Tag: Big Central

St. Thomas Aquinas mourns sudden death of football coach Brian Meeney

In his third season with the Trojans’ football team, Brian Meeney had the young men who bought into the program, and it was all paying off, after a pair of four-win seasons, en route to a 9-1 record and the tying of a modern era shutout record, allowing just nine points the entire regular season, pitching seven shutouts in a highly successful 2021 campaign.

And just like that, he’s gone.

St. Thomas Aquinas High School announced on its website today that Meeney had died, leaving a huge hole in the school community.

“We are saddened to inform you of the passing of our football coach, Brian Meeney,” a post on the site said. “At this difficult time, please keep the Meeney family and the STA family in your prayers. Eternal Rest, Brian, eternal rest. May perpetual light shine upon Brian.”

Meeney was 46. NJ.com’s Mike Kinney reported Thursday afternoon that Meeney had a massive heart attack earlier that morning.

The school said counselors and Campus Ministry were available for students and staff throughout the day.

Union’s Davison Igbinosun chooses Ole Miss over Rutgers, two other SEC schools

A week before the All-American Bowl, Union athlete Davison Igbinosun announced on Twitter he’d come down with COVID, and would be unable to play in the game. But it didn’t put a damper on his plans to announce it during the nationally televised contest.

In between the first and second quarters Saturday afternoon, Igbinosun – the most highly-touted recruit this year in the Big Central Conference – announced he would play at Ole Miss in the SEC.

He chose the Rebels over Tennesee, Kentucky and Rutgers. After a visit to Piscatway, he said Rutgers was the “home school” but called the SEC “big boy football.”

Igbinosun’s senior season came to an untimely end in the state playoffs, when the district’s Superintendent pulled the team from its second round game due to a number of positive COVID tests on the team, prompting a swift backlash from parents and fans. Igbinosun spearheaded a move by him and his teammates to get the team reinstated, but by then it was too late, and the plug was pulled.

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

Igbinosun had several dozen Division I offers.

Old Bridge’s Lanzafama stepping down after 12 seasons with Knights

Saying “the time was right for a lot of different reasons,” Old Bridge head coach Anthony Lanzafama is leaving the program after a dozen highly successful seasons as just the school’s second head coach following the merger of Cedar Ridge and Madison Central.

Lanzafama took over for Bob DeMarco, who retired in 2010, but he wasn’t an outsider. In fact, he grew up in town, played youth football there, played high school football in Old Bridge, and worked as an assistant under DeMarco.

Promoted from within, Lanzafama went 72-47-1 in his 12 seasons, with just two losing records in that span. He had four eight-win seasons with the Knights, the most recent of which came in 2019.

He started with a 2-8 campaign 2010, then the Knights won the final three games of 2011 to go 5-5. But after that, Old Bridge ripped off a four-year run that included two eight-win seasons, going 29-14 overall from 2012-2015, including a berth in the Central Jersey Group 5 championship game at Rutgers. They would lose that game to South Brunswick, whose head coach Joe Goerge was officially hired Thursday to begin a second stint with the Vikings.

And when it came to their big rival, Lanzafama’s teams were nearly perfect. After losing to East Brunswick in the 2010 version of the “Battle of Route 18,” his first, the Knights have won eleven straight since.

Click below to listen to Anthony Lanzafama talk with Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko:

Legendary football coach Joe Goerge returns to the South Brunswick, where he led Vikings to unprecedented success, and three state titles

Joe Goerge is back for a second run at South Brunswick.

The 67-year-old Goerge – who led the Vikings to unprecedented success in his seven-year tenure from 2012 to 2018, including a 63-17 record and the only three state titles in program history – was approved Thursday night by the South Brunswick Board of Education.

Goerge stepped away after the 2018 season. His sons Michael and Jason had been coaching with him for a decade-and-a-half, and their daily drive down during football season from their teaching jobs in Springfield and Elizabeth was getting to be too much.

At the time, the coach said he wasn’t retiring, and after a season as an assistant at Matawan with his sons, Goerge took the head coaching job at St. Joseph by the Sea in Staten Island. He began his coaching career in the early ’80s at Port Richmond on the Island, before coming to New Jersey and coaching at Franklin, where he won state titles in 1994 and 1996, presiding over a powerhouse that won titles before him with Len Rivers in 1984 and ’87, Charlie Weis in 1989, and Joe Stinson in 1990.

He later coached six years at Dayton, then came to South Brunswick, which hadn’t won a championship, but where Rick Mantz – who’d had great success at Hillsborough – began a rebuild that took the Vikings to their first playoff berth in 30 years in his debut season with a team that featured future Rutgers star and NFLer Mohamed Sanu.

Goerge arrived on the scene in 2012, and promptly won a sectional championship, winning two more in 2015 and 2017.

After a two-year run at Sea, Goerge has a career coaching mark of 226-146-4.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with Joe Goerge about his return to South Brunswick:

South Brunswick Board of Ed expected to approve Joe Goerge as Vikings next head coach

It appears, everything old is new again in South Brunswick. Just don’t call Joe Goerge old, okay?

It’s just that he’s already had a run – and a quite successful one – with the Vikings, including a 63-17 record over seven seasons, four trips to the sectional finals, and three crowns: in 2012, 2015 and 2017.

And yet, Thursday night, the Board of Education is expected to vote on his hiring. And if it ends up producing half the success it did the first time around, it’ll be a great hire.

Four years ago, Goerge left South Brunswick, saying he still had “a little bit left,” and knew he would coach again. Just where was the question.

He’d been coaching with his sons for a decade-and-a-half, and it was starting to be a long trek for them down to Monmouth Junction from their jobs up in Union County, where Michael taught in Springfield and Justin in worked in Elizabeth.

Ultimately, Goerge ended up coaching back in Staten Island, where he started his career before coming to New Jersey. He went 5-9 in two seasons at St. Joseph By the Sea.

Now, he’s poised to return to Middlesex County.

Goerge has a career coaching mark of 226-146-4, and has won five state titles overall, including 1994 and 1996 at Franklin, after a ten-year run at Port Richmond on Staten Island. After Franklin, he coached a from 2006 to 2011 at Dayton, before leaving for South Brunswick.

St. Joseph-Metuchen taps former Ridge mentor Bill Tracy to lead Falcons

Two years removed from a highly successful run as the head football coach at Ridge – and after spending those two years as the offensive coordinator at Governor Livingston, coaching his son at quarterback – Bill Tracy is headed to the Brainy Boro.

Tracy – who won a state championship for the Red Devils with a perfect 12-0 season in 2013 – has been named St. Joseph’s head football coach. The school announced the hiring in a press release Wednesday.

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Having begun his head coaching career at Livingston, Tracy owns a career record of 127-101, including a 71-44 mark in eleven seasons at Ridge. He left after the 2019 season to coach his youngest son, Connor, at Governor Livingston, which went 4-2 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, but struggled with a vast amount of youth in 2021.

Tracy is highly-regarded in New Jersey high school coaching circles. He’s known as a class individual, and a tactician, with a deeply-analytical mind for the game.

Ridge won at least seven games five times during Tracy’s tenure there, and went to two state finals, winning one of them. The Red Devils lost to Phillipsburg 34-7 in the North 2, Group 4 finals in his debut season in Basking Ridge, but beat Union in a “nearly-perfect” game in 2013, 48-13 at Rutgers to win the North 2, Group 5 crown. In that game, Ridge scored on all but one possession, when a field goal attempt hit one of the uprights.

Ironically, his best team at Livingston was knocked out of the playoffs by Ridge in 2003, as the Red Devils – then coached by Tom Falato – won their first-ever playoff championship. (Ridge was declared a state champion in Central Jersey Group 2 in 1987.)

Only the fourth head coach in St. Joe’s brief gridiron history, Tracy replaces Rich Hilliard, who stepped down this year after a five-season run with a 30-17 mark. Bob Molarz began the program in 2009, with the first varsity team taking the field in 2011; he was 8-11 in two seasons. Casey Ransone took the helm for the next four years, and went 26-13, running the table in the GMC to a pair of division titles in 2013 and 2016, his first and final seasons.

In a press release, school President John Nolan thanked Hilliard for his contributions to the “Falcon family,” and went on to welcome Tracy: “Beyond proving himself as a winner, Coach Tracy has demonstrated his dedication to student-athletes with exemplary character. This will remain a program committed to excellence both in the classroom and on the field.”

Athletic Director Mike Murray added, “His teaching goes beyond the X’s and O’s of the game,” referring to Tracy. “He also strives to instill integrity in the young men he coaches. In our search process, Coach Tracy showed that he’s a great fir for the Saint Joe’s community. I can’t wait to see out student-athletes mature and flourish under his tutelage.”

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with Bill Tracy about becoming St. Joseph’s new head coach:

The Bill Tracy File”:

Ridge (71-44, 11 seasons)

  • 2019: 8-2
  • 2018: 8-2
  • 2017: 4-6
  • 2016: 8-2
  • 2015: 6-5
  • 2014: 4-6
  • 2013: 12-0 (North 2, Group 5 champions, beat Union 48-13)
  • 2012: 7-3
  • 2011: 3-7
  • 2010: 2-8
  • 2009: 9-3 (North 2, Group 4 finals, lost 34-7 to Phillipsburg)

Livingston (56-57, 11 seasons)

  • 2008: 9-3 (North 1, Group 4 champions, beat Hackensack 28-8)
  • 2007: 6-4
  • 2006: 3-7
  • 2005: 5-5
  • 2004: 3-7
  • 2003: 10-1
  • 2002: 4-6
  • 2001: 6-4
  • 2000: 1-9
  • 1999: 5-5
  • 1998: 4-6

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?

Former ‘Ville standout A.J. Pena talks about his circuitous route to Rhode Island, via upstate New York

The COVID-19 pandemic upended just about everyone’s way of life, and every facet of life, since it arrived on the scene in March 2020 in the United States.

And that includes college football recruiting.

With the NCAA granting extra years of eligibility and non-FCS football playing in the Spring, it meant fewer opportunities – at least right away – for high school student-athletes who played their seasons in the fall.

The 2020 Central Jersey Sports Radio Defensive Player of the Year – Somerville’s A.J. Pena – should have likely received offers from all over, after being one of the most dominant players in the league; he recorded 12 sacks in just seven games.

Former Somerville defensive end A.J. Pena (center).

Instead, he took a year of prep school at Milford Academy in upstate, New York – “in the middle of nowhere” as Pena describes it – before landing at the University of Rhode Island, where he signed his National Letter of Intent on the first day of the December signing period.

We caught up with A.J. to talk about his time at Somerville, the influence of his former head coach Dallas Whitaker, and the long atypical path that took him to Rhode Island.

Click below to listen:

Breaking down 2021’s final Strength Index numbers: Who were the top teams in the Big Central, statewide? Who gained the most?

It was a busy 2021 high school football season, and a long one. Maybe that’s because 2020 was so short?

But it was a good busy, and the good kind of long. Very few teams – though a couple notable ones – had issues with COVID, and most played a full season. We got all the way through the 2021 playoffs, right down to regional champs for the last time ever, before 2022 ushers in the era of football Group Champions, just like every other sport in New Jersey.

Central Jersey Sports Radio has run the numbers, and calculated the unofficial final 2021 Strength Index values for every team in the state of New Jersey. And we’re sharing them with you.

The SI values are locked in after Week Eight of the regular season, in an effort to cut down on the uncertainty heading into Week 9 for playoff qualification. But since SI values are based on the previous year, then typically re-centered a third of the way up or down to a mid-point of 60 before the next season begins, that means SI must still be calculated “behind the scenes” for all games after Week 8, including consolation games (now called “regional crossovers”), playoffs and Thanksgiving games.

We did all of that, and the results follow. It should be noted that while Gridiron New Jersey is the official calculator of Strength Index, Power Points, and OSI, the website no longer has a week-by-week listing of results, so our results were compiled only with what was available on NJ.com. We did not verify ever score in the state since Week 8 (hundreds of games) with Gridiron New Jersey. Some out-of-state Strength index numbers also were unavailable, such as the number for Easton (PA), which beat Phillipsburg on Thanksgiving. So, the Stateliners’ SI value may be off slightly. All our numbers and calculations are unofficial, but we believe accurate enough to paint a proper portrait of the statewide picture, and how the Big Central fared.

We’ll start talking about the BCC itself. The Top Ten teams are:

  1. Hillsborough, 97.10
  2. Union, 93.18
  3. Cranford, 84.27
  4. Somerville, 82.93
  5. Ridge, 80.52
  6. Phillipsburg, 79.84
  7. St. Thomas Aquinas, 79.16
  8. Sayreville, 77.68
  9. Colonia, 75.51
  10. North Hunterdon, 74.17

Click here for a PDF version of the full list of the unofficial 2021 final Big Central Strength Index numbers.

Statewide, Hillsborough finished in the Top Ten for Strength Index, Checking in at No. 9. Union – whose season was cut short after the first round of the playoffs due to COVID – finished 16th. Others that finished in the Top 50 – out of well over 300 teams in the state – included Cranford at 32, Somerville at 40, Ridge at 46, Phillipsburg at 47, and St. Thomas Aquinas at 49.

The Top 20 teams are:

  1. Bergen Catholic, 111.16
  2. Millville, 103.59
  3. Cedar Creek, 101.76
  4. St. Joeseph-Hammonton, 101.11
  5. West Morris, 98.09
  6. Don Bosco Prep, 97.38
  7. Red Bank Catholic, 97.25
  8. Donovan Catholic, 97.22
  9. Hillsborough, 97.10
  10. Caldwell, 96.94
  11. Northern Highlands, 95.48
  12. DePaul, 94.25
  13. Woodrow Wilson, 94.22
  14. St. Augustine, 93.48
  15. Rumson-Fair Haven, 93.19
  16. Union, 93.18
  17. Seton Hall Prep, 93.05
  18. St. Peter’s Prep, 92.62
  19. Winslow Twp., 90.62
  20. Salem, 89.00

Click here for a PDF version of the full list of the unofficial 2021 final Strength Index numbers.

So who were the biggest gainers in the Big Central Conference in 2021? Inotherwords, who had the biggest turnarounds? With Strength Index, keep in mind, it’s not about wins and losses. It’s about score, and how competitive a team is. If a football team played opponents generally ranked 30 points higher than them, but lost all their games by only a field goal, they would gain a good deal, and be considered a “stronger” team by the Strength Index model, even though they may have been winless.

In the Big Central, it’s little surprise St. Thomas Aquinas saw the biggest gain. Finishing 4-6 in 2019 and 4-3 in 2020, the Trojans went 9-1 this season, winning seven of those games by large margins. They also shut out their first seven opponents of the season. Aquinas went from a 52.93 in preseason to a 79.16; not the highest in the Big Central, but the biggest gain, going up by 26.23 points in the Strength index category.

Hillsborough saw a gain of 24.01 points, going 13-0 this season after a 4-4 2020 campaign. They started the season a highly-respectable 73.09, but finished with a 97.10 Strength Index rating, ninth best in the state.

Other jumps of double digits included Colonia (+22.87), Union (+17.83), North Hunterdon (+17.04), Sayreville (+14.88), East Brunswick (+12.10), Cranford (+11.67) and Metuchen (+10.38).

Click here for the full unofficial list of Big Central Strength Index changes in 2021.

Overall, two-thirds of the league – 40 of the 60 Big Central teams – saw changes of fewer than 10 points in either direction, and 36 of them saw changes of seven points or fewer. Essentially, that means 36 teams are plus or minus within a touchdown of where they were the year before. That’s basically a toss-up game, and a negligible difference at best.

Even more teams would be within that “touchdown” change heading into 2022, after re-centering, which brings teams a third of the way in either direction back to 60. In other words, a team with a 51 rating would gain one-third of the way to 60, or three of the nine points, and they would become a 54. A 72 rated team would become a 68, and so on. About 43 of the 60 league teams would be in that category.

Rutgers Prep drops its first game in 15, but stays No. 1 in Bellamy & Son Paving Girls Basketball Top Ten

Despite having a 14-game winning streak snapped in a 62-51 loss to Westtown, PA, Rutgers Prep remains the top team in the Bellamy & Son Paving Girls’ Basketball Top Ten.

The Argos won their opener 60-34 on Central Jersey Sports Radio back on December 17, and face Southern in their opening game of the Score at the Shore Tournament Monday.

No one dropped out of the Week One rankings, with four teams only managing one game due to COVID-related cancellations either of their own doing or by their opponents.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko break down the full Top Ten, complete with notes on each team: