Adam Meiner (Sr, CB); Will Deady (Jr, FB); Asgrimur Gudmundsson (Sr, K/P); Dylan Sweeney (Sr, LB)

Second Team

  • Bridgewater-Raritan: C.J. Stevens (Sr, LB); Donovan Little (Sr, DL)
  • Hillsborough: Ryan Tasetano (Sr, QB); Jackson Jankowicz (Soph, RB/KR); Shayne Powell (Jr, LB)
  • Hunterdon Central: Cole Gray (Sr, DE/TE)
  • Phillipsburg: Liam Slack (Sr, LB); John Wargo (Jr, FB/DL); Cameron Bohal (Jr, DB)
  • Ridge: Rooke Donohoe (Jr, LB); Jack Berisha (Sr, QB); Jason Ward (Sr, C)

NATIONAL GOLD

First Team

  • East Brunswick: Ben Solimini (Sr, QB); Omar Rackley (Sr, OL/DL)
  • Monroe: Aiden Lane (Sr, WR/FS); Chris Chaves (Sr, WR/FS); Salvatore Marchione (Jr, WR/FS)
  • Old Bridge: Rob Orzol (Sr, DE); Dan Hennessey (Sr, RB); Brady Cavallaro (Sr, QB); Shane Hughes (Sr, OG); Sincere Garcia (Sr, LB); Pietro Gambino (Jr, DB)
  • Piscataway: Antonio Rivera (Sr, RB/DB); Malachi Wyatt (Sr, OL/DL); Malik Wilson (Sr, OL/DL); Ossie Hilliard (Sr, DE/FB), Khadafi Madison (Sr, WR/DB); Aleks Sitkowski (Jr, QB/DE)
  • South Brunswick: Chisom Ansonye (Soph, OLB); Dason Boatang (Soph, OL/DL); Jacob Brokaw (Sr, RB/DB); Braden Paulmenn (Jr, QB/SS); Matt Pierre (Jr, OL/DL); Khiri Summers (Sr, RB/DB)

Second Team

  • East Brunswick: Kevin McMillion (Sr, OL/DL)
  • Monroe: Varun Magnadum (Sr, OL/DL); Tejman Singh (Sr, OL/LB)
  • Old Bridge: Armend Urici (Sr, OL); Ryan Kuhl (Jr, DT); Thomas McAleavy (Sr, WR)
  • Piscataway: Jalen Thomas (Sr, DE/TE); Jonathan Carmen (Sr, FS/WR); Corey Stone (Sr, LB)
  • South Brunswick: Damarion Potts (Sr, WR/CB); Greg Sledge (Sr, OL/DL); Alex Mandryck (Sr, P)

NATIONAL SILVER

First Team

  • Edison: Matt Yascko (Sr, QB); Selbin Sabio (Sr, LB/K); Malcolm Stansbury (Sr, WR/DB); Nyekir Eato (Soph, RB/LB)
  • Franklin: Makail Muhammad (Jr, LB); Quasim Ashford (Sr, RB)
  • New Brunswick: Yasir Johnson (Sr, RB/LB); Samad Hicks (Jr, RB/DB); Omari Williams (Jr, OL/DL
  • North Brunswick: Frankie Garbolino (Sr, QB); Zahmir Dawud (Sr, WR/DB); Justin Batts (Sr, LB); Isaiah Barnes (Sr, DE); Payton Wieczerzak (Jr, OL); Tamir Jenkins (Sr, LB); Jared Tynes (Sr, LB); Jack Garbolino (Soph, WR/LB)
  • Sayreville: Caidan Holmes (Sr, S/WR); Connor Walsh (Jr, OL/DL); Nick Mojica (Jr, OL/DL); Brian Clyne (Sr, C/WR); Xavian Pena (Jr, LB/OL); Frank Paczkowski (Jr, OL/DL)

Second Team

  • Edison: Adekunle Shittu (Sr, DE); Michael Strachan (Sr, WR/DB); Sebastian Vera (Jr, DT)
  • Franklin: Joseph Nwachukwu (Jr, DE)
  • New Brunswick: Joshua Nazario (Sr, OL/DL); Tyjay Henderson (Jr, RB/DB)
  • North Brunswick: Willie Wilson (Sr, LB); Alan Martinez (Jr, OL); Alani Ajigbotosho (Sr, WR/DB)
  • Sayreville: Zaimer Wright (Jr, S/RB); Ky’Von Mitchell (Jr, S/WR); Dariel Jerez (Soph, LB/FB)

LIBERTY GOLD

First Team

  • Colonia: Jaeden Jones (Jr, QB); Patrick Miller (Sr, WR); Manuel Faxas (Sr, OL); Matthew Salcedo (Sr, LB); Nic Straile (Soph, LB); Aiden Derkack (Fr, WR); Luke Colon (Jr, OL); Logan Ramos (Jr, OL)
  • JFK: Angel Ruiz (Sr, WR); Evan Richardson (Sr, LB)
  • Linden: Dillon Thompson (Sr, OL); Qa’Dir Booker (Sr, S); Te’Quan Thomas (Jr, QB); Myles Hamilton (Jr, LB); Alex Donic (Jr, LB); Kevin Taylor (Soph, DL)
  • Perth Amboy: Angel Alvarado (Sr, RB); Albin Castano (Soph, LB); Nathaniel Elizondo (Sr, OL)
  • Woodbridge: Antonio Rosato (Sr, QB); Kaelyb Barahona (Sr, OL); Julian Taveras (Sr, DE); A.J. Bosch (Jr, WR)

Second Team

  • Colonia: Noah Bone (Jr, LB); Casey Chiola (Jr, WR); Alex Roy (Jr, DL)
  • JFK: Gabriel Perez (Sr, WR)
  • Linden: Andrew Plummer (Sr, OL); Kerdel Moses (Sr, RB); Davon McClintock (Jr, WR)
  • Perth Amboy: Jerome Greene (Soph, LB); Xavier Frias (Sr, S)
  • Woodbridge: Laz Lisojo (Sr, LB); Dennis Smith, Jr. (Sr, CB); Bryan Anderson (Soph, WR)

LIBERTY SILVER

First Team

  • Montgomery: Matthew D’Avino (Jr, WR); Chris Eubanks (Sr, RB); Gavin Guidette (Sr, LB); Michael Schmelzer (Jr, QB)
  • North Hunterdon: Tyler Anderson (Jr, DB); Danny Delusant (Sr, WR); Kente Edwards (Sr, RB); Luke Matini (Sr, QB); Greg Rayl (Sr, DL); Andrew Schenkel (Sr, LB); Alex Uryniak (Sr, LB); Derek Vaddis (Sr, DB); Hunter Vos (Sr, OL/DL)
  • Plainfield: Samir Cherry (Sr, WR); Josue Cordoba (Jr, OL); Jayden McIver (Sr, LB)
  • Watchung Hills: Scott Drews (Sr, LB); Nirio Garcia (Sr, RB); David Labib (Sr, LB); Riley McCann (Sr, K); Jaden Ramos (Sr, OL); Hunter Seubert (Sr, DL); Joe Vecchio (Sr, LB)

Second Team

  • Montgomery: Elhadji Diara (Sr, DL); Brady Post (Jr, LB)
  • North Hunterdon: Christian Brand (Sr, LB); Kaydn Ford (Sr, DL); Tyler Guidetti (Sr, OL); Louis White (Sr, OL)
  • Plainfield: Yasir Wyatt (Jr, RB); Ala-meen Watkins (Soph, QB)
  • Watchung Hills: Jack Clintock (Jr, WR); Brayden Kelly (Soph, DB); Dylan Kelley (Sr, QB); Cam Montague (Jr, DL)

UNITED GOLD

First Team

  • Cranford: Liam Godwin (Sr, QB/CB); Ryan Lynskey (Sr, RB/FS); Shane Kanterman (Sr, RB/LB); Ryan Heesters (Sr, OL/DL); Ryan Carracino (Jr, HB/LB); Jake Carter (Sr, WR/CB)
  • Rahway: Kyle Hall (Sr, TE); Marquis Diggs (Jr, DB); Jalen Barnes (Sr, DE)
  • Scotch Plains-Fanwood: Weston Fischer (Sr, QB); Khadar “KJ” Jackson (Sr, WR/LB)
  • Summit: Jake Lowry (Sr, RB); Ryan Schnall (Jr, RB); Tyler Kessel (Jr, LB); Luke Harris (Jr, FS)
  • St. Thomas Aquinas: Jayden Young (Sr, QB); Israel Bey (Sr, LB); Najee Lovejoy (Sr, DB/WR); Benjamin Bussiere (Sr, WR); Jeremiah Derilhomme (Sr, WR); Isaiah Marelis (Sr, DE); Sherief Guinyard (Sr, WR); Jack Joyce (Jr, K)

Second Team

  • Cranford: Dylan McDonald (Sr, OL/DL); Jake Carvahlo (Sr, HB/DL); Tyler Egan (Sr, OL)
  • Rahway: Kai Fish (Soph, DL); Andrew Avent (Fr, RB)
  • Scotch Plains-Fanwood: Evan Harvey (Sr, LB)
  • Summit: Tim McKeever (Sr, TE); Leo Hasselmann (Jr, OL); Jack Bronikowski (Jr, DB)
  • St. Thomas Aquinas: Davon Grant (Jr, DE); Nicholas Tricoles (Sr, OL/DL); Elijah Thomas (Soph, OL)

UNITED SILVER

First Team

  • Carteret: Tyrece Parrott (Jr, LB); Sir Hezekiah Ragland (Jr, CB); Jahad Thompson (Jr, WR); Jakir Thomas (Jr, RB); Jack Wlodarczyk (Jr, LB); Antwaun Jackson (Jr, LB)
  • Governor Livingston: Kyle Bade (Sr, OLB); Liam Quigley (Sr, K/P); Owen Chait (Jr, ILB/RB); Rocco Ditizio (Sr, DL)
  • JP Stevens: Kwabena Afrifah (OL/DL); Quadirn Johnson (RB/LB); Lamar Greene-Stevenson (WR/DB)
  • North Plainfield: Tyrell King (WR); Joshua Collazo (QB); Xa’vier Boggs (LB)
  • South Plainfield: Jason Greer (Sr, DL); Michael Green (Sr, RB); Zach Bolesta (Sr, SE); Patrick Smith (Jr, RB); Jospeh Moroney (Sr, QB); Adam Bowles (Jr, LB); Mark Molinaro (Sr, LB); Vin Nguyen (Sr, OL)

Second Team

  • Carteret: Jacob Bess (Soph, DE); Yariel Castellanos (Jr, SS); Cameron Browne (Sr, DT)
  • Governor Livingston: Dan Whelan (Sr, DL); Michael Geertsma (Jr, QB/FS); Vincent Fabio (Sr, WR/OLB)
  • North Plainfield: Ryan Sullivan (Ath.); NFII Bannavti (LB)
  • South Plainfield: Robert Currao (Sr, OL); Joshua Toca (Sr, LB); AJ Perales (Soph, DL)

PATRIOT GOLD

First Team

  • Bernards: Connor Laverty (Jr, QB); Kai Dallimore (Sr, LB); Enzo Britez (Sr, WR); Terrence Hanratty (Soph, RB); Nicholas Kouflie (Sr, RB); Logan Ritchie (Jr, G); Jake Caldwell (Jr, S); Charlie Gonella (Jr, LB)
  • Bound Brook: Ronny Pimentel (Sr, DL); Carlos Zamora (Sr, FB)
  • Delaware Valley: Jack Bill (Sr, QB); Patrick Garlinghouse (Sr, RB); Justin Kolpan (Sr, WR); Enzo Badalameti (Sr, WR); Nick Catino (Sr, S); Anderson Olcott (Jr, LB)
  • South River: Joe Lakatose (Sr, T); Joe Lepore (Sr, S); Andrew Steffaro (Sr, TE)
  • Voorhees: Tyler Kinney (Jr, LB); Cameron Baumann (Jr, T); Jack Mosier (Sr, DT); Justin Wistuba (Jr, WR/QB)

Second Team

  • Bernards: Gabe McKinlay (Sr, G); Tim Pagonis (Jr, T); Pablo Britez (Sr, DT)
  • Bound Brook: Ahmad Wallace (Sr, DL)
  • Delaware Valley: Ryan Neal (Sr, CB); Stoy Fohring (Jr, DE); Michael Small (Sr, LB)
  • South River: Parker Lane (Jr, QB); Gavin Staffa (Jr, G)

PATRIOT SILVER

First Team

  • Hillside: Zaimir Hawk (Sr, DL); Caleb Salters (Sr, QB); Kyon Simonson (Sr, RB); Marcus White (Jr, WR/DB); McNaully Erminal (Jr, DB); Gerald Thompson (Sr, LB); Charles Allen (Sr, OL); Al Jamar Davis (Jr, WR)
  • Johnson: Brett Makowsky (Sr, K); Steven McCaffery (Sr, OL/DL); Jason Greenbush (Sr, FB/DE); Matthew Jean-Louis (Sr, OL/LB)
  • Metuchen: Cody Cardillo (Jr, FB/LB; Evan Toth (Soph, RB/SS)
  • New Providence: Jackson Zarinko (Jr, QB/DB); Matt Botvinis (Jr, WR/DB; Sean Donnelly (Jr, DE/TE); Matt Perillo (Jr, OL/DL); Gabe DeLuca (Jr, OL/DL); Matt Barlow (Jr, WR/DB)
  • Roselle: Nafee Finney (Sr, WR/DB); Emmanuel Lyles (Sr, RB/LB); Timothy Porter (Jr, OL/LB)

Second Team:

  • Hillside: Darreen Nesmith (Sr, OLD); Quanir Clark (Sr, DE); Muwaffaq Parkman (Sr, RB)
  • Johnson: Sean Kessock (Jr, OL/DL); Emilio Menicucci (Jr, RB/LB); Christopher Sullivan (Jr, OL/DL)
  • Metuchen: Ben Michaeliszyn (Soph, RG/LB)
  • New Providence: Matt Smith (Sr, OL/DL); Ben Gullo (Jr, RB/LB); Jack Verbaro (Jr, RB/LB)
  • Roselle: Jaydin Fils-Aime (Sr, OL/DL); Samir Rivet (Sr, WR/DB)

FREEDOM GOLD

First Team

  • Brearley: Matt Sims (Sr, QB/DB); Brendan Fitzsimmons (Sr, WR/DB); Ryan Fitzsimmons (Sr, OL/DL); Joseph Cipriano (Sr, OL/DL); Alexander Chuley (Sr, RB/DL); Bruce Harms (Sr, OL/LB); Michael Kollarik (Jr, TE/LB); Kevin Barcelo (Sr, OL/DL)
  • Dayton: Lujuan Quinones (Sr, QB); Zaakir Youmans (Sr, DB); Jonah Malino (Sr, DL); Thomas Madden (Sr, TE)
  • Highland Park: Daniel Starcevic (Sr, TE/DE); Anthony Adeniji (Sr, RB/DB)
  • Roselle Park: Elijah Igancio (Sr, LB/RB); Ahyad Venable (Sr, TE/LB); Kevin Osorio (Sr, OL/DL); Jermaine Hart (Sr, RB/DB)
  • Spotswood: Patrick Petscavage (Sr, C/DE); Anthony Christian (Sr, RB/OLB); Brandon Bandoy (Sr, WR); Trey Lazar (Jr, QB/WR/CB)

Second Team

  • Brearley: Ryley Caburis (Sr, WR/DB); Vaughn Marranca (Sr, WR/LB); Giuseppe Lombardi (Jr, OL/DL)
  • Dayton: Wesley Griffith (Sr, OL); Alex Altemus (Jr, LB)
  • Highland Park: Daniel Sanchez (Jr, OL)
  • Roselle Park: Xavier Padilla (Jr, QB/DB); Adrian Palacios (Jr, RB/DB); John Ranieri (Jr, RB/DB)
  • Spotswood: Sebastian Saracino (Fr, S); Connor Manacle (Sr, OT); James Curnal (Jr, OLB)

FREEDOM SILVER

First Team

  • Belvidere: Gavin Chamberlain (Sr, RB); Brayden Stefan (Soph, LB)
  • Dunellen: Chiekezie Ogbuewu (Jr, RB); Aidan Sangiray (Jr, RB); Jason Scott (Jr, OL)
  • Manville: Geoffrey Mathis (Sr, LB); Ethan Mullins (Sr, CB); Alex Orzol (Sr, DE); Ryan Oset (Sr, OL); Shawn Purcell (Sr, RB); Na’quavere Thomas (Soph, DL); Doug Toth (Sr, LB); Danny Wildgoose (Sr, QB)
  • Middlesex: Anthony gonzalez (Sr, DL); Jacob Santiago (Sr, OLB); Mahki Parks (Sr, RB); Jacob Platten (Sr, DB)
  • South Hunterdon: Bode Dunn (Sr, RB); Brayden Hinman (Sr, WR); Edward Cooper (Soph, LB); Aaron Zalesick (Jr, DB); Garrett Swayhoover (Jr, LB); Ryan Rampel (Jr, DL)

Second Team

  • Belvidere: Mason Chamberlain (Soph, WR)
  • Dunellen: Luke Petterson (Soph, OL); Jordan Diaz (Sr, OL)
  • Manville: Nick Bentz (Sr, TE); Aleks Starzynski (Sr, FS); Marvin Valverde-Bonilla (Sr, OL)
  • Middlesex: Roberto Araoz (Sr, LB); Nick Jamieson (Jr, OL); Dan Kannaley (Jr, OLB)
  • South Hunterdon: Tanner McCaffrey (Sr, QB); Tommy Ramsin (Sr, RB); Ty Dunn (Soph, OL)

Phillipsburg rebounds from title game loss to go out on a high note, with first win over Easton since 2014

Out of the 12 games it ultimately played in 2022, none – not even the North 2, Group 5 finals against West Orange – were more important than the one Phillipsburg won today.

On its Twitter profile, there are two hashtags: #DIG and #BEATEASTON. There’s no mention of a state championship, just Easton, it’s biggest rival.

The Stateliners beat the Red Rovers 35-14 in their annual Thanksgiving Day game at Lafayette College Thursday, getting three touchdowns from Caleb Rivera, who had touchdown runs of five- and 40- yards, as well as a 40-yard touchdown pass from Jett Genovese, who threw three TD scores. Kevin Burgess and Matthew Scerbo, Jr. had the other two TD receptions.

The win leaves Phillipsburg at 11-1 to close the 2022 season, and it was P’burg’s first victory over the Easton in eight years. Easton still leads the all-time series – which began back in 1905 and has been played on Turkey Day every year since 1916 – by a 67-43-5 margin.

The victory also is the second 11-win season for the Stateliners. They last did that in 2014, when they won the North 2, Group 4 title over Colonia at Rutgers in OT with a goal line stand. Their lone loss that year was to Hillsborough in the regular season.

North Hunterdon edges out Phillipsburg for top spot in final Big Central Media Poll

In a split vote, North Hunterdon earned top honors in the final Big Central Media Poll of the 2022 high school football season over Phillipsburg, with the Lions getting three of the five first-place votes. The Stateliners got the other two.

The final media poll of the season mirrored the final Central Jersey Sports Radio Top Ten with one exception: Watchung Hills got in the media poll at No. 9, while Westfield took that spot in the CJSR poll. Both teams were 7-3 on the season.

North Hunterdon got the top spot on the strength of its North 2, Group 4 championship, though the Lions were knocked out in the first-ever group semifinals by Northern Highlands back on Saturday.

Phillipsburg was upset in the North 2, Group 5 finals by West Orange, but beat North Hunterdon early on in the regular season.

Edison came in third, despite four losses, after making a huge run as the sixth-seed in Central Jersey Group 5 to win a sectional title. Along with West Orange, they were the lowest seeds in the state among public schools to reach sectional finals, and both wound up winning titles.

St. Thomas Aquinas, which beat Edison in the regular season, but got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, checks in at No. 4. Aquinas holds the Big Central Conference’s longest league winning streak going into next year at 17 games, with Phillipsburg and Brearley behind them at eleven straight regular season league wins.

North Brunswick checks in fifth, having been knocked out of the playoffs in the Central Group 5 semifinals by Edison.

Ridge came in sixth, followed by North 2 Group 3 finalist Hillside in seventh.

Cranford was No. 8, Watchung Hills rated ninth, and Montgomery finished in tenth, while Westfield, Bernards, and North 1 Group 1 finalist Brearley (10-1) also received votes.

Below is the complete final Big Central Media Poll for 2022:

North Hunterdon rises to No. 1 in final Top Ten rankings; Lions are CJSR 2022 Team of the Year

CORRECTION: Our initial version of this poll inadvertently omitted Watchung Hills, which tied for third in the poll for 9th place with Westfield and Montgomery. The rest of this story has been updated to correct that omission.

In the final Central Jersey Sports Radio high school football rankings of 2022, North Hunterdon is Number One, and the CJSR Team of the Year.

With just one regular season loss – to Phillipsburg, which finished at No. 2 – the North 2, Group 4 Champion Lions finished the season 11-2, after a loss to Northern Highlands in the Group 4 semifinals this past Saturday, 21-20 in OT at Franklin High School.

Led by the backfield tandem of Kente Edwards and Alex Uryniak, quarterback Luke Martini, and top receivers Derek Vaddis and Danny Delusant – with several of those players also playing critical roles on defense – North Hunterdon won its first state title since 2017, beating Randolph in a finals for the ages, 49-35, a contest which saw the teams explode for a combined 49 points in the final quarter.

The Lions also won the Liberty Silver Division of the Big Central Conference.

Phillipsburg, which was undefeated going into the North 2 Group 4 final, was shocked in the title game by West Orange, 28-7. The American Silver Division champs are 10-1, heading into their Thanksgiving Day battle with Easton.

In third was Edison, the Central Jersey Group 5 champion, which beat Lenape in the title game 28-14 a week ago down in Medford. It was the Eagles’ first title in 31 years, and they finished the season 9-4 with a group of seniors that included several four-year starters, including QB Matt Yascko, wide receiver Malcolm Stansbury, offensive lineman Matthew Bueno, and and kicker/linebacker Selbin Sabio.

Tied for fourth was St. Thomas Aquinas and North Brunswick. The Trojans beat Edison in the regular season, but got knocked out of the playoffs in the opening round by Holy Spirit. Aquinas won the United Gold Division title, and will take a 17-game conference winning streak into the 2023 season, the best in the league. (Phillipsburg and Brearley both have won 11 straight regular season BCC games, the closest teams to Aquinas.

The Raiders finished 8-2, National Silver Division champions. Their lone regular season loss came out-of-division to Cranford, but they lost in the Central 5 semifinals to Edison, after the Eagles scored the game’s final 16 points in a furious comeback in the final five minutes of the game, recovering two on-side kicks and winning on a field goal with :04 left on the clock.

Ridge finished the year 7-3 and came in sixth.

In seventh was Hillside, which finished the season 9-2, tied with Cranford. The Comets were the Patriot Silver Division champions, and their only regular-season loss came to St. Thomas Aquinas in a divisional crossover. They made the North 2, Group 3 finals, but lost to Old Tappan 28-14; the Golden Knights are in the first-ever statewide Group 3 final at Rutgers in two weeks.

Cranford was 7-3, and won the American Gold Division title.

Westfield, Watchung Hills and Montgomery all tied for tenth. The Warriors and Cougars both finished 7-3, while Westfield also is 7-3, but still has to play its Thanksgiving game against Plainfield.

Below are the complete final 2022 Central Jersey Sports Radio High School Football rankings:

OPINION: Do sectional titles still matter? Hell yeah!

When the extra point was tipped, and the Group 4 semifinal game between North Hunterdon and Northern Highlands was over – mercifully for those sitting on cold, metal bleachers in temperatures that clocked in at 27 degrees by the time it was all over, no matter which side of the field you sat on – it marked the end of my 23rd season covering high school football.

That is to say, I have seen a lot of championship games.

There’s been a lot of joyousness, coaches on shoulders, Gatorade (or Tang) baths, pride, thanking of higher beings, et cetera.

There’s also been a lot of crying, players and yes, even coaches at a loss for words, that the unfathomable had happened, that they had come so far to come away empty-handed.

In Medford and in Franklin yesterday, the season ended for the two Big Central Conference teams we had left in the state playoffs, Edison and North Hunterdon. Of course, neither were very happy with how things went down, leaving them, both one game shy of the historic first-ever NJSIAA public school group finals, to be played in two weeks at the State University.

In the briefest of recaps: Edison fell victim to Toms River North in the South Group 5 semifinals just as nearly every other team that’s played the Mariners this year has, by giving up a lot of points, and a lot of touchdowns, most by way of D1 prospect Micah Ford. North Hunterdon lost to Northern Highlands in the North Group 4 semifinals in a game that, if they play like they’d played in all but one game this season – a loss to Phillipsburg – and like they’ve played especially in these playoffs, they should have won, and maybe handily.

Fans of neither team will take that as much comfort, but there is one thing they can both take away: they are both champions. And that is something no one else can take away from them.

Let’s start with Edison, a program that had won two previous sectional championships in the prior 48 years that make up the “playoff era” in New Jersey.

Their last title was in 1991. None of these players were born then. The South side came out to support them all year long. They won a huge come-from-behind semifinal game over rival North Brunswick, with the fathers of the two quarterbacks having been teammates for the Eagles in 1991. They won the 2022 Central jersey Group 5 title on the road against a team that clobbered them and their freshman starting quarterback in the playoffs three years ago. They won it with a bunch of kinds who mainly grew up playing together in Edison Pop Warner.

You think it doesn’t matter to them?

Maybe it won’t be another 32 years before Edison wins another title. Maybe it will. But Matt Yascko, Malcolm Stansbury, Adekunle Shittu, Selbin Sabio, et al, will be talking about this for the next 32 years and beyond. If they become parents, and their kids play football, they will show them those rings, and if they become the offensive coordinator on a team where their son is the QB, the son will give them an eye roll and tell his father his team would whoop them.

Edison’s Matt Yascko (the QB/son, left) and Matt Yascko (the offensive coordinator/father, right) have helped lead Edison to its first sectional title since 1991. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

North Hunterdon also had won just two state titles coming into this year’s playoffs. We found them almost by accident. Sure, we knew about the names Luke Martini and Kente Edwards, but had not yet seen them in person. Then, the AD from the school we’d originally planned to broadcast called one Friday afternoon, and said he was told his press box would be over capacity. No worries. We’d planned to send a reporter to another game, perhaps the best in the BCC that night, Colonia at North Hunterdon. So we called an audible.

We were impressed from the word go. Especially with Edwards getting banged up and Alex Uryniak shouldering more carries than usual. The Lions won handily, and we took notice.

We came back for the North 2, Group 4 sectional semifinals, and even got invited to the Touchdown Club’s tailgate, just up Route 31 from Singley Field. Who could turn down stromboli made by Mrs. Uryniak, chips, salsa, and mozzarella sticks?

The Lions beat Morris Knolls that night. Then we were back the following week for the title game, another North Hunterdon win. There was joy all around. Players talking and tweeting about being #family. But not just talking and tweeting. They are family. They’re close-knit, they love each other. They’re respectful. They love the game and each other.

North Hunterdon players hoist their North 2, Group 4 trophy after beating Randolph 49-35 in Annadale on November 12, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

You think this title didn’t matter to them? It did, and it always will. This team will go down in North Hunterdon lore, even after they go off to run track (Edwards), play basketball (Martini) and wrestle (Uryniak and Delusant).

And no disrespect to the 2017 squad – which I didn’t see – or the 1975 team – which also won a sectional title and went undefeated – as my guest broadcast partner Shane Dunn (NH Class of ’22) said on our broadcast Saturday night, it may be the best one ever assembled in Annandale.

There was a question asked last year, when the NJSIAA membership voted overwhelmingly to play down to group champions in football, after so many close or overwhelming defeats in past years: Would the move cheapen sectional titles? Some coaches still feel it does.

I’m here to tell you, at least for Edison and North Hunterdon, it doesn’t. Not in the least. Those championships mean just as much as the ones won in 1975, 1976, 1991 and 2017. Maybe even more.

There will be banners, rings, and reunions for the 2022 Eagles’ and Lions’ sectional championship teams. They’ve already got the trophies. They’re champions, and no one can take that away from them.

North Hunterdon head coach Kevin Kley (right) talks with seniors Kente Edwards (middle) and Derek Vaddis after a loss to Northern Highlands in the Group 4 semifinals at Franklin HS on November 19, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

After the loss in the Group 4 semis at Franklin, when I meekly muttered “Kente” (knowing the situation) for a postgame interview, and he silently nodded toward a huddle of some of his teammates, I knew what it meant. He just wanted to be with his teammates. Teammates who had just taken a rough loss, who would have, could have, should have won on that cold and frigid night. I knew what he meant, even though he messaged me later that night to apologize.

I told him not to worry, I knew why he walked the other way, even if he didn’t. I’ve done this long enough.

He wanted to be with his teammates.

Teammates who had just lost a big game, but also will forever be champions. They won’t forget, and neither will anyone else.

Edison’s championship season comes to an end against Toms River North

Coming off its first sectional title in over three decades, Edison had earned a date with the top public school in the state, Toms River North.

And on Saturday evening down at Cherokee High School, just 15 minutes from last Friday’s great night of hundred-yard glory, they met the same fate as every other team to play Toms River North this season, and very likely they next one, too.

https://www.idealtiresystems.com/

The Eagles’ postseason run came to an end just one game shy of New Jersey’s first-ever public school state finals, losing 42-14 to the Mariners in the Group 4 semifinals.

And as it has been week in and week out for TRN, it was all about Micah Ford. The junior quarterback – who has offers from West Virginia and Maryland – rushed for 289 yards and five touchdowns, while the Mariners rolled off 420 yards of rushing offense.

Down 35-0 in the third quarter, Edison got two touchdowns back, with a Matt Yascko connection to Michael Strachan for 32 yards late in the period, and a Yascko one-yard run early in the fourth after the Eagles recovered an on-side kick, but that was as close as they would get, with Ford’s fifth touchdown of the game providing the final margin.

Click the play button above to hear Edison Councilman Richard Brescher congratulate the Eagles on their Central Jersey Group 5 championship, and wish them luck this week against Toms River North!
https://www.edisonboysbaseball.com/

Toms River North (13-0) will go on to play the winner of the North 5 semifinal between West Orange and Passaic Tech, which takes place Sunday at 2:30 pm at Franklin High School. Edison finishes its season 9-4, but with the Central Jersey Group 5 title in its trophy case, the school’s third.

Click below for postgame reaction from down on the field with Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Chris Tsakonas:

Edison senior QB Matt Yascko

Edison head coach Matt Fulham

North Hunterdon’s run falls one PAT short in overtime

It was a great run for the North Hunterdon football team in 2022.

But the Lions fell one point shy of making the state’s first-ever Group Finals at Rutgers University.

Plagued by miscues – high snaps, INTs, a missed field goal, and in the end, a tipped PAT – North Hunterdon fell to Northern Highlands Saturday night in the North Group 4 semifinals, 21-20 in overtime, in the nightcap at Franklin High School, as heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

The Lions never led in the game, coming back twice from deficits of 7-0 and 14-7, and missed a chance on a late fourth quarter drive to take their first lead and end the game in regulation, when a 30-yard field goal attempt by Ben Cleary missed.

North Hunterdon still had a chance, even after at least a half-dozen high snaps on plays from scrimmage – most early in the game – and three interceptions thrown by quarterback Luke Martini – one at the goal line – after he had gone the last eight games without throwing a single pick.

Kente Edwards had 12- and two-yard TD runs in regulation.

In overtime, Northern Highlands scored first, and got the PAT to go up 21-14, but Edwards answered to get within 21-20. Kley sent out Cleary for the game-tying PAT to send it to a second overtime, but the Highlanders tipped it, and the kick fell short, ending the game.

North Hunterdon finishes the season 11-2, but still with a trophy to its credit, the North 2 Group 4 championship it won last weekend with a wild 39-35 victory over Randolph.

Northern Highlands goes on to play the winner of the South 4 semifinal being played Sunday at Franklin at 2:30, between Mainland and Millville.

Click below to for postgame reaction with Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko:

Senior QB Luke Martini

Head coach Kevin Kley

South Group 5 Semifinal Preview: Edison vs. Toms River North

A lot has changed since Edison last won a sectional title in 1991.

There were only four-team fields in each playoff section at the time – you know, in the days before everyone got a participation trophy – and you could fill up your gas tank at one of the discount stations along Route One between Old Post Road and Wick Plaza for just over a dollar a gallon.

Ah, good times.

Of course, that long stretch has gone by the boards, after the 6th-seeded Eagles won 28-14 at top-seed Lenape Friday night to claim the Central Jersey Group 5 championship. Now, it’s on the Group 5 semifinals at Cherokee High School in Medford this Saturday.

And we’ve got a complete preview of the game below, with stats, key players, title histories, notes and more:

Group 5 Semifinals
Edison (Central 5 Champion, 9-3) vs. Toms River North (South 5 Champion, 12-0)
When: Saturday, 5:30 pm
Where: Cherokee High School, Medford

Coverage: Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Chris Tsakonas will be covering the game, providing live updates during our broadcast of the North Group 4 Semifinal between North Hunterdon and Northern Highlands, which also begins at 5:30. Follow Chris here on Twitter for updates, and postgame reaction and a recap will be available on cjsportsradio.com after the game.

How they got here:

Edison defeated #3 Hillsborough 10-7 in the opening round, then rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat #2 North Brunswick 33-31 in the semifinals, by way of two touchdowns, two onside kicks, and a field goal with four seconds remaining. In the Central Jersey Group 5 title game last Friday night, the sixth-seeded Eagles doubled up top-seed Lenape 28-14, in a game played just 15 minutes away from where they’ll be Saturday, in Medford.

Click the play button above to hear Edison Councilman Richard Brescher congratulate the Eagles on their Central Jersey Group 5 championship, and wish them luck this week against Toms River North!

Toms River North – the top-seed in the section, and top overall seed in South 5 – has done what they’ve done pretty much the entire season, maul the competition. They beat 8th-seed Old Bridge 49-7 in the opening round, fourth-seed Marlboro 42-6 in the semifinals, and second-seed Kingsway – last year’s South 5 champion – 48-14 in the title game Friday night.

Who would be next?

The winner of this game advances to the state’s first-ever public school Group Finals in two weeks at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium in Piscataway. They would play the winner of the North semifinal, featuring North 1 winner Passaic Tech (10-2) and North 2 winner West Orange (8-3), which knocked off top-seed Phillipsburg 28-7 in the North 2, Group 5 title game. That North Semifinal will be played at 2:30 Sunday afternoon at Franklin.

https://www.idealtiresystems.com/

Series, League History

This will be just the second meeting between Edison and Toms River North. The Mariners won last year’s sectional semifinal playoff game at home over the Eagles, 48-7, after Edison pulled off an overtime road win at Manalapan in the first round, 23-20 in OT. Edison hung around in that game against the Mariners for three quarters, trailing just 21-7 entering the fourth until the wheels came off.

In 1991, the year of Edison’s most recent sectional title before this year, the Eagles actually beat two Shore Conference teams en route to the Central Jersey Group 4 championship: 4th-seed Manalapan 9-7 in the first round/semifinals, and third-seed Middletown South 20-16 in the finals.

Overall, Edison is 3-1 in the playoffs against the Shore Conference: 2-0 in 1991, and 1-1 last season.

The Greater Middlesex Conference used to have a scheduling arrangement with the Shore Conference, so the Eagles have played a good number of its teams over the years. They had home-and-homes with Jackson Memorial, Marlboro, Freehold Township and Freehold Boro in back to back years from 2010 thru 2017. That makes them 6-14-1 overall against the Shore, 3-13-1 in the regular season.

https://www.edisonboysbaseball.com/

Finals Histories:

Edison (3-0 in finals)  (13th appearance, 10-10 overall)

  • 2022:  Central 5:  #6 seed, beat #1 Lenape 28-14 (9-3 thru finals)
  • 1991:  Central 4:  #1 seed, beat #3 Middletown South 20-16 (11-0)
  • 1976:  Central 4:  #3 seed, beat #1 Woodbridge 19-0 (8-2-1)

Toms River North (7-2 in finals) (21st appearance, 24-14)

  • 2022:  South 5:  #1 seed, beat #2 Kingsway 48-14 (12-0 through finals)
  • 2021:  South 5:  #3 seed, lost to #4 Kingsway 21-14 (7-4)
  • 2016:  South 5:  #1 seed, lost to #3 Millville 22-15 at Rowan (11-1)
  • 2015:  South 5:  #4 seed, beat #3 Williamstown 14-7 at Rowan (11-1)
  • 2007:  South 4:  #2 seed, beat #3 Mainland 22-19 (12-0)
  • 1997:  South 4:  #3 seed, beat #4 Millville 30-27 (9-2)
  • 1994:  South 4:  #2 seed, beat #1 Cherokee 28-16 (10-1)
  • 1991:  South 4:  #3 seed, beat #1 Eastern 24-6 (10-1)
  • 1979:  South 4:  #3 seed, beat #2 Brick Township 15-14 (9-2)

Beyond the “Finals”

In 2018, the NJSIAA added another round onto the playoffs following the sectional finals. “Bowl Championships” were held in 2018 with the North 1 and North 2 sectional winners playing in each group, and the South and Central winners doing the same. Those became known as “Regional Championships” in 2019, but they were still one game shy of crowning group champs, as New Jersey will do for the first time this year.

Edison has never taken part, their previous sectional title before this year being back in 1991, when the sectionals only had fields of four teams. Toms River North has never been there either, having not won a sectional title during that “expanded” period, though they had a chance to get there last year; however, they lost to Kingsway 21-14 to finish 7-4.

Key Players and Stats

Take into account anyone on offense or defense, there’s no more important player than senior quarterback Matt Yascko, who took over the reigns midway through his freshman year in 2019 when starter Lucas Loffredo went down to injury, then moved and transferred to Piscataway. He’s gutsy, and leads with words and by example. He’s the heart and soul of the team, whether it’s running for the game-winning two point conversion in a postseason “pod” game against Hillsborough in 2020 to win a 50-49 donnybrook, or taking advantage of open field and running 20 times against Cedar Creek in the Battle of the Beach in the 2022 season opener, scoring four times, and winning Bellamy & Son Paving Player of the Week honors for Week Zero. Or leading three scoring drives in the final four minutes as he did two weeks ago in a dramatic come-from-behind win over North Brunswick in the Central Jersey Group 5 semifinals. But there’s a super supporting cast, and one that has played a lot. Other four-year starters include wide receiver/safety Malcolm Stansbury, offensive tackle/tight end Israel Rodriguez, and defensive end/H-back Adekunle Shittu. Right guard Matt Bueno has also been playing since his sophomore season in 2020. That continuity and experience not only makes those players better, but their teammates as well.

Yascko has thrown for 1,736 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, while only throwing two interceptions. He values the football. Nyekir Eato is the primary ball carrier with 1,224 yards on 171 carries and 15 touchdowns, but Yascko is No. 2 on the list, carrying 96 times for 553 yards and 10 TDs, four of them coming against Cedar Creek. And he spreads the love to his receivers, with at least five guys catching 10 or more passes this season, and three with 24 or more, led by Malcolm Stansbury’s 46 hauls for 579 yards and four touchdowns. Junior Ricky Harvey has 24 for 392 yards and 4 scores, while senior Michael Strachan has 38 grabs for 356 yards and a team-leading 5 TDs.

Defensively, Shittu is a top-notch defensive end with five sacks, 19 tackles for loss and a team-leading 26 quarterback hurries. But Selbin Sabio is the anchor. The senior linebacker is all over the place, with a team-leading 137 tackles, 97 solo, and 30 TFLs. No one else even comes close. Not to mention what he does on special teams as the squad’s kicker; he executed two onside kicks in the final four minutes of the sectional semifinals against North Brunswick, and booted the game-winning field goal. He had done the latter the previous week as well, kicking a field goal as time expipred in the CJ5 semis to give Edison a 10-7 lead at halftime. Those points would be huge, as neither team scored in the second half. Having a reliable kicker is an advantage many high school teams don’t have.

For Toms River North, it all begins with Micah Ford. The junior quarterback already has offers from Maryland and West Virginia, and interest from Rutgers, among other D1 schools. A dual threat, he has thrown for 1,061 yards this year, with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions, while running 187 times for 1,951 yards and 28 scores. And that’s factoring in four blowout games where he never ran the ball more than seven times, hed still went over 100 yards rushing in two of them, and his team won by a combined 249-7.

And that’s the other thing: TR North can score. And play defense. That’s a deadly combo. To wit: they have not scored fewer than 42 points in a game since their Week Zero win over Washington Township in the Battle at the Beach, a 28-21 victory, and are the highest-scoring team in the state, with 590 points already. (They’re also the highest-ranked public school in New Jersey, at No. 3 according to NJ.com.) Since then, they have averaged 51 points a game, scoring over 50 or more points five times, hitting hitting 70 in a 70-6 win over Toms River East; they also beat South 60-0. They’ve pitched four shutouts this season, and held nine of their 12 opponents to single digits. Their average scoring margin this year is plus-41.3 points per game. Be scared.

On the other side of the ball, the same defensive line that held Yascko to 38 yards rushing last season, and 51 as a team, is back. That forced Edison to throw the ball more, and Yascko wouldn up throwing two interceptions, one a pick-six. Ty Kazanowsky leads the team with 5 1/2 sacks and 21 TFLs, while four others have at least ten each.

The bright side for Edison is that Toms River North has been a bit undisciplined, although they have been able to make up for it with superior talent all season long. Can they do that against Edison? We’ll see.

Notes and Nuggets

Edison head coach Matt Fulham, now in his 18th season leading the Eagles, earned his 80th win with the championship over Lenape. He’s now 80-98-1, that lone tie coming in 2016 against Old Bridge. He’s the longest-tenured coach in school history, and the winningest, having passed Mike Wojick’s school mark of 66 last September with a victory over St. Joseph-Metuchen.

With the Central Jersey Group 5 title win, Matt Yascko the quarterback and his father, Matt Yascko the offensive coordinator, both have earned championship rings at Edison. Yascko was a receiver on the 1991 title team, the last one to win a sectional crown before this year’s win. Obviously, neither played on Edison’s only other title team, in 1976, but Yasckos have bee involved in two of Edison’s three sectional title wins.

Also with that win, Edison is 3-0 all-time in sectional finals.

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