Tag: Highland Park

How can you not root for these guys? Highland Park and JP Stevens still trying to stop the skid

Joe Theisman – during a 2017 visit to his alma mater, South River, after the Rams beat Highland Park – had the utmost admiration for the other team.

He told MyCentralJersey.com reporter Andy Mendlowitz, “I admire the living daylights out of every one of them. Every one of them. It doesn’t matter what the score is. The score is insignificant in my opinion in this particular game. It’s the fact that these kids just keep on playing and going and going. And I admire them tremendously.”

The Owls had just 17 players that particular day, and were 0-4 on the season, coming off a 2016 campaign that saw them go 6-4 and finish strong, winning four of their final five games.

Fast forward to 2020 and Highland Park has lost 35 straight since then, including 0-7 this year, adding up to a 40-game losing streak that is the longest active in the state as of this writing.

READ MORE: Owls keep at it in Highland Park, with dedication, perseverence, and – hopefully – a win

It’s surely not for a lack of trying, nor a lack of enthusiasm or stick-to-itiveness. When we visited the Owls’ locker room in the summer, there was a sense of optimism and hope, and the team was pumped as they got their practice jerseys from the legendary Joe Policastro before heading out to the field with more than 30 kids in the program, numbers not seen in years on the Avenue of the Owls.

The results just haven’t shown on the field yet.

The scores have sometimes been lopsided, but the team persists. After all, playing football is often more about life lessons than winning a damn game, which – in the end – is really just a game.

READ MORE: In Highland Park, Joe Policastro connects the young, the old and everyone in between

The Owls will have two more cracks at it this regular season. This Friday they visit Manville, nearly as tough a task as last week’s opponent. Brearley shut them out 32-0 in Highland Park last Friday. The Mustangs are 6-1 heading into this Friday’s clash.

Their best hope likely is next Saturday’s game at Shabazz Stadium against Newark Central, which is 1-5 on the season.

The thing about Highland Park is it’s never been a downtrodden program. The Owls have won championship after championship, and have sent players to the pros, like L.J. Smith, while others – like Bruce Presley – have gone on to collegiate fame.

A few miles away, JP Stevens – though it doesn’t have the lengthy history and tradition of Highland Park – also has had some championship teams (six) and produced great players, the most recent of whom – Jeremy Zuttah – also played on Sundays.

But as times change, and the North side of Edison changes with it, the program’s fortunes have taken a turn as well.

As a result, the Big Central Conference gave JP a “relief” schedule, moving them down several divisions from their Group 5 counterparts like Edison, North Brunswick and Perth Amboy to the United Silver Division, which comprises middle-of-the-pack size schools like Carteret, Governor Livingston, North Plainfield and South Plainfield. Non-divisional opponents are even smaller schools.

But the Hawks are still 0-6 this year – again, not for any lack of persistence, gumption and grit – and have the second-longest active losing streak in the state behind Highland Park, having lost 29 in a row heading into their final two games of the regular season. Both are at home and against much smaller Group 2 schools: this week against 2-5 Metuchen and next week against 5-2 Spotswood, which is fighting for a playoff berth and could desperately use Group 5 power points.

Of course, we at Central Jersey Sports Radio are always impartial, fair and never root for one of our area teams over another, but you’d be hard pressed to find us not rooting for both of these teams to get off the schnied real soon!

Other Notes…

The next-longest losing streak in the state is Ferris, which has dropped 19 in a row. They are 0-6 this year, went 0-9 last year, and lost all four games in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. It’s believed the longest losing streak ever in New Jersey belonged to Newark East Side, which lost 55 straight before snapping the streak in 2017 with a win over Belleville. It was just the fourth game for first-year head coach Brian Meeney, who also turned around St. Thomas Aquinas last year before his sudden and tragic death last winter.

The state’s longest active winning streak, meanwhile, belongs to Caldwell, which has won 21 straight – including 12-0 last season – and won its last three games of 2020.

While not a winning streak, Delsea has had an amazing streak recently, going 22-2 since the start of the COVID year. That’s 6-0 this season, 11-1 last season, and 5-1 in 2020. The Crusaders’ 35-6 win over Cedar Creek on Friday was the 231st victory for head coach Sal Marchesi, making him the winningest coach in school history.

“The Big Central in 2 Minutes” – Week 2: Great Starts and Wild Finishes

On this week’s whip around “The Big Central in Two Minutes,” Mike Pavlichko explains why North looks at some great starts for North Hunterdon, South Plainfield and Hunterdon Central, and the very early playoff standings that have come out, plus much much more!

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

“The Big Central in 2 Minutes” – Week 1: Explaining No. 1, and a Group Size alternative?

On our latest trip around “The Big Central in Two Minutes,” veteran CJSR sportscaster Mike Pavlichko explains why North Brunswick is still his No. 1 team, looks at Hillsborough having not missed a beat, and wonders if the current method of determining a school’s group size is really fair?

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

“The Big Central in 2 Minutes” – Week 0: First Wins, Big Games Ahead

Central Jersey Sports Radio is slimming down!

Our newest feature this year is “The Big Central in Two Minutes” – quick hits and thoughts by Mike Pavlichko – which makes its debut today and will drop every Tuesday morning during the 2022 football season.

In just two minutes, Mike will hit on some of the key points and notes of the week gone by, and the week ahead.

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

Metuchen tops Highland Park for fourth straight Goal Post Trophy win; Leitner gets first coaching victory

On a hot, late-August day with the sun beating down, hobbling several players with cramps, Metuchen got touchdown scores from six different players as the Bulldogs beat arch-rival Highland Park 40-6 Saturday afternoon, in a Week Zero game heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

It means Metuchen can keep the Goal Post Trophy another year; they’ve had it since 2017. It also extended Highland Park’s losing streak to 34 games, the longest active streak in New Jersey.

The Owls – with some of their best program numbers in years, over 30-players strong heading into the game – were still in it at halftime, down 14-0. Matt Flood’s four-yard touchdown run and Aiden O’Leary’s 43-yard touchdown catch-and-run both cam in the first quarter, and Highland Park wasn’t out of reach.

But two third-quarter TDs gave Metuchen some distance – a three-yard run by quarterback John Bolesta, a touchdown pass to Cody Cardillo from five yards out – until Highland Park threw some wrinkles in on offense, using wide receiver Markos Hantsoulis in the Wildcat, leading to a 24-yard touchdown run with under three minutes to go in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs finally salted it with a one-yard run by Evan Toth and a 12-yard touchdown scamper by Daniel Ayala.

For the Owls, though, the loss showed some promise, and there are winnable games on the schedule. Their numbers finally allow third-year head coach Shawn Harrison – whose program didn’t field a varsity team in 2020, his first year – some flexibility on both sides of the ball.

Metuchen still trails in the overall series, despite having won four straight on the field, plus a 2019 forfeit. Not counting that decision, the Owls lead 61-24-1.

The win was the first for new Metuchen coach Jordan Leitner, a former star quarterback for the Bulldogs.

Click below for postgame reaction from Metuchen’s win over Highland Park:

Junior QB Jon Bolesta
Metuchen junior QB Jon Bolesta (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)
Junior RB Matt Flood
Metuchen junior RB Matt Flood (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)
Metuchen head coach Jordan Leitner
Metuchen head football coach Jordan Leitner (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Owls keep at it in Highland Park, with dedication, perserverence, and – hopefully – a win

They say hard work pays off. And for the 34 student-athletes on the Highland Park varsity and junior varsity football rosters this year, they really hope it does.

It’s truly remarkable that the program has its best numbers at any point during a span in which they have lost 33 straight varsity games, the longest active streak in the state, and whose span includes a 2018 season they couldn’t finish due to injuries and a lack of players, as well as a 2020 season the Owls played only at the jayvee level.

Highland Park senior Danny Starcevic (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Much of the increase in turnout can be attributed to Shawn Harrison, the head coach, who played on the last Highland Park team to win a state championship, in 1990, which isn’t all that long ago, but also seems light years away.

READ MORE: Rebuilding Highland Park a labor of love for “program guy” Harrison

But they’ve had great teams and players since then. There were the L.J. Smith teams of the late-90s. Then there was the 2009 team that made it to the Central Jersey Group 1 finals, falling to Asbury Park.

The 2023 group may go down in history. It may not be for their win total, but if all goes as Harrison has planned, it’s because they will have laid the ground work for the rebirth of one of the state’s great, proud football programs.

Highland Park senior Luis Flores (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

It all starts Saturday afternoon against arch-rival Metuchen, a series that started in Highland Park’s first varsity season in 1937, and which they lead 61-23-1 all time. You can hear the game on Central Jersey Sports Radio with Mike Pavlichko and Justin Sontupe calling all the action. Pregame is 12:45 pm with kickoff at 1:00. Click here to listen.

We got a chance to talk to two seniors, Danny Starcevic is a tight end, while Luis Flores is a wide receiver and outside linebacker. The two have endured in the program, in the name of something bigger than even the team: the program. Click below to listen.

In Highland Park, Joe Policastro connects the young, the old and everyone in between

It feels like 100 degrees or more out in the sun, but it’s not much better inside the equipment room at Highland Park High School, just off the gym, with one more day to go before 34 Owls – the best number combined JV and varsity number this program has seen in recent memory – will take the field for their first football practice of the 2022 season, one in which they hope to break the longest active losing streak in the state, now at 33 games.

One man has seen it all – the success, great wins, championships, and even the disappointments: Joe Policastro.

Before we talk, he pulls out stats, notes, box scores and game programs from throughout the ages. He hands me the 1989 Highland Park Football Players and Coaches reunion program, with team photos going back to 1937. And a 2003 game program, which – among other things – has a page with headshots of all the assistant coaches, including the man who is the current coach, Shawn Harrison, ’90.

He tells me to take them home. He has more.

Highland Park photos and memorabilia sit on a shelf in the coaches’ room. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Not that he needs any of this to jog his memory, which is, in fact, sharper than a tack. He knows all the names, even those before his time, like Ickey Klaus, who kicked a field goal with 16 seconds left to beat Metuchen in legendary coach Bus Lepine’s first season as head coach in 1943, to stun the Bulldogs, 3-0.

He remembers his playing days well, capped in 1959 with a season that, at the time, stood as the best passing year in school history, throwing for 1,171 yards, a record that would stand for another dozen years.

A stat sheet – which Policastro says was likely typed out by Jay Dakelman when he was the coach in the 1970s, shows Highland Park single season passing records, including Policastro’s 1958 and 1959 seasons – though there appears to be at least one typo: two entries for Policastro are labeled 1959. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

It’s been a long and winding road for Highland Park football, where Policastro’s protege Harrison is working hard to boost the football program, running flag football league’s in lieu of a feeder program that hasn’t existed in town for more than a decade.

But Policastro has no desire to step aside. The coaches love him. The players love him. He turned 80 this week. He still loves the game, and it loves him.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with Highland Park legend, Joe Policastro:

Rebuilding Highland Park a labor of love for “program guy” Harrison

When the head coach of your football team is an alum, there’s a special connection to the program, the student-athletes, the fans, the parents, and the whole town. Even if Highland Park is struggling to regain its former glory.

The Owls have won more New Jersey state championships – 23 – than all but one other school: Montclair, which has won 26.

Click the logo above for an immersive sporting experience!

But of late, it has been real hard times. Due to low numbers, they could only manage five games in 2018. They didn’t field a team at all in 2020. Highland Park has the longest active losing streak in the state at 33 games, ten ahead of JP Stevens, which has lost 23. But with some seasons with fewer games, it’s been way longer since the Owls won a game: Thanksgiving, 2016, against Metuchen.

This year, as many schools, that Turkey Day rivalry is at the beginning of the season. And the two will square off next Saturday (August 27, 1 pm) in the 2022 season opener on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

This may be the Owls’ best chance yet. They come into the season with 34 players, their best numbers in years. Head coach Shawn Harrison has been working hard to boost the numbers in and outside the program. With no feeder league like Pop Warner, Harrison has instituted flag football for younger kids in town, at least to help them grasp the concepts of football and its plays, even if they can’t tackle.

Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko talked with Harrison as preseason camp opened up in early Augsut. Click below to listen:

This Sunday, be sure to check out cjsportsradio.com for a sit-down interview with Joe Policastro, the legendary former Highland head coach, who remains an assistant with the team he played for in the late 1950s. He’s been in the program for over 60 years.

Playoff update: Girls’ Basketball Public Sections

Central Jersey Sports Radio continues taking a look at the playoff picture, with Saturday’s NJSIAA cutoff for state tournament qualification almost immediately on the horizon. We’ve got a section-by-section breakdown of public girls’ basketball teams in the Greater Middlesex Conference and Somerset County. All power points are the official NJSIAA totals as made available on NJ.com as of 6:30 pm Thursday.

Central Jersey Group 4: While Hightstown (16-5) and Jackson Memorial (15-2) lead this section with 375 and 365 points respectively, Monroe (13-3, 357) should stay in third, with only Edison on the schedule tonight before Saturday, and the Eagles already are their lowest power point total, so they won’t gain. After Middletown South (13-4, 342) in fourth, there’s East Brunswick at 14-5, with 327 points. Most of these teams are fairly well in place, with maybe a chance they could nudge up or down one spot. Marlboro (11-7, 311) is sixth, followed by North Brunswick (12-7, 299) and South Brunswick (14-6, 297). Behind them are Montgomery (9-8, 282) and Old Bridge (11-6, 278) in tenth. Sayreville, though 6-12 (171 pts) should be in over Long Branch, which is 5-8 with 155 points.

North Jersey, Scetion 2 – Group 4: While it remains to be seen if Franklin (13-3, 367) is anything like its pre-pandemic self – they were en route to another Tournament of Champions appearance before COVID shut things down – they have steadily improved this year. Westfield (16-4, 409) is the top seed here, but the Warriors could be the definition of a “sneaky two-seed,” if such a thing actually exists. The shouldn’t get caught from behind either by Scotch Plains-Fanwood, which is in third at 14-3, with 366 points. Ridge, at just 9-12, with 293 points, actually checks in fifth, followed by Watchung Hills (9-6, 276) and Woodbridge (11-6, 267). Then Hillsborough is 9th, at 10-7 (264 points). In 14th and 15th, respectively, are Bridgewater-Raritan (3-17, 172) and JP Stevens (4-15, 171).

Central Jersey Group 3: Yes, the Colonia boys are in North 2, but the girls are in Central. That’s how it works when you have boys’ only and girls’ only schools. The Patriots (19-2, 382) are in second place, and the White Division champions of the GMC are likely to stay there. They won’t catch top-seed Ewing (15-1, 394) and the next closest team below them – Wall (14-4) – is 58 points back. Go all the way outside the top 8 and you’ll find South Plainfield (10-8) in 9th with 246 points. It’s unlikely could earn a home game by jumping up, because they can’t get any more residuals. Down at 12 is Somerville (9-8, 215), then JFK (9-8, 199).

Central Jersey Group 2: Manasquan (19-3) is the top team here with 485 points, then New Providence (17-1, 423), but third-place Middlesex (16-2, 369) is well behind them. The question is, can Bound Brook (15-4, 367) gain two points to jump fourth-place Rumson-Fair Haven (12-8, 368)? Not in residuals, and their highest power point total is 16. But if they beat 17-2 Woodbury Saturday? Sure could! Checking in at No. 8 is South River (14-5, 282), then Johnson (11-7, 246) and Spotswood (12-7, 240) in tenth. Metuchen is in 12th at 9-9 (198), and Piscataway Tech is solidly in, but 15th place at 8-10 (157).

North Jersey, Section 2 – Group 2: The only area team here is Bernards (5-10, 182) checking in at No. 11. The top seed here is Madison (12-6, 328).

Central Jersey Group 1: After top team New Egypt, at 12-1, 316 points, there’s Woodbridge Academy (15-2, 303). Probably can’t make up that ground, but a 2-seed is nice, too. Somerset Tech (12-5, 254) is in fourth, seven points ahead of Shore (10-10) in fifth. Down to nine we find Perth Amboy Tech (6-9, 154), which won’t crack the top eight. Immediately behind them are Manville (4-13, 150) and Highland Park (6-13, 149). Dunellen (4-14, 121) is in 13th.