Tag: Hillside

Central Jersey Sports Radio announces “Specialty Awards” for 2022

So many great players, so few awards. When you’ve got multiple deserving players for a single award, it’s time to get creative to honor those who truly deserve to be honored.

So without any further ado, here are Central Jersey Sports Radio’s postseason Specialty Awards for 2022!

Best Rushing QB” Award: Jaeden Jones, Colonia

The top two rushers in the Big Central Conference this season were quarterbacks. Matt Sims of Brearley was No. 2, and topping the list was Colonia junior Jaeden Jones, who succeeded a pretty good runner himself: last year’s “Mr. Dynamic” Award to the most explosive player in the league by far, fellow quarterback Josh Oluremi.

Colonia’s Jaeden Jones (Source: @Jaeden_Jones2 on Twitter)

In fact, Oluremi and Jones share a unique piece of history. So far as we could tell, at least back to the mid-90s – since stats from those years aren’t as readily available as they are now – Oluremi was the first quarterback since then to lead Middlesex County in rushing. (He was second in the Big Central Conference last year to state rushing leader Colin Murray of Cranford, in Union County.)

Now, Jones has made it two years in a row for a QB to lead Middlesex County in rushing, both from the same school. And as for making his own piece of history, he’s also the first quarterback to lead the BCC in rushing in its short three-year history. (Someone remember it when we go digging for that fact in another 20 years, please?

Like Oluremi, Jones’ rushing to passing totals were about a 3:2 ratio in favor of the ground game. Jones threw 86 of 150 for 1,059 yards, but amassed 248 carries of his own on the ground for 1,661 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Jones led Colonia to an 8-2 record this year, and the Liberty Gold Division title. And the best part is, he’ll be back next year.

Click below to hear Justin Sontupe talk with Jaeden Jones of Colonia:

“Best Backfield Duo”: Kente Edwards and Alex Uryniak, North Hunterdon

While head coach Kevin Kley has called runningback Kente Edwards “the most feared runner” in the Big Central, he’s been blessed enough to have a “backup” – yes, we put that in quotes – who he says “could be the starter on any team in the league.”

And he’s not fibbing.

Edwards got banged up against Colonia in Week Five and missed the better part of the next four games, and if you closed your eyes and ears and just looked at the stat line, you wouldn’t know it was Alex Uryniak taking the bulk of the carries.

North Hunterdon’s Kente Edwards (#3, left) and Alex Uryniak (#22, second from left) at midfield for the coin toss before the North 2, Group 4 title game against Randolph in Annandale on November 12, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Edwards had been averaging 160 yards a game, and even had 161 against Colonia. But in the first two playoff games, Uryniak ran for 433 yards and five touchdowns, while QB Luke Martini started throwing like a beast (more on him later) in the games Uryniak didn’t top 100. Uryniak ended up with 1,012 yards on the season and 13 scores, giving the Lions two thousand-yard rushers, as Edwards finished with 1,442 and 15 touchdowns.

Go ahead, pick your poison.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with the two-headed monster runningback combo of Kente Edwards and Luke Martini:

“Rising Star” Award: Jett Genovese, Phillipsburg

On a team with so many standouts, and a ton of balance among key players, Jett Genovese was able to run it all with precision for Phillipsburg.

Four runningbacks carried for over 300 yards, with none more than Xavier Moore’s 851. And through the air, Genovese found four different targets for more than 150 yards, with none more than Michael Scerbo Jr.,’s 476. That connection should be hooking up a lot again next year, as both players are sophomores.

But it was Genovese who was able to find his way through it for the Stateliners,

Phillipsburg quarterback Jett Genovese (Photo courtesy @HanisakPhoto)

And though Phillipsburg was knocked off by West Orange in the North 2, Group 5 final, Genovese came up big when it really counted – against Easton. He threw for 86 yards and three touchdown passes, while distributing the ball to five different runningbacks, led by Moore’s 114 yards, and Caleb Rivera’s two rushing touchdowns.

We have a feeling we’ll be talking about Jett a lot over the next couple of years.

Click below to Genovese talk about his first year as a starting QB for P’burg with Justin Sontupe:

Best Returning QB-WR Tandem: Michael Schmelzer, Jr. and Matt D’Avino, Montgomery

Montgomery had a very good season in 2022, starting 5-0 for the first time in school history.

And though the finished 7-3, with a first-round playoff loss to Northern Highlands – the North 1, Group 4 Champions and Group 4 finalist – they are the only team that can make this claim: they will have the top returning quarterback and the top returning receiver in the Big Central Conference when they come back to the field in 2023.

Montgomery QB Michael Schmelzer, Jr. (left) and WR Matt D’Avino are interviewed after a 27-20 home win over Somerville on September 16, 2022 heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio (Photos: Mike Pavlichko)

Quarterback Michael Schmelzer, Jr., threw for 1,658 yards and 21 touchdowns, good for fourth in the conference, but Luke Martini of North Hunterdon, Matt Yascko of Edison and Frankie Garbolino of North Brunswick are all graduating.

Wide receiver Matt D’Avino was second in the conference with 1,053 yards and 14 touchdowns, just one yard behind – and one TD ahead of – Derek Vaddis of North Hunterdon, who’s also graduating.

These two have been playing catch for many years now, and will get one more year together with the Cougars. We’re looking forward to watching.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with Michael Schmelzer, Jr. and Matt D’Avino of Montgomery:

“Nobody Scores” Award: Bernards Defense (represented by Enzo Britez)

They may not have been St. Thomas Aquinas from a year ago, which tied a playoff-era Middlesex County record with seven shutouts, but they came pretty damn close.

In an 8-2 season with just one regular season loss, the Bernards Mountaineers played locked down D for the majority of 2022, shutting out six opponents en route to a clean 4-0 division sweep to the Big Central’s Patriot Gold title.

Bernards senior Enzo Britez (Source: @enzobritez on Twitter)

Click below to hear Justin Sontupe talk with Bernards defensive back Enzo Britez:

“Walk Off Defender” Award: Zamir Hawk, Hillside

Walkoff is a term most commonly used in baseball, but Barris Grant uses it to talk about Zamir Hawk, his senior nosetackle. Specifically, his efforts in Hillside’s two playoff wins this season, that got them to the North 1 Group 3 title game.

Hawk, a senior, had 67 tackles this year, and 15 for a loss, along with four sacks and a pick-six.

But he came up the biggest on the biggest of stages.

In the playoff opener against Parsippany Hills, the Comets scored 19 unanswered points to win and advance. But even after taking the lead in the fourth quarter, it wasn’t for good until Hawk’s pass breakup on a last-ditch effort by Par Hills effectively gave Hillside the win.

Zamir Hawk of Hillside (Source: @Hawk_973 on Twitter)

And if that wasn’t big enough, following an even bigger comeback by the Comets against River Dell, his interception sealed yet another win, propelling Hillside into the sectional semifinals.

Don’t challenge this kid!

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with Hillside senior Zamir Hawk:

“Playoff Beast”: Luke Martini, North Hunterdon

North 2, Group 4 Champion North Hunterdon had all kinds of players put up all kinds of great numbers this year.

But when push came to shove, and the season was in crunch time, senior quarterback Luke Martini stepped it up a notch.

It started with the Milk Can Game against Voorhees, their big rival, when – with top runningback Kente Edwards nursing a lower body injury – Martini threw for 166 yards and three touchdowns against the Vikings in a 35-7 win.

But it didn’t stop there. He continued his hot streak into the playoffs, all the way to the sectional finals. First came 253 yards and four touchdowns against Middletown North in the opening round. Then 231 yards and two TDs in the second round against Morris Knolls. And finally, in the sectional title game, with everything on the line, in a wild ballgame that saw a combined 84 points, he threw for 411 yards and five scores against Randolph.

North Hunterdon QB Luke Martini (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Summing up, out of his 2,306 passing yards – best in the Big Central by about 400 yards – and 22 touchdowns on the season, that four-game stretch generated 1,061 yards and a whopping 14 touchdowns.

That’s what we call a playoff beast.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk to Luke Martini about his incredible playoff run:

“Injury-Be-Damned” Award”: Adam Bowles, South Plainfield

It’s one thing to play great defense on a team that went from 2-8 to an undefeated regular season like Adam Bowles did in South Plainfield, but it’s another to do it with your arm in a cast.

Yet that’s exactly what he did for the latter half of the 2022 season.

The senior linebacker tallied 129 tackles – 77 solo – while also notching 7 1/2 tackles for loss, a sack, three quarterback hurries, and three interceptions. And he played the last five games of the season in a cast!

South Plainfield linebacker Adam Bowles (Source: @datboiadamd1 on Twitter)

Click below to hear Bowles talk with Justin Sontupe about toughing it out this season for the Tigers:

“Full 48”: Robert Orzol, Old Bridge

One of the oldest cliches in sport is they saying: “We’ve got to play the whole ___ minutes.”

But in no circumstance was it ever more true that for Old Bridge defensive lineman Robert Orzol.

We documented this game with Old Bridge head coach Matt Donaghue here, but the gist is this: after a missed field goal that would have given the Knights the lead in a Week Two game at South Brunswick, the Vikings needed to gain a first down to take a couple of knees and run out the clock. But a fumble on the second snap caught the eye of Orzol, who dove on it, giving the ball back to Old Bridge. They won the game on a touchdown.

Old Bridge DL and playoff-clinching here Robert Orzol (Source: @OrzolRobert on Twitter)

That’s an amazing enough story on its own. Fast forward to Cutoff Weekend, and Old Bridge finished 17th in the South 5 standings, oh-so-close to a playoff spot. But not so fast.

The NJSIAA playoff seeding rules conduct a top-down head-to-head tiebreaker throughout the entire bracket, meaning if the team in third, for example, beat the team in second, they flip-flop. And down the list they go until they get to number 17.

That was Old Bridge. South Brunswick was 16th. But not for long.

Yes, Old Bridge won the head-to-head. Orzol was the hero again, weeks later, as the Knights made the playoffs, all thanks to Orzol’s fumble recovery.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with Robert Orzol – whose never-give-up attitude almost singlehandedly got Old Bridge into the playoffs:

“MVP” Awards: Matt Sims of Brearley and Shawn Purcell of Manville

For the first time, Central Jersey Sports Radio is giving out an “MVP” award, to the players who are, well, most valuable to their team.

While there were so many great players this season, and many with an abundance of talent, two players stood out as perhaps the most critical to their success. And it might not surprise you to see that they’re both from small Group 1 schools: Brearley and Manville

Brearly QB Matt Sims with head coach Scott Miller (left). (Source: @mattsimss6 on Twitter)

Brearley’s Matt Sims finished just behind Jaeden Jones in the Big Central in rushing, with 1,523 yards and 26 touchdowns, the sixth highest total in the state of New Jersey. (That also makes it two quarterbacks leading the Big Central on the ground this season.) He also threw for 1,063 yards and ten touchdowns, an astounding number when you consider he not only didn’t complete anywhere near a hundred passes, but he didn’t even attempt 100 passes, going 67-of-99.

But the most astounding number was this: Sims accounted for 75% of his team’s yards from scrimmage this year.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with Brearley senior QB Matt Sims:

Meanwhile, Manville’s Shawn Purcell really could have received this award for a two-year body of work.

Last year, he carried 117 times for 1,176 yards and 15 touchdowns, while this year accounting for 1,238 yards on the ground on just 106 carries, hitting paydirt 22 times. He also excelled on kick returns, and has five career interceptions at cornerback. (He’d probably have more if anyone dared throw at him.)

Manville’s Shawn Purcell (Source: Twitter)

Manville should have made unprecedented back-to-back playoff appearances, amazingly missing out last year at 6-2 at the cutoff, but that’s neither here nor there. In the end, Manville was 14-5 the last two seasons with Purcell as the focal point of the offense. And that’s the best two-year record for the program since a 14-4 run in 1968 – when the Mustangs went 9-0) and 1969 (when they went 5-4). Arguably, it’s even better with better win totals in both seasons.

These seasons don’t come along every year in a small town like Manville, but Purcell was a big reason why they did.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with Manville senior RB/CB/KR Shawn Purcell:

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:

“The Big Central in 2 Minutes” – Playoff Edition: And Then There Were Two

Well, the Big Central has two sectional champions in 2022, just like it did in 2021, just the teams are different. Congratulations to Edison and North Hnterdon, Central 5 and North 2 Group4 trophy-winners, respectively! Veteran sportscaster Mike Pavlichko looks back at the sectional finals on “The Big Central in Two Minutes,” why schools like Edison and North Hunterdon have had success, and looks ahead to this weekend’s group semifinal matchups for the Eagles and Lions.

Click below to listen to the Group Semifinals Playoff edition of “The Big Central in 2 Minutes”:

Championship Weekend (#1) Recap: Edison, North Hunterdon carry the torch for the Big Central

No league goes perfect on Championship Weekend. Some are heavy underdogs, some will pull off upsets. Some will be upset, and others will win like they’re supposed to.

The Big Central had most of that in its second playoff season of existence, with five teams vying for titles this past weekend, a league best after three played for titles last year – with one featuring an all-BCC matchup).

And there’s still another Championship Weekend to go.

But first, we start with the winners: Edison and North Hunterdon. But to look at Edison, we also need to look at what happened to Phillipsburg.

Edison and West Orange – P’burg’s opponent – were both 6th-seeds, and the lowest seeds to reach the sectional finals this year. And the similarities don’t end there.

Both missed starting quarterbacks for a good chunk of time. Though West Orange was 3-1 without Amir Stewart in the first four weeks of the season, Edison was 0-2 without fourth-year starter Matt Yascko. That certainly made a difference having both play in their respective three-game championship runs.

The Eagles, however, had still more at play in winning the Central Jersey Group 5 title, with a 28-14 victory at top-seed Lenape Friday night, as heard live on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

To begin with, they remember coming down here in 2019 – when Yascko was a freshman starter – and getting blown out of the water by the Indians. Yascko, Adekunle Shittu, Malcolm Stansbury and Israel Rodriguez are all key starters who played varsity as freshmen. And that loss was still fresh in their minds on the bus ride down to Medford.


Not only was a title won Friday, but demons were vanquished.

READ MORE: Yascko, Edison defense help knock off top-seed Lenape, bring home trophy for first time in 31 years

Toms River North is a different kind of beast than Lenape, 12-0 and with a major D1 recruit who’s a junior playing quarterback, but that analysis is for another time. Suffice it to say, you’d be a fool to count out Edison just based on their toughness, and we’ll leave it right there for now.

North Hunterdon – which won the North 2, Group 4 title Saturday, also in a game heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio – is somewhat of a similar situation to Edison: guys who have played together all their lives. And they have a lot of weapons, not just Kente Edwards and Alex Uryniak on the ground. I was asked by someone, “Who knew Martini had that kind of arm?”

READ MORE: North Hunterdon wins 4th quarter shootout over Randolph on career day from Martini, as Lions claim North 2 Group 4 trophy

Well, Randolph does now, and so does the entire state, as Martini threw TD passes for the Lions’ first five scores of the game. Bombs, too. Not to mention two more bombs on the same possession that got called back for holding and an ineligible man downfield.

Northern Highlands is up next, Saturday in Franklin, and surely presents a challenge. Whether they’re the dominating team that beat Woodbridge in 2019 for their first of three straight sectional titles remains to be seen.

Now to those who lost.

Sure, Phillipsburg was the No. 1 seed in North 2, Group 5, and maybe you could or couldn’t see it coming, but West Orange played with a purpose, and the Stateliners just didn’t play their best game on the biggest stage.

Or was it? No doubt, a state title is nice, but there’s a reason they say stamp #BeatEaston on everything around there. They still have that game in two weeks, and should they win it, anyone on this side of the Delaware within miles of Maloney Stadium will say, “What West Orange game? What?!”

What may hurt so much for Phillipsburg is the high expectations, and maybe the strain of that didn’t help either. The same could be said for Hillside, which maybe didn’t get the statewide recognition, despite having two D1-bound runningbacks in 2022, thousand-yard rushers in 2021 who returned for this season: Mu Parkman – who’s going to Syracuse – and Kyon Simonson, who’s headed to West Point. They were solid this year, their lone loss to St. Thomas Aquinas.

Bottom line? Both teams expected to win that game Saturday: Hillside and Old Tappan. Only one could. And Old Tappan did.


And Brearley: In the North 1, Group 1 final against Mountain Lakes Saturday, it was close, but the Herd play good defense, and came out with a 16-6 win. But what else can you say about Matt Sims?

An all-world dual-threat QB like that doesn’t come around every day in a district like Kenilworth, and he took them on a spectacular ride: the Bears were 25-6 in his last three years as the full-time starting quarterback. And they swept the regular season, winning the Freedom Gold Division, their first division title since winning the Mid-State 38’s Union Division in 2019.

Those are the things you remember.

But now it’s on to the Group Semifinals for the Eagles and Lions (oh my!) for the first time ever, and a trip to the inaugural Group Championships – state championships, really – at Rutgers the first week of December.

I’m not sure it’s really sunk in what’s up for grabs there yet. This was still Championship Weekend for everyone that hoisted a trophy. And it may take a couple of years for that to become the event that it is in other sports. Or it might not. We’ll find out in a few weeks.


Brearley, Hillside fall in Saturday sectional title games

While North Hunterdon earned the Big Central its section sectional championship Saturday – and fourth in two seasons for the fledgling league – both Brearley and Hillside lost their title tilts up in North Jersey.

North 1, Group 1 Final: #1 Mountain Lakes 16, #4 Brearley 8

Mountain Lakes struck first in the game, with a five-yard TD run from Jordan Hernando late in the first quarter, but Brearley almost got it back near the midway point of the second quarter, on a Matt Sims-to-Brendan Fitzsimmons 15-yard touchdown pass. But they missed the game-tying two-point conversion.

And when Mountain Lakes responded on the next drive with a Gavin Anderson 45-yard touchdown catch, few could have predicted it would be the last score of the game. But it would be, and Brearley would suffer its first loss of the season.

Matt Sims closed his Brearley career with his best year: 1,706 rushing yards (including 173 Saturday) and 1,131 passing (including 68 Saturday). He also threw 11 TD passes, but just one interception.

Brearley finishes the season 11-1.

Click below for postgame reaction from Chris Tsakonas with Brearley head coach Scott Miller:

North 1, Group 3 Final: #1 Old Tappan 28, #2 Hillside 14

Old Tappan got three touchdown runs from Aidan Heanay to beat Hillside 28-14 at home to win its first sectional title since 2017.

A Caleb Salters touchdown for the Comets with just under four minutes left got them to within two scores, but unlike in the first two rounds of the playoffs, a comeback was not in the offing for Hillside, which tried an on-side play on the ensuing kickoff, but saw the ball go out of bounds.

Syracuse-bound Mu Parkman scored the first Hillside touchdown, to get them within 21-7 with just over four minutes to go before halftime.

The Comets’ season ends at 9-2. Their only other loss came to St. Thomas Aquinas in Week Five.

Who’s left?

The only Big Central teams remaining in the playoffs are Edison and North Hunterdon.

The sixth-seeded Eagles won at top seed Lenape Friday night to take the Central Jersey Group 5 title. They will play in the South Group 5 semifinals against unbeaten Toms River North (12-0). The top-seed and South Jersey Group 5 champion next Saturday or Sunday at Cherokee High School in Medford – just a 15-minute drive from Lenape – with the day and time to be announced this weekend by the NJSIAA.

The top-seeded Lions won the North 2, Group 4 title Saturday at home, 49-35 over 2nd-seed Randolph, and move on to the North Group 4 semifinals at Franklin High School next Saturday or Sunday, again with the day and time to be announced by the NJSIAA this weekend. They will face North 1 Group 4 champion Northern Highlands (8-3).

Championship Weekend! Everything you need to know about all five Big Central teams vying for state sectional titles

It’s not the last weekend of high school football in New Jersey, but it is Championship Weekend. Or at least “a” championship weekend.

Twenty public schools will be crowned sectional champions this weekend, but for the first time ever, there will be two more rounds to go after that, as the NJSIAA will play down to group champions in football. It’s a historic season, as statewide champs were never awarded in the sport – unlike all the others – for nearly a century.

Winners this weekend will go on to a round that has been held since 2018, but was only the final round. The former “bowl championships” and “regional championships” now are group semifinals, with North 1 and 2 teams playing at Franklin High School next Saturday and Sunday, and South and Central teams facing off at Cherokee High School on the same days.

After a week break for Thanksgiving – and the Non-Public finals at MetLife Stadium – the first-ever public school Group Finals will be held at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium in Piscataway.

You can read all about how the Group Championships came about here: In historic vote, NJSIAA members decide to play to Group Champs in football, starting in ’22

Read more about the history of football championships in New Jersey here: How far has New Jersey come in HS football? The evolution from declared champs to Group Finals in 104 years

But first things first: getting through this week. And there have been some changes due to the bad weather expected Friday due to the remnants of Hurricane Nicole, which made landfall Thursday in Florida.

Below, we preview each game. Some have yet to be written, so please come back to this page and follow us on Twitter for the very latest all weekend long, including game recaps and postgame audio from all five sectional finals involving Big Central teams.

One more thing: here are the sectional final histories of all five Big Central teams – and their opponents – in the sectional finals this weekend:

North Jersey, Section 2, Group 5 Final
#6 West Orange (7-3) at #1 Phillipsburg (10-0)
Thursday, 7 pm at Maloney Stadium in Phillipsburg

Coverage: Chris Tsakonas will provide updates on Twitter (follow him here) and a recap and postgame reaction after the game on cjsportsradio.com.

How they got here: Phillipsburg defeated #8 Elizabeth 49-13 in the first round, and #4 Paterson Eastside 37-6 in the semifinals. West Orange won at #3 Watchung Hills 18-10 in the opening round, and at #2 Ridgewood 34-31 in the semifinals

Key Stats:

Phillipsburg sophomore quarterback Jett Genovese has thrown for 1,267 yards and 10 TDs on the season, but more importantly just one pick. He has found four different receivers for at least 10 catches and five for at least 120 yards on the year. Senior runningback Xavier Moore leads the way on the ground with 683 yards and 9 touchdowns. Junior Caleb Rivera paces the defense with five sacks, while senior defensive lineman Hunter Cleaver has a team-leading 10 tackles for loss.

For West Orange, senior QB Amir Stewart has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards, but has been turnover prone, which could be disaster against P’burg, which has logged 13 interceptions on the year, led by the half-dozen that have ended up in the hands of junior defensive back Cameron Bohal alone. Stewart has 11 touchdown passes, but has thrown seven INTs. Senior Jehki Williams is the leading rusher with 629 yards and seven touchdowns, while Saboor Karriem has caught 13 touchdown passes this season and has 862 yards receiving.

Preview: Phillipsburg and West Orange to tussle for North 2, Group 5 title one day earlier

Recap: Early West Orange TDs, turnovers do in top-seed, undefeated Phillipsburg in North 2, Group 5 title game

Past Phillipsburg coverage:

Bottom Line: Phillipsburg has been dominant all year, even when it looks like they haven’t. Balance on offense and a spirit-crushing defense have been the keys all year long. Don’t expect much different Thursday night.

Central Jersey Group 5 Final
#6 Edison (8-3) at #1 Lenape (6-4)
Friday, 6 pm at Lenape High School in Medford, NJ

Coverage: Live Broadcast with Mike Pavlichko and Justin Sontupe. Pregame begins at 5:40 pm. Recap and postgame reaction after the game on cjsportsradio.com.

How they got here: Edison defeated #6 Hillsborough 10-7 in the opening round, then rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat #2 North Brunswick 33-31 in the semifinals. Lenape blanked #8 Freehold Township 40-0 in the first-round, and escaped #5 Atlantic City with a 21-20 win in the semis.

Key Stats: Senior quarterback Matt Yascko is 34 shy of 5,000 passing yards in his scholastic career, with 38 touchdown passes, and almost 1,200 yards rushing. But he about more than just numbers. He is the guts of this Edison team. He also takes care of the football: just two picks against his 13 touchdown passes. Nyekir Eato the top rusher (1,207 yards and 15 scores) while Yascko’s favorite target through the air is Malcolm Stansbury (570 yards, 4 scores), but four different receivers have at least 21 catches. Defensively, a dozen players have logged a total of 19 sacks, and the Eagles have 86 TFLs as a team. They have eight interceptions as a group, as well.

“Just know No. 8” one of the Edison coaches told us at practice Tuesday. That’s Zyaire Fleming, senior running back, who’s rushed for 1,186 yards this year to go along with 14 touchdowns. No one else even comes close for the Indians, so if Edison can curtail his numbers, that would be nice. Trouble is, in eight games played, only St. Augustine was able to hold him under the century mark. Quarterback Jalen Mins is a thousand-yard passer. On defense, senior linemen Angelo Gola and Nagei Ringo have been the most disruptive, combining for 7 1/2 of the team’s 19 sacks on the year.


Past Edison Coverage:

Bottom Line: Edison can win the close game – with a 3-point and a 2-point win in the playoffs – and can win the blowout, as their regular season wins came by an average of 28 points. In fact, their last two games – int he first round and semifinals of the sectional playoffs – are their only two wins all year to be decided by fewer than 21 points.

North Jersey, Section 1, Group 3 Final
#2 Hillside (9-1) at #1 Old Tappan (9-1)
Saturday, 1 pm at Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan High School
(originally scheduled for Friday, 6 pm)

Coverage: Chris Tsakonas will provide live updates during our broadcast of Edison-Lenape, and will have updates on Twitter (follow him here). A recap and postgame aduio will follow after the game on cjsportsradio.com.

How they got here: Hillside has come from behind in both playoff games: an opening round 33-28 win at #7 Parsippany Hills, and a 33-13 win over #3 River Dell in the semifinals, both played at home at Conant Street Park. Old Tappan routed #8 Lincoln 42-8 in the first round, while topping 2021 sectional finalist and #4 Sparta 37-14 in the semifinals.

Key Stats:

Hillside’s two D1 runningbacks get a lot of attention, and deservedly so. Mu Parkman is going to Syracuse, and Kyon Simonson will be headed to Army. Both rushed for 1,000 yards a year ago. This year, Simonson is at 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns, while Parkman has rushed for 536 yards and 6 scores. And they continue to throw the ball, too with senior Caleb Salters racking up his third thousand-yard passing season, and second straight over 1,300 yards, to go along with 13 TDs this year. Three receivers have at least 300 yards catching the ball, including Al-Jamir Davis (402, 4 TDs), Darvens Tunis (363 and 4 scores) and Marcus White (300, 3 TDs) – and all three are juniors. The Cmets can get after it on D, too, with 16 sacks – a quarter of them coming from McNaully Erminal, a junior D-back – and 87 TFLs. Fellow D-Back Marcus White, a junior, has five of the team’s 12 interceptions, with two of the team’s three pick sixes.

Old Tappan’s schedule hasn’t been the most challenging, but it’s also not filled with cupcakes; no winless teams on this year’s slate. That being said, their defense has registered three shutouts, and held six different teams to single digits. They get to the quarterback, with 22 sacks (Dennis Delaney has eight) and 63 TFLs. The Golden knights will throw it just as much as they run it: QB Tommy Caracciolo has completed 100 of 141 passes this year for 1,699 yards and 23 touchdowns, with just 7 picks, while Aidan Heaney leads the ground game with 1,112 yards.

Past Hillside Coverage:

Bottom Line: The Comets are well-tested, and have an especially-recent tradition of excellence that can’t be overlooked. Both teams have guys than can put up numbers, but playing in the rugged Big Central is a big plus.

North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 Final
#2 Randolph (9-1) at #1 North Hunterdon (9-1)
Saturday, 12 noon at Singley Field in Annandale

Coverage: Live Broadcast with Mike Pavlichko and North Hunterdon alum Shane Dunn. Pregame begins at 11:40 am. Recap and postgame reaction after the game on cjsportsradio.com.

How they got here: North Hunterdon beat #8 Middletown North 34-7 in the first round, then rallied from 14-0 down in the first quarter to beat #5 Morris Knolls 25-14 in the semifinals. Randolph topped #7 Rahway 42-7 in the first round, and #3 Wayne Valley 31-28 in the semifinals.

Key Stats:

The Lions will get their yards and points. Even in a loss to Phillipsburg, they scored three touchdowns and rushed for over 200 yards; the Stateliners were just a little bit better. Quarterback Luke Martini leads a senior-heavy group on offense with 1,736 yards passing and 17 TDs. But the ground game has pounded out 2,254 yards and 28 scores on the strength of Kente Edwards, who has 12 TDs and 1,138 despite missing two full games and the better part of four overall due to a lower body injury. He was bak last week and almost looked like his old self. Alex Uryniak, who head coach Kevin Kley says could be a starter on any other BCC team, has rushed for 942 yards and 12 TDs. They are the ground game. On defense, Greg Rayl is a beast up front and has seven sacks, while Hunter Vos has six on a team that has recorded an astounding 36 on the season, plus 80 TFLs. That’s got to be one of the best defensive groups in the state.

Randolph has a QB who’s thrown for even more yards than Martini: 1,878, with 23 TDs and nine interceptions. That’s senior Sean Clark, who has found found seven targets for over 100 yards each this season, with James Fusco being his favorite: 28 catches for 466 yards and five TDs, while James Kratochvil has a team-leading six touchdown receptions.


Past North Hunterdon Coverage:

Bottom Line: It’s not easy to stop the two-headed monster of Edwards and Uryniak, plus the passing game as a change of pace for the Lions.

North Jersey, Section 1, Group 1 Final
#4 Brearley at (10-0) at #2 Mountain Lakes (9-1)
Saturday, 12 noon Wilkins Field in Mountain Lakes

Coverage: Chris Tsakonas will provide live updates during our broadcast of North Hunterdon-Randolph, and will have updates on Twitter (follow him here). A recap and postgame aduio will follow after the game on cjsportsradio.com.

How they got here: Brearley beat #5 North Arlington 50-16 in the first round at home, then beat #8 Kinnelon 45-14 in the semifinals. Mountain Lakes beat #7 Boonton 35-10 at home in the first round, and #3 Waldwick 27-21 at home in the semifinals.

Key Stats:

Matt Sims, the Brearley senior quarterback, puts up the big numbers in the air and on the ground. He’s passed for 955 yards and 9 touchdowns this season, with just one INT, while rushing for 1,355 yards and 26 scores. Amazing! Brendan Fitzsimmons has a huge chunk of the receiving yards with 740 and 6 TDs.

Preview: Brearley, Mountain Lakes looks like a test of wills for North 1, Group 1 title

Past Brearley Coverage:

Bottom Line: These teams might as well both be undefeated. Brearley is, Lakes has one loss. The Herd’s only defeat is to Caldwell, which has the state’s longest active winning streak, now at 25 games, going back to the tail end of the 2020 COVID-shortened season. In the end? It starts and ends with Sims. That’s it. If he can do what he does, Brearley will be just fine, and bring home another sectional title.

Here are the histories of all five Big Central teams – and their opponents – vying for sectional titles this weekend

Public school sectional championship games begin tonight across New Jersey, ending Saturday, and there’s still more to go after that, with the first ever group championships taking place the first weekend of December at Rutgers University.

But there are still champs to crown in 20 public school sections, with five teams from the Big Central looking to bring home some hardware: Phillipsburg, North Hunterdon, Edison, Hillside and Brearley.

We’ve compiled their histories in sectional finals, some longer, some shorter, as well as those of their opponents. Scroll down for a look.


Phillipsburg (8-7 in finals)  (26th appearance, 40-17 overall)

  • 2018:  North 2, Group 4:  #1 seed, beat #3 Irvington 42-7
    • Lost to North 1, Group 4 champion Wayne Hills 35-21 at MetLife (10-3)
  • 2017:  North 2, Group 4:  #1 seed, lost to #2 North Hunterdon 21-20 at MetLife (10-2)
  • 2015:  North 2, Group 4:  #2 seed, lost to #1 Middletown South 35-7 at MetLife (9-3)
  • 2014:  North 2, Group 4:  #2 seed, beat #1 Colonia 28-21 in OT at Rutgers (11-1)
  • 2013:  North 2, Group 4:  #1 seed, beat #6 Mendham 39-0 at Rutgers (10-2)
  • 2009:  North 2, Group 4:  #2 seed, beat #5 Ridge 34-7 at Kean (10-2)
  • 2008:  North 2, Group 3:  #4 seed, beat #6 Rahway 20-6 (10-2)
  • 2006:  North 2, Group 4:  #1 seed, lost to #3 Elizabeth 14-9 (10-2)
  • 2005:  North 2, Group 4:  #1 seed, beat #2 Piscataway 15-6 at Rutgers (12-0)
  • 2004:  North 2, Group 4:  #2 seed, lost to #1 Piscataway 27-26 in OT at Rutgers (10-2)
  • 2001:  North 2, Group 4:  #5 seed, beat #2 Montclair, 10-7 (9-3)
  • 1979:  North 2, Group 3:  #1 seed, lost to #2 Rahway 14-6 (8-3)
  • 1978:  North 2, Group 3:  #3 seed, lost to #4 Rahway 23-16 (7-4)
  • 1977:  North 2, Group 3:  #2 seed, beat #1 Parsippany 26-0 (10-1)
  • 1975:  North 2, Group 3:  #2 seed, lost to #1 Morris Hills 7-0 (7-3-1)

West Orange – first appearance in a sectional final


Edison (2-0 in finals)  (13th appearance, 9-10 overall)

  • 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)

Lenape (1-2 in finals) (12th appearances, 10-10 overall)

  • 2019:  South 5:  #2 seed, lost at #1 Williamstown 14-10 (10-2)
  • 2017:  Beat Rancocas Valley 10-7 at Rowan (11-1)
  • 2016:  Lost to Timber Creek 31-10 at Rowan (11-1)


North Hunterdon (2-1 in finals)  (12th appearance, 9-9 overall)

  • 2017:  North 2, Group 2:  #2 seed, beat #1 Phillipsburg 21-20 at Rutgers (11-1)
    • Lost to Phillipsburg on 10/27 that year 20-7 at Maloney Stadium
  • 1978:  Central 3:  #4 seed, lost to #2 JFK 26-6 (8-3)
  • 1975:  Central 3:  #1 seed, beat #3 Franklin 27-18 (10-0)

Randolph (7-5 in finals)  (29th appearance, 28-21 overall)

  • 2010:  North 1, Group 4:  #2 seed, beat #4 Montclair 19-0 at New Meadowlands Stadium (11-1)
  • 1994:  North 2, Group 4:  #1 seed, lost to #3 Montclair 22-12 (10-1)
  • 1993:  North 2, Group 4:  #1 seed, lost to #3 Union 19-6 (9-1-1)
  • 1992:  North 2, Group 4:  #2 seed, lost at #1 Union 21-7 (9-2)
  • 1991:  North 2, Group 4:  #2 seed, lost at #1 Union 24-14 (9-1-1)
  • 1990:  North 2, Group 4:  #3 seed, beat #1 Montclair 22-21 (10-0)
  • 1989:  North 2, Group 3:  #1 seed, beat #3 Morris Hills 22-7 (11-0)
  • 1988:  North 2, Group 3:  #1 seed, beat #2 Nutley 15-12 (11-0)
  • 1987:  North 2, Group 3:  #1 seed, beat #2 West Morris 13-14 (11-0)
  • 1986:  North 2, Group 3:  #2 seed, beat #4 Summit 12-7 (10-1)
  • 1983:  North 2, Group 3:  #3 seed, beat #1 Linden 22-9 (10-1)
  • 1982:  North 2, Group 3:  #1 seed, lost to #3 West Morris 10-6 (10-1)

Randolph set NJ state records with 54 consecutive regular season and playoff wins, and a 59-game unbeaten streak from 1986 to 1991 (the streak being snapped in the finals with a loss to Union).  That record has since been broken by Paulsboro, which won 63 straight from 1992 to 1998.


Hillside (4-1 in finals)  (13th appearance, 17-8 overall)

  • 2019:  South 2:  #3 seed, beat #1 West Deptford 14-10 on the road
    • Beat Central 2 champion Cedar Creek 25-3 at Rutgers (12-0)
  • 2018:  Central 2:  #1 seed, beat #2 Manasquan 36-10 at home
    • Lost to South 2 champion Haddonfield 17-7 at MetLife (11-1)
  • 2017:  Central 2:  #7 seed, beat #1 Point Pleasant Boro 20-13 at Rutgers (9-3)
  • 1985:  North 2, Group 2:  #2 seed, beat #1 Madison 13-12 (10-1)
  • 1983:  North 2, Group 2:  #1 seed, lost at #1 Butler 16-8

Old Tappan (3-5 in finals)  (21st appearance, 24-17 overall)

  • 2019:  North 2, Group 4:  #2 seed, lost to #5 Wayne Valley 21-17 (8-4)
  • 2018:  North 1, Group 4:  #2 seed, lost at #1 Wayne Hills 20-13 (8-3)
  • 2017:  North 1, Group 4:  #1 seed, beat #3 Mount Olive 31-28 at Met Life (12-0)
  • 2016:  North 1, Group 3:  #4 seed, lost to #3 River Dell 26-20 (OT) at MetLife (9-3)
  • 2015:  North 1, Group 4:  #1 seed, beat #7 Wayne Hills 17-0 at MetLife (12-0)
  • 2011:  North 1, Group 3:  #7 seed, lost to #1 Wayne Hills 15-12 at MetLife
  • 2010:  North 1, Group 3:  #2 seed, lost to #1 Wayne Hills 2-21 at New Meadowlands Stadium (11-1)
  • 1985:  North 1, Group 3:  #4 seed, beat #2 Wayne Valley 7-0(8-3)


Brearley (5-4 in finals)  (24th appearance, 22-18 overall)

  • 2015:  North 2, Group 1:  #1 seed, lost to #2 Hoboken 34-12 at Kean (11-1)
  • 2006:  North 2, Group 1:  #2 seed, beat #4 Verona 21-20 (12-0)
  • 2005:  Central 1:  #2 seed, lost to #1 Florence, 19-6 (10-2)
  • 1991:  North 2, Group 1:  #4 seed, won at #2 Mountain Lakes 14-13 (8-2-1)
  • 1988:  North 2, Group 1:  #1 seed,lost to #2 New Providence 30-14 (10-1)
  • 1986:  North 2, Group 1:  #3 seed, beat #1 Roselle Park 28-7 (9-1-1)
  • 1985:  North 2, Group 1:  #2 seed, beat #4 Roselle Park 35-6 (10-1-1)
  • 1981:  North 2, Group 1:  #1 seed, beat #3 Roselle 17-14 (11-0)
  • 1977:  North 2, Group 2:  #1 seed, lost to #2 Glen Ridge 18-12 (9-2)

Mountain Lakes (6-8 in finals, declared in 1974 – no others eligible)  (38th appearance, 38-30 overall)

  • 2021:  North 2 Group 1:  #1 seed, lost to #2 Cedar Grove 15-7 (8-3)
  • 2014:  North 2, Group 2:  #1 seed, beat #3 Lincoln 36-28 at MetLife  (12-0)
  • 2013:  North 2, Group 2:  #2 seed, beat #1 Caldwell 26-6 at Kean (12-0)
  • 2012:  North 2, Group 2:  #2 seed, lost to #1 Madison 13-0 at Kean (11-1)
  • 2010:  North 1, Group 1:  #1 seed, lost to #2 Wallington 23-21 at New Meadowlands Stadium (10-1)
  • 2009:  North 1, Group 1:  #1 seed, beat #3 Butler 28-7 at Giants Stadium (12-0)
  • 2008:  North 1, Group 1:  #2 seed, beat #1 Glen Rock 35-21 at Giants Stadium (12-0)
  • 2006:  North 1, Group 1:  #6 seed, lost to #1 Bogota at Giants Stadium 28-0 (10-2)
  • 2002:  North 2, Group 1:  #1 seed, beat #7 Boonton 23-6 (12-0)
  • 1997:  North 2, Group 1:  #3 seed, lost to #1 Butler 30-7 (8-3)
  • 1991:  North 2, Group 1:  #2 seed, lost to #4 Brearley 14-13 (10-1)
  • 1987:  North 2, Group 1:  #1 seed, lost to #2 New Providence 29-0 (10-1)
  • 1976:  North 1, Group 1:  #1 seed, beat #2 Clifford Scott 24-14 (Clifford Scott merged with East Orange in 2002 to form East Orange Campus)
  • 1975:  North 2, Group 1:  #4 seed, lost to #2 Mendham 19-6 (7-2-2)
  • 1974:  North 1, Group 1:  Champion (only team eligible)

Nicole’s impending rain spreads out sectional finals; three Big Central teams have games rescheduled

“We’re Athletic Directors, not meteorologists.”

That’s what Hillside head coach Barris Grant told Central Jersey Sports Radio when asked if his Comets had been approached by Old Tappan – their opponent in the North 1, Group 1 title game – about moving the contest due to the heavy rain that’s possible Friday night, as the remnants of what will be Hurricane Nicole make their way past – and perhaps through – New Jersey.

Needless to say, the game is not being moved, and the two will square off as scheduled Friday night at 6:00 for the North 1, Group 1 title.

Also staying put is Edison’s game down at Lenape in the Central Jersey Group 5 title tilt. That’s also scheduled for 6 pm.

Decisions on start times and days rest with the home team, the higher seed, though moving it often winds up becoming a collaborative effort between schools, as it did with three other Big Central Conference teams.

The first to announce they were moving their game was Phillipsburg. That word came Thursday morning, when the Stateliners moved their North 2, Group 4 title game up a day. They will now face West Orange at the same time, just a day earlier, 7 pm Thursday at Maloney Stadium off Route 22.

Two other games, however, moved to Saturday. Brearley and Mountain Lakes will play for the North 1, Group 1 title at noon, as will North Hunterdon and Randolph for the North 2, Group 4 title.

The Friday forecast as of 5 pm Wednesday from The Weather Channel calls for evening thunderstorms, overcast later in the overnight hours with occasional rain, and the potential for heavy rainfall, with winds out of the south-southwest at 10-20 miles per hour across much of the state. There could be a little rain Thursday, and Saturday is expected to be in the mid-60s and partly to mostly cloudy.

Central Jersey Sports Radio will have postgame reaction from the Phillipsburg-West Orange game on our website Thursday night, and you can follow reporter Chris Tsakonas for live updates on Twitter by clicking here.

Live coverage begins Friday at approximately 5:40 pm in Medford, where Edison will visit Lenape. We’ll have live-play-by-play of that game at 6, with Chris Tsakonas providing live updates of Hillside-Old Tappan. Postgame reaction will follow on cjsportsradio.com.

Saturday, we’ll have two more games, with live coverage of North Hunterdon-Ramapo starting at approximately 11:40 am. Kickoff will be at noon, and Chris Tsakonas will have live updates of Brearley-Mountain Lakes. Again, postgame reaction will follow on cjsportsradio.com.

Click here to listen live to both Friday and Saturday night broadcasts.

“The Big Central in 2 Minutes” – Playoff Edition: Will the Real Championship Weekend Please Stand Up?

It’s Championship Weekend in the public high school football playoffs. Or is it? Veteran sportscaster Mike Pavlichko rants about the snaking system on “The Big Central in Two Minutes,” then looks at each of the five Big Central teams left – Phillipsburg, Edison, North Hunterdon, Hillside and Brearley, and their chances at bringing home trophies Friday night.

Click below to listen to the Championship Weekend (?) Playoff edition of “The Big Central in 2 Minutes”: