Tag: HS Football

Edison’s Fulham goes out a champion, stepping down from football program after nearly two decades

He’s almost been the head coach of the Edison Eagles for 20 years. He an even 80 wins. He has an even 100 losses.

And he has a championship. And that’s where it comes to an end.

Edison head football coach Matt Fulham is stepping aside, after a an-18-year tenure, an 80-100-1 coaching record, and a state championship that brought the entire community such immense pride this fall.

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Fulham informed the team of his decision Tuesday, and sat down with Central Jersey Sports Radio to talk about it; scroll down to listen to Mike Pavlichko’s interview with him.

The pinnacle of his tenure was this past season’s 2023 state championship, one that was pretty much a full four years in the making.

It began in 2019 with a core of young players who were starters as freshmen: defensive end Adekunle Shittu, offensive tackle/tight end Israel Rodriguez, wide receiver/cornerback Malcolm Stansbury, and quarterback Matt Yascko.

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The run picked up in 2020 when Yascko’s father, Matt – then the head coach for Carteret for 14 seasons – left the Ramblers to become Fulham’s offensive coordinator, but more importantly, to come back to his alma mater and coach his son in the process.

In their third year together, the Eagles brought home their first state title in 31 years, but it wasn’t the easiest path. They were a No. 6 seed in Central Jersey Group 5, and in the semifinals – in a rematch of a regular season loss to North Brunswick – stunned the Raiders on the road when they rallied from a two touchdown deficit to score, convert an onside kick, score again, and again convert an onside kick, then go ahead on a field goal, and hang on to win and advance to the finals.

Edison coach Matt Fulham talks to his team after a 42-23 win at St. Joseph-Metuchen on October 7, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

It was there they beat top-seed Lenape on the road in the leftover wind and rain from Hurricane Nicole to win their first state title since 1991. And they would do it against the same team that knocked them out of the playoffs in the first round three years prior by 33 points, bringing it all full circle.

Fulham helped rebuild a program that had been dominated by in-town rival JP Stevens for years, and only scored four touchdowns the entire season before his arrival in 2005, which he says the Eagles began riding a 31-game losing streak. That would extend to 39 before beating Spotswood in a consolation game in double overtime, 26-20.

By 2007, the program would go 6-4 for its first winning season under Fulahm, and first for the program since 2000. It was also only its third since 1991, when they won the Central Jersey Group 4 title.

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Fulham is a Sayreville graduate, then played at Juniata College before picking up his first assistant coaching job at his alma mater. After a few more stops, in 1992 he landed the job at Edison, where he’s also been a special education mathematics teacher.

And though the Sayreville head coaching job is now open, with Chris Beagan announcing he was stepping down from the Bombers’ program last week, Fulham says he has no plans to apply for the job.

The Eagles’ football program has a number of alums on staff, including Yascko and wide receivers’ coach Brian Calantoni. Yascko would be a natural fit as the program’s next head coach, should the administration choose to go that route. He was 82-67 at Carteret, making three state finals and winning two, in 2007 and 2012.

But he’s not the only former head coach on the staff. Runningbacks coach Bob Molarz had Yascko on his staff when he was head coach at Carteret. Molarz also began the football program at St. Joseph-Metuchen and coached their first two varsity seasons in 2011 and 2012 before going to East Brunswick for six seasons.

And Mike Ryan was the head coach at in-town rival JP Stevens from 2010 through 2012.

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Click below to hear Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko talk with longtime Edison head coach Matt Fulham:

Sayreville’s Chris Beagan stepping down from Bombers football program after eight years, two state titles

Maybe he’s not that age yet, but retirement is calling Sayreville football coach Chris Beagan.

The man who brought the Bombers back after a hazing scandal rocked the program in 2014 – and won two state championships in the process – told his team just before the holidays that he would be stepping down.

The Sayreville school district posted for the job on January second.

A Sayreville alum, Beagan just wrapped up his eighth season as the head coach at his alma mater, going 51-31 in that span, and winning state titles in 2016 and 2018.

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The first of the two was quite special – and to some degree, amazing even – considering the 2014 team got shut down the day before its fourth game of the season against South Brunswick, after allegations of hazing came to light and law enforcement became involved. The 2016 senior class essentially had played as freshman, but missed almost all of their sophomore seasons.

Sayreville beat Middletown North in the 2016 North 2, Group 4 title game at Rutgers and finished the year 10-2, their lone losses to South Brunswick and fellow state champ Piscataway. It was a grand renaissance for a program which has always had immense support in the town, and continues to draw some of the largest and most passionate crowds in Middlesex County.

In 2018, the Bombers won an instant classic Central Jersey Group 5 final, defeating North Brunswick 6-0 in the first year of regularly scheduled sectional finals at local high schools since the 1990s. They went on to win the South Group 5 “Bowl Championship” at MetLife Stadium, defeating Williamstown 14-7 in their own version of the “Miracle at the Meadowlands,” when Connor Holmes fell on a Williamstown fumble in the end zone to put the team ahead.

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That team finished 11-1, Beagan’s best at Sayreville. And that despite a battle with a kidney disease which he had been waging for years, but had gotten worse by 2018 enough that he missed several practices, and eventually received a kidney donation from his wife, Laurie.

Beagan came to the Bombers – well, back to the Bombers, since he had played there and graduated in 1990 – from Monroe, where he also had a highly successful seven-year run as head coach. He won a GMC White Division title in his first season, in 2008, then delivered the school’s first-ever state title in 2009 – in just his second season – by way of a 30-10 victory over Middletown South at The College of New Jersey that left them 11-1 by the time all was said and done.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with retiring Sayreville head coach Chris Beagan:

Rounding out the Top Ten stories of 2022 on Central Jersey Sports Radio: We’ve got the Final Five!

Back on Tuesday, we began taking a look at the Top Ten most-read stories on Central Jersey Sports Radio. We began our countdown with Numbers 10 through 6 (and if you missed any of it – you can find the first five here.

And now, let’s count you down from No. 5 all the way to the top!

Click on each headline for the complete, original story.

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

Just under a year ago, in early January, South Brunswick brought Joe Goerge back for a second tour of duty. He had stepped down after the 2018 season, and said he wasn’t retiring; he spent a couple of years on Staten Island, where he’d begun his coaching career, but this time at St. Joseph-by-the-Sea.

It would be hard for Goerge to top his first run with the Vikings, where he was 63-17, winning a title in his debut season of 2012, plus two more in 2015 and 2017.

Joe Goerge celebrates with his players after South Brunswick’s 2015 sectional championship over Manalapan at Rutgers University. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

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

Coaching news is always big, and this was was huge: Old Bridge head coach Anthony Lanzafama stepping away from the Knights’ program with a 72-47-1 record in a dozen years at the helm.

Post the merger of Cedar Ridge and Madison Central in the 1990s, he’s just the second coach of “Old Bridge” high school, succeeding Bob DeMarco, for whom Lanzafama was an assistant in his younger years. DeMarco, of course, had coached Madison Central and took over the merged program.

And true to the tradition of keeping it in the Old Bridge family, eventually, Matt Donaghue – the team’s defensive coordinator and also the baseball coach – took over for Lanzafama.

They like their Old Bridge in Old Bridge.

Old Bridge head coach Anthomy Lanzafama addresses his team after winning the 2020 edition of the “Battle of Route 18” against East Brunswick, with the trophy sitting at his feet. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

3. Remembering Ron Mazzola, Mr. Old Bridge

Nothing stunned the high school sports world in Central Jersey and beyond like the sudden passing of Ron Mazzola, the man known as Mr. Old Bridge. But he was also Mr. Wrestling, Mr. Gymnastics, Mr. Trophy, Mr. Anything-You-Need-You-Got-It-With-A-Smile.

Mazzola died in late February at the age of 61, and his passing touched everyone so that the line was out the door for hours at his wake, where those coming to pay their respects were urged to wear their favorite team jersey – and many did – and the background behind the casket was a projection of a Mets baseball game. Yes, you could have also called Ron “Mr. Met.”

This story was a tribute that included comments from former Old Bridge football coach Anthony Lanzafama, Old Bridge Athletic Director Dan DiMino, Old Bridge wrestling coach John Post, longtime friends Kevn Brady and Luca Rispoli, and former East BRunswick Athletic Director and GMC President Frank Noppenberger.

We also shared this story, a long, wide-ranging chat with Ron from five months prior: “Mr. Old Bridge,” Ron Mazzola, does a little bit of everything for Knights, Chargers, GMC.

By the following September, Old Bridge held a ceremony to name its football press box after Ron, and we also provided a video recap of the touching ceremony: A fitting tribute for Mr. Old Bridge, as Knights’ football press box is named for the late Ron Mazzola.

The press box at Old Bridge’s Bob DeMarco Field is unveiled in honor of late P.A. man Ron Mazzola on Thursday, September 1, 2022 (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

2. Edison-North Brunswick lives up to the hype, as Eagles win a wild one to clinch a finals berth for the first time since 1991

The last few years, every Edison-North Brunswick football game seemed like a wacky one. And the Raiders had continuously come out on top. But, in their second meeting of the 2022 season – in the Central Jersey Group 5 semifinals – the Eagles finally soared, although they looked like they’d been shot down for good with under five minutes to go in the game.

It took two touchdowns with two on-side kick recoveries, and then a field goal to win the game – all in the final four-plus minutes of regulation.

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It was so stunning, that after our live broadcast that night from North Hunterdon, we sent a text to our reporter covering the game to see if it was over. The response from Chris Tsakonas: “All hell has broken loose here. I’ll explain later.”

Well, we let him get his postgame interviews, and then let him actually explain what type of hell had indeed broken loose at Steve Libro Field, along with reaction from head coach Matt Fulham, quarterback Matt Yascko, and linebacker/kicker Selbin Sabio, who converted the two on-side kicks and booted the game-winning field goal.

Edison, of course, would go on to win the CJ5 title, its first state sectional title in 31 years, and its third overall.

North Brunswick and Edison play in the Central Jersey Group 5 semifinals at Steve Libro Field in North Brunswick on November 4, 2022. (Photo: Chris Tsakonas)

1. Old Bridge head coach Matt Donaghue on one of the wildest finishes you’ll ever see in 27-22 win at South Brunswick

This might be the only ending that could top Edison’s, and we’ll let you debate that if you wish, especially because the end of this story doesn’t end with the end of this story.

Old Bridge missed a chance to take a late lead at South Brunswick when a field goal attempt failed in an early-season game, so first-year head coach Matt Donaghue was consoling his kicker when he was disrupted by screams saying his team had the ball. How was that possible?

After all, South Brunswick needed a first down to take a knee and run out the clock. They got the first down, took a knee, and needed to take one more. But they fumbled the snap, defensive lineman Robert Orzol jumped on it, the Knights scored to go ahead and held off the Vikings.

We caught up with Donaghue, who told us the wild story

Old Bridge head coach Matt Donaghue. (Source: @mattdonaghue23 on Twitter)

That would be a dramatic story on its own, if it wasn’t for the fact that it still wasn’t over yet.

About a month-and-a-half later, on Cutoff Weekend, Old Bridge finished 17th in the South Group 5 supersection, one spot out of the playoffs – right behind South Brunswick.

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But once all the ties are broken, the NJSIAA uses a top-down head-to-head tiebreaker. That is, a team cannot finish behind a team it beat in the regular season. The tiebreaker goes from No. 2 (if it beat No. 1, it jumps them) all the way down to 17. And Old Bridge, at 17, beat South Brunswick, which was 16. That put the Knights in the playoffs, and left the Vikings out.

In our 2022 postseason awards, we honored Orzol with the “Full 48” Award – as in, playing the full 48 minutes, like the cliche goes – and got his side of the story. Click here to read about and hear Robert Orzol talk about the win, and how he and his teammates later found out they’d made the playoffs.

What were the Top Ten stories of 2022 on Central Jersey Sports Radio? Here’s a look at the first five:

End-of-the-year lists are always popular, so we figured what better time to look at the most-read stories on Central Jersey Sports Radio this past year, one in which we had – yet again – a record number of visitors to the site? So, we compiled the top ten feature and game stories of the past year, and present them to you now.

We start today with stories 10 through 6, and will have the top five later this week.

Click on each headline for the complete, original story.

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

Edison’s Matt Yascko – shown here as a freshman against South Plainfield on October 18, 2019 – helped lead the Eagles to their first title since 1991. (Photo submitted by coach Matt Yascko)

It had been a long time coming, but Edison finally got its championship. With a group that had several key four-year starters, the Eagles brought home the big one. But they’d have to travel through wind and rain to do it.

With the remnants of Hurricane Nicole buffeting the state, Edison and some of the Eagles’ heartiest fans had to make the hour-plus-long trek down to to-seed Lenape in Medford, NJ (Burlington County) to see their beloved team. But it paid off, as they won the Central Jersey Group 5 championship, their first since the CJ4 trophy they won in 1991.

FULL GAME AUDIO: Central Jersey Group 5 Final: (6) Edison 28, (1) Lenape 14

9. Sayreville looking for more of the Wright stuff

Zaimer Wright (left) with his Bellamy & Son Player of the Week Award from Week 3, poses alongside head coach Chris Beagan. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Zaimer Wright was just a sophomore in 2021, but with him leading the way on the ground, Sayreville had its best season since they won the Central Jersey Group 5 title in 2018. His 1,403 yards and 25 touchdowns made him the to returning runningback in the Big Central Conference in 2022.

Injuries, however – both to Wright and others – slowed the Bombers a bit in 2022. They finished 4-5 as Wright only managed to play in seven of the team’s nine games and rushed for 644 yards and three touchdowns on 103 carries, fewer than half as many touches as he had in 2021.

Should he be healthy in 2023, expect more big things from Wright and the Bombers in his senior season.

8. Edison, Lenape to face off for Central Jersey Group 5 title tonight in Medford

Edison coach Matt Fulham talks to his team after a 42-23 win at St. Joseph-Metuchen on October 7, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Excitement was at a fever pitch for Edison fans heading into the Central Jersey Group 5 title game. Not only had it been a long time since they’d won a title – 31 years, to be exact – they had not been to a final since they last won it in 1991.

And with Eagles’ fans not knowing much about Lenape other than they were a top seed in the section despite a middling record of 4-4 at the cutoff, our interviews with Edison head coach Matt Fulham and Indians’ head coach Joe Wojceichowski drew a great number of fans to check it out.

It probably didn’t hurt that Lenape fans didn’t know much about Edison either.

7. Entire Edison community mourns the loss of much-beloved youth sports leader “Mr. G”

The man Edison children knew for years as “Mr G.”

People in Edison love their school sports, as you’ll notice from this bottom five of our Top Ten list. But they also loved “Mr. G.”

Beloved youth sports mentor William Giampolo passed away in January of 2022, and the news affected everyone who’d ever played rec baseball or football dating all the way back to the 1970s. He led the Edison Boys’ Baseball League from 1973 to 1998, and was instrumental in the Edison Youth Sports Council.

We talked with Edison Boys’ Baseball League President Brian Calantoni for his memories of Mr. G for this story, which also includes a photo gallery.

6. Yascko & Yascko: How the father-son QB-OC tandem united to help bring Edison its first title in 31 years

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

One more Edison story today, and this one’s a keeper. (Hey, we can’t help it if Eagles fans turn out on CJSR!)

Matt Yascko was a freshman in 2019 when the Eagles’ starter went down to injury, and he was elevated to starting quarterback for the final six games of the season. But before head coach Matt Fulham made the call, he made a call: to Yascko’s father, Matt, then the head coach at Carteret. Yascko, the dad, had played at Edison and was on the 1991 team that was the last one – until this year – to win a sectional championship for the Eagles.

With his blessing (though he might have done it anyway) Yascko, the son, became the starter.

And the next year, despite uncertainty about the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yascko the dad joined Fulham’s staff at his alma mater as offensive coordinator, bringing father and son together for what would be an immensely successful three-year run: a record of 20-10 over that span, culminating with the Central Jersey Group 5 title this past season.

Check back later this week for the remaining five stories in our Top Ten of 2022 on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

Somerville’s Bloom officially appointed full-time football coach

“You learn a lot about what to do from the people before you.”

That thought from Matt Bloom may best sum up the reason the Somerville Board of Education officially appointed him as the full-time football coach at the high school at its meeting Tuesday night, after he took over with just two games to go in the season from first-year head coach Ian Pace.

Though the move was not disclosed publicly and inspired a bit of a sense of mystery around the Big Central Conference, there’s no mystery as to why Bloom now has the job. He was the lone holdover from the highly successful Jeff Vanderbeek/Dallas Whitaker era, which saw the program go 57-8 under the two head coaches – winning a state title in 2017 and reaching two other sectional finals – after losing 25 straight from 2012 through 2015.

Bloom went 2-1 after being elevated from offensive line coach to head coach in time for the Pioneers’ October 14th home game against Hillsborough. With a 2-5 record at that point – in part due to a forfeit against Mastery Charter of Camden for using an ineligible transfer – and needing to likely win two games to clinch a playoff berth, Somerville did just that.

They beat the Raiders 35-14 at Brooks Field, then came up with an equally as critical and convincing 41-28 road win at South Brunswick on the Friday night of Cutoff Weekend to make the postseason at 4-5, though they eventually dropped a first-round game at Seneca.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko’s exclusive interview with Matt Bloom upon being approved by the Board of Education as Somerville’s full-time head football coach:

Four Big Central standouts honored as New Jersey “Mini Max” award winners by Maxwell Football Club

The Maxwell Football Club – which annually honors its pick for the top player in college football with the Maxwell Award, the top defensive player with the Bednarik Award, and others – named 55 “Mini Max” award winners in the state of New Jersey Monday, and four student-athletes from the Big Central Conference made the list.

Matt Yascko of Edison, Steven McCaffery of Johnson, Gavin Guidette of Montgomery and Jack Donahue of New Providence – all seniors – were the honorees from the BCC.

Yascko set all kinds of passing records for the Eagles, a four-year starter who lead the team to its first sectional championship since 1991 last month when they beat Lenape for the Central Jersey Group 5 title. He set the single-season and career passing yardage records, with an even 1,900 yards this season and 5,796 overall. He also owns both touchdown records, with 16 this year and 45 for his career,

McCaffery was a lineman for the Crusaders who, in his first year as a starter on the D-line, registered 66 tackles, two sacks, a fumble recovery, an interception, and a blocked kick this year.

Guidette was a two-way player for the Cougars who rushed for 311 yards and five touchdowns this season. On defense, he registered 72 tackles and 11 for loss from his middle linebacker spot. He also had a safety, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

Donahue was a two-way lineman for the Pioneers. He spent more of his time on the offensive line; on defense this year, he logged seven tackles, three for a loss.

The 2022 “Big Central Awards Show”

Listen back to Central Jersey Sports Radio’s 3rd annual “Big Central Awards Show,” as we honor Players of the Year and dish our our Specialty Awards to nearly two dozen players and coaches, plus give out our Bellamy & Son Paving Player of the Week Scholarhsip for $500 and announce the winner of the fan-voted “Highlight Reel Play of the Year.”

Mike Pavlichko and Justin Sontupe host.

Tarig Holman kept things going at Aquinas, earns CJSR “Coach of the Year” honors

It’s easy to pick a Coach of the Year whose team won a championship. Whether they had high expectations and might have been a favorite, had a veteran ballclub, or just found that magic spark during the year.

But to us, it’s always been a matter of something the coach does, whether making an unorthodox change to the lineup, or overcoming a major hurdle during the season.

Tarig Holman faced an instant challenge upon being named the new football coach at St. Thomas Aquinas. He took over for Brian Meeney, who passed away suddenly of a heart attack last March, following his third season at the helm, and the program’s must successful under his tenure.

They had gone 9-1, with shutout wins in their first seven games, tying a playoff-era record held by the 2004 Piscataway Chiefs.

So, Holman already had to deal with that mourning, and the daunting task of – we won’t say replacing – taking the job of a highly popular coach, mentor and confidant.

Beyond that, he also kept the rest of the coaching staff together. And by the time the team hit they field, things picked up right where they left off. There was one out-of-conference loss to Timber Creek, but the Trojans ran the table in the Big Central, finishing with a 9-1 regular season record before falling in the first round on the playoffs, and they will go into 2023 with the longest winning streak in the league against BCC competition, by far, of 17 games.

For those efforts, Tarig Holman is Central Jersey Sports Radio’s 2022 Big Central Conference Coach of the Year.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with Holman:

Game-tying TD by Middlesex’s Mehki Parks wins fan vote for Big Central “Highlight Reel Play of the Year”

With nearly 15,000 votes cast – an all-time record in our first three seasons – we’ve got a winner in the Highlight Reel Play of the Year fan vote: Middlesex senior Mehki Parks!

His touchdown run on an untimed down against Dunellen – and his ensuing two-point conversion run – tied their game at Mountainview Park on September 23rd. The Blue Jays went on to win the game 43-42 in overtime, the start of a three-game winning streak.

Parks’ TD garnered 39 percent of the vote among eight candidates. It beat out the Connor Laverty to Enzo Britez touchdown against DelVal by just over 600 votes.

Watch the winning play by Middlesex senior Mehki Parks, which comes in the middle of the below video!

Coming off COVID shutdown and winless season, Piscataway earns CJSR’s “Turnaround Team of the Year” honors in ’22

The fall of 2020 was not an easy one for Dan Higgins, or his players. When the district shut down the fall sports season due to the COVID-19 pandemic – one of two districts to do so in the Big Central Conference that year, the other being Carteret – Higgins all of a sudden had no team to coach.

And it wasn’t just the fact there were no games. There were no practices, no weight room, no film study, no team meals. Nothing.

Some players even moved on to other schools.

To return in 2021 made things normal in a way, but not in another, as the program – no doubt hurt by a year away from football – struggled mightily. Seniors had not played since their sophomore year. Young contributors, normally key to the Chiefs’ success, saw their football IQ stunted. And the varsity went 0-8, its first winless season since 1968.

After a loss in the opener to Hunterdon Central, one could be forgiven if Piscataway hung its collective head. Instead, they went 6-2 to the rest of the way, to finish 6-3, with a berth in the state playoffs, just three seasons removed from becoming the first Middlesex County school to go 13-0 when they won the inaugural North Group 5 “bowl” game at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands.

Click below to listen to Mike Pavlichko talk with Piscataway head coach Dan Higgins:

Honorable Mentions:

The Spotswood Chargers had a remarkable turnaround in 2022 under second-year head coach Chris Meagher. After winning seven games in Andy Cammarano’s final three seasons before stepping down, Meagher’s team struggled mightily in 2021, going 1-8 and getting shut out five times in the process, scoring under six points a game. This year, they went 7-3 – amazingly missing the playoffs, another story for another time. They improved to 19 points per game on the offensive side, while pitching one shutout and holding four teams to single digits on the scoreboard.

Another great turnaround happened in South Plainfield, where the Tigers rebounded from a 2-8 season in 2021 – where they lost half of those games by eight points or less – to run the table in the 2022 regular season, winning their first-ever division title, taking the Big Central’s United Silver Division crown. They went 8-0 before falling in the playoffs at home to Camden Eastside, their first loss of the season.