Category: Football Top Ten

As you count down to the New Year, here are the Top Ten stories of 2021 on Central Jersey Sports Radio

Top Ten lists are king. Ever since the first David Letterman Top Ten on the original “Late Night” on NBC, they’ve been funny, entertaining, and – when it comes to sports – a great source for debate.

There’s not much debate to be had here, though. We’ve compiled the Top Ten stories of 2021 – our first full calendar year of operation on Central Jersey Sports Radio – with the most read and listened to stories on our website. Read by you, the fans!

All these stories are about the teams, schools, student-athletes, and great plays that made 2021 special. Some are combined when written about the same subject. Click on each heading to read and listen to the original stories. Enjoy!

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

Old Bridge players take the field for pre-game warmups at South Brunswick on September 17, 2021.

Sometimes, it’s not a game-winning hit, touchdown or basket that makes a good story. Sometimes, it’s just a old-fashioned football game. For whatever reason, that was the case with our tenth-most read story of 2021, a win for Old Bridge football over South Brunswick from early this season. Lawrence Hunter III was the Autoland Player of the Game, and Owen Haughney figured prominently in the win as well. Listen to postgame reaction from Hunter and head coach Anthony Lanzafama with CJSR’s Tim Catalfamo.

9) Old Bridge finally wins a close one, in a big spot

Seniors on the Old Bridge baseball team pose before their 2021 Senior Night.

Another Old Bridge story, this time baseball. The Knights were having a rough season, but still in the state tournament. With a 7-17 mark, they had lost ten games by three runs or less, and four by one or two runs. That is, until the opening round of the playoffs, where 12th-seeded Old Bridge knocked off 5th-seed South Brunswick, behind solid performances from two sophomores: Justin Herbstman and Thomas Papeo.

8) “Walk ’em off Spotswood!” Lewandowski’s double off the wall lets Chargers keep Commanders’ Cup trophy another year

Spotswood holds the Bill Thompson Memorial Commander’s Cup Trophy after a 6-5 walk-off win over East Brunswick on May 19, 2021. It was the Chargers’ fourth straight win in the series.

Spotswood High School – my alma mater, for full disclosure, Class of 1996 – has always had that underdog mentality. Baseball coach Glenny Fredricks just brings it to another level, and he has a bunch of scrappy guys to prove it. There’s no fear in this small Group 2 school going up against a Group 4 like East Brunswick year after year after year, for what they call the “Commanders’ Cup.” In 2021, Spotswood won their fourth straight in the series, thanks to a walk-off off the wall by Tyler Lewandowski.

7) National recruit Davison Igbinosun of Union says Farmers are “heartbroken” over playoff cancellation, vows to keep fighting

Union senior CB Davison Igbinosun (source: Twitter)

COVID didn’t nearly have the effect on the 2021 high school football season that it did in 2020. Sure, games were cancelled, but not in an amount even closely approaching what happened the season prior. That did nothing to comfort Union, which had one of its most talented teams in school history, and was the odds-on favorite to win North 2 Group 5, and maybe even go all the way to win the North 5 regional championship. Then, COVID hit a few members of the team, the Superintendent shut down the season, and four-star national recruit Davison Igbinosun and his teammates became vocal to try and save their season. It didn’t work, but we helped give him and his teammates a voice, and Igbinosun represented them with class and dignity.

Click here for additional coverage with Union head coach Lou Grasso, Jr.

6) Loaded North Brunswick aiming high behind Garbolino and Co.

North Brunswick junior QB Frankie Garbolino

Coming off a 7-1 season, with an experienced junior quarterback and a talented ensemble cast returning, North Brunswick entered the 2021 football season with high hopes. They might have been achieved if not for a once-in-a-lifetime-talented Hillsborough squad, which they met twice – once in the regular season finale and once in the playoffs. Hear Frankie Garbolino and head coach Mike Cipot talk about the 2021 team, in our most-listened to preview story of ’21.

5) Somerville’s dynamic duo – Cookie and AJ – taking divergent paths after H.S., with big hopes for the future

From left to right, Somerville RB Cookie Desiderio, head coach Dallas Whitaker, and DE A.J. Pena pose with their commemorative footballs honoring their CJSR Player of the Year picks, and Somerville’s Team of the Year award for 2020.

They were two of the most dominant football players in the Big Central – maybe even the state – in the COVID-shortened 2020 season: runningback Cookie Desiderio and defensive end A.J. Pena of Somerville. The “Cookie Monster” scored almost every time he touched the ball (every 5.8 carries, in reality, but who’s counting) and A.J. loved “making quarterbacks cry,” which he did 12 times in seven games. They were named CJSR’s Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, but in the strange world of extra college eligibility and the FCS season being moved to the Spring – neither got the D1 offers they deserved.

4) Who’s the strongest team in the Big Central? Here are the league’s SI ratings heading into 2021

Phillipsburg was the “strongest” team in the Big Central heading into 2021, according to the NJSIAA’s Strength Index.

Yes, sometimes even true numbers, purely mathematical, can stir debate. And such has been the case since the NJSIAA revamped its playoff formula in 2018, initially using the Born Bower Index, and since 2019 using its own formula, loosely based on the BPI. It uses the OSI, or Opponent Strength Index, but needs the strength value of each individual team to calculate. So, we simply compiled the numbers for all the Big Central and published them. Not everyone may be a fan of our extensive knowledge of the system – it can be a dull read at times – but we do have many fans of this kind of thing, apparently. And we’re sure a good number of them are coaches, too, from both inside and outside the conference, as we’ll frequently get calls and texts asking “Where do you see us ending up?”

3) Listen to Bobby Ulmer talk with Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko about his walk-off grand-slam

Bobby Ulmer, Jr., live on the CJSR postgame, talking about his dramatic walk-off grand slam.

Kids dream of this kind of stuff, acting it out in their backyards. Bases loaded, two outs, last inning, two strikes, grand slam to win the game. Bobby Ulmer, Jr., of Middlesex lived it. His walk-off grand slam in the Group 1 semifinals sent Middlesex to the state title game, where they would win again in walk-off fashion, albeit in 13 innings on a seeing-eye single by Mark Geist. Ulmer’s moonshot in the team’s last home game of the year was as dramatic as they come.

Bonus coverage: Middlesex gains Group 1 final on Ulmer’s dramatic, walk-off grand slam

2) Big Central releases All-Division Teams

It doesn’t always have to be a Top Ten list that inspires debate, or at least inspires people to go to your website. Simply honoring student-athletes is a big draw. So a list recognizing all the outstanding football players in the Big Central Conference in 2021 – all-division teams chosen by the league’s head coaches featuring 384 players in toto – brought readers out in droves.

1) He brings the water bottles, and the excitement. And he wants to help bring Greg Schiano and Rutgers a national championship

Edison senior Raymond Taub wants to be a team manager for Greg Schiano at Rutgers.

This may be one of our most favorite stories – if not, favorite interviews – ever. I can’t really tell you how we first came to know about Raymond Taub – that’s an entertaining story just for a few of us to know – but suffice it to say, he’s an awesome kid. He’s the autistic, well-loved-by-everyone manager of the football team, keeps meticulous pitch counts for the baseball team, and is the Eagles’ biggest fan. He also may be the biggest Rutgers fan out there, and his Senior Night “goal” was to become a manager with the Scarlet Knight football team and “help Greg Schiano win a national championship.” He’s a little busy right now, but someone bookmark this story for him when he gets back from Jacksonville in 2022, will ya?

Another split vote – but Hillsborough stays at the top of the heap – in the Big Central Media Poll

In the final Big Central Media Poll of the season before the playoffs wrap up, Hillsborough remains No. 1, but again split the six first place votes with Somerville and Union.

The Raiders capped a 9-0 season with a 41-0 win over North Brunswick at home last Friday night, and earned the top-seed in Central Group 5 in the process.

North Brunswick – on its third loss of the season – dropped out of the rankings, while Phillipsburg worked its way back in with a 13-0 win over Westfield.

Below are the Week 9 rankings:

Somerville closes regular season atop Central Jersey Sports Radio rankings

In the final Top Ten before the playoffs begin – and until the season is over – Somerville once again reigns supreme.

The Pioneers are Number One in the Week 9 Central Jersey Sports Radio rankings, with little change below them.

In fact, the only real change was Old Bridge bouncing out, although the Knights also received votes, along with St. Thomas Aquinas.

Below are the Week 9 rankings:

Undefeated Hillsborough holds top spot in Big Central Media Poll for second straight week

Though it split the six first-place votes in the Big Central Media Poll evenly with Union and Somerville, Hillsborough held on to the top spot in the Week 8 Big Central Media Poll.

The Raiders got 53 points in the poll, edging our the Pioneers and Farmers, who had 53 apiece, and tied for second. Cranford held in fourth.

After some movement in the middle of the poll, Ridge re-entered the rankings at No. 8 after a 27-6 win at Westfield Saturday, while Bridgewater-Raritan made it back in at No. 9 following a 31-14 road win over Elizabeth.

Previous No. 7 Old Bridge, which blew out JP Stevens on the road Friday night, dropped out, but also received votes. Similarly, previously No. 9 Phillipsburg fell out, but picked up the same number of votes as the Knights, after a 42-0 home win over Connecticut’s Capital Prep Harbor.

Below is the Week 8 poll:

Few changes in Week 8 Central Jersey Sports Radio Top Ten, with Somerville still leading the pack

Another Somerville rout – this one 43-13 at Warren Hills, and without their starting quarterback – keeps the Pioneers on top of the pack in the Central Jersey Sports Radio rankings for Week 8.

In fact, few teams moved at all in the latest Top Ten, with Woodbridge dropping just one spot from 5th to 6th after a loss to unranked Scotch Plains-Fanwood. Sayreville moved up one spot to fifth.

The Barrons are tied with Bridgewater-Raritan for sixth; the Panthers were previously No. 7. Phillipsburg – previously No. 9, are tied for eighth with North Brunswick.

Though St. Thomas Aquinas – previously in a three-way tie for tenth with Old Bridge and Ridge – dropped out, it was really just a math quirk, as the Trojans (7-0) still received a Top Ten vote this week; others who were tenth simply were ranked higher.

Delaware Valley (7-1) also received a vote.

Below is the full Week 8 Top Ten:

Split vote gives Hillsborough top ranking in Big Central Media Poll, ousting Somerville from No. 1

Hillsborough, Somerville and Union each got two first place votes from the media, but it was the undefeated Raiders who came out first overall in the Week 7 Big Central Media Poll.

Hillsborough (7-0) received 47 points, while Somerville (5-1) got 45, and Union (6-1) picked up 43 in media voting, the tightest among the top three this season for the second week in a row, as only four points separated last week’s grouping as well.

Last week, Somerville and Woodbridge split the six first place votes, but then-No. 4 Woodbridge’s loss to then No. 8 Cranford caused a stir among voters for Week 7.

Seventh-ranked Ridge and No. 9 Delaware Valley dropped out after losses, while Phillipsburg re-entered the poll, and St. Thomas Aquinas made its first appearance of the season. The Trojans are 6-0 and have not allowed a point all season.

Should Aquinas pick up a seventh shutout at Governor Livingston Friday night, that would be the most in a season by a Middlesex County school since the 2004 Piscataway Chiefs shutout seven in 2004, en route to a perfect 12-0 season and a state title win over Phillipsburg. That Chiefs team had three future NFL first round draft picks: Malcolm Jenkins, Kyle Wilson and Anthony Davis.

Below are the Week 7 Big Central media rankings:

Gap narrows at the top, but Somerville remains cream of Big Central Media Poll crop in Week 6

When it took over first place in Week 3 from North Brunswick following a Raiders loss to Sayreville, the Somerville Pioneers had four of the six first place votes, and 55 points.

Though they remain atop the media rankings in Week 6, they’ve had three votes the last few times out, but are down to 45 points in the survey, ten points off their high water mark.

And only five points separates Somerville from the fourth place team, Woodbridge, which got the other three first-place picks. Places five through eight are a big drop down, then it goes down to nine and ten, with five BCC teams also receiving votes.

Sayreville debuts at No. 10.

Following is the Week 6 Big Central Media Poll:

Somerville holds, Sayreville debuts in Week 6 Central Jersey Sports Radio Big Central Top Ten

Idle Somerville – waylaid by a COVID-related cancellation for the second straight year against Phillipsburg – remains in the top spot of the Central Jersey Sports Radio Big Central Conference rankings for Week 6.

In fact, the top six places saw no change, which has been a fairly typical occurrence this season; the top half has generally remained steady, while the bottom few teams tend to change week to week.

The Week 6 rankings found seventh-ranked Bridgewater-Raritan dropping out after its third loss of the season, this week a 49-21 decision at No. 3 Union.

Tenth-ranked Colonia also bowed out, dropping its second game this season, a 27-14 loss at No. 7 Cranford.

Making its debut in the rankings this week was Sayreville, after a 34-6 win over Piscataway. The Bombers are 3-2 and own a road win at ranked North Brunswick last month.

Below are the Week 6 rankings:

It’s still The ‘Ville atop Big Central Media Poll; Bridgewater-Raritan makes its debut after big road win

For the second week in a row, Somerville and Woodbridge split the first-place votes in the Week 5 Big Central Media Poll – three apiece – but the Pioneers held on to the top spot in the survey.

Woodbridge came in fourth, down a spot from last week, as Hillsborough climbed one position on the strength of a road win against then-No. 5 Ridge, which fell to seventh.

Bridgewater-Raritan entered the poll for the first time this year, despite a 3-2 mark, but on the strength of a 17-7 road win at then-No. 7 Phillipsburg, which dropped out of the poll, having fallen to 2-3.

Colonia and Phillipsburg also received votes.

Below is the Week 6 poll:

Pioneers remain No. 1, but Hillsborough edges closer after Top 5 win against Ridge

There’s no change at the very top of the Central Jersey High School Football Top Ten, but there is right below, as Hillsborough edges up from second to third.

The Raiders gained after a 42-14 win at previously-No. 5 Ridge, in a game where the Raiders where in control virtually wire-to-wire. No. 2 Union – which beat Westfield Friday night 14-3 in the Big Central Game of the Week driven by Autoland on Central Jersey Sports Radio – dropped to third.

Ridge remained in the Top Ten, but Phillipsburg did not, after the Stateliners suffered their third loss of the season, this one 17-7 at home to previously-unranked Bridgewater-Raritan, which enters the poll at No. 7, tied with Cranford.

Also dropping out after a one-week appearance was St. Thomas Aquinas, which was idle after South River had to cancel their Saturday game with the Trojans. Colonia, however, jumped in, tied for tenth with unbeaten Delaware Valley. The Patriots beat Linden on the road, 23-14, a Tigers’ team that had just beaten ranked Westfield the previous week. Colonia plays at No. 7 Cranford Friday night.

Below are the Week 5 rankings: