With high school football season at its midway point, it’s time to start taking a look at the playoff picture, with Cutoff Weekend just four weeks away. Here’s a look at Group 2 teams in the Big Central Conference, and where they stand:
The only Big Central team here is Bernards, whose game Friday night at Delaware Valley was billed as a boon for whoever won. It was the Mountaineers, 17-14, and they jumped from eighth place to third with the victory over the Terriers; it was a solid Strength Index and power points game. OSI went from 49.01 to 53.52, while power point average climbed from 10.75 to 12.80. That puts them behind leader Westwood (4-0, 1.6 UPR) and Caldwell, owner of the state’s longest winning streak, now at 19, dating back to their last three games of 2020.
Caldwell may not lose again this year, and the SI of their last four opponents are all 67 or higher. Bernards, on the other hand, has winless North Plainfield and Bound Brook, plus Governor Livingston and New Providence. The Highlanders have won three straight since starting 0-2. If they can continue that run, it’ll help the Mountaineers.
We don’t think they’re a solid top four team yet – which would mean they’d be a 2-seed in either section and guaranteed home field at least through the sectional semifinals – but if they run the table, they at least have a shot at it. It depends who can come up from behind on them. Bernards has a 3.6 UPR, but at 3.8, Ramsey (4-0) is right behind them. Rutherford, though, in fifth, is a healthy 2.8 UPR points behind Bernards.
Little surprise here that Rumson-Fair Haven is in familiar territory, atop the supersection. It could be surprising when you look at their 2-2 record, until you realize one of those losses is to a multiplier, in Donovan Catholic. And since they also play Red Bank Catholic – another multiplier – on cutoff weekend, well, you can just sew it up right now for the Bulldogs. (Is that fair? Definitely not, but that’s a rant for another time.)
The highest-ranked team here is Delaware Valley, which dropped from third to tenth after Friday night’s home loss to Bernards, its first of the season, leaving them 3-1 on the year. And they’ve still got Hillside to go, with the Comets’ powerful run game. Likely bet that the Terriers will make the playoffs, barring a collapse, but they may be hard-pressed to get a first-round playoff game out of it – unless they can knock off Hillside, Saturday afternoon road game the week before Cutoff Weekend, October 15th.
Johnson is right behind Del Val, at 4-0, having a nice year so far, with a UPR of 11, one full point behind the Terriers, who have a 10 UPR. They’re at New Providence this Friday night, with the Pioneers in 14th with a UPR of 15. That’s a big game for either team, and a loss could relegate whoever’s on the short end of the stick to bubble status, though likely on the inside – and it’s more harmful to New Providence than the Crusaders.
Dayton is in a 16th place tie for the final playoff spot with Haddon Heights. The Bulldogs are 2-2, while the Garnets are 3-1, both with 16.6 UPRs. Dayton will need to keep winning, and have a middle of the road schedule the rest of the way.
They play their next three on the road, and the games get progressively tougher – at Highland Park this Friday night, at Spotswood the following Saturday, and at South Hunterdon on Friday, the 14th – before coming home to face Metuchen the Friday night of Cutoff Weekend. They might have to win out.
The next question is: What about Spotswood? The Chargers are 4-1, their best start since 2016. Can they pick up enough power points and OSI value to get in, even if they go 4-0? The jury is still out and it’s probably too early to tell. JP Stevens is their final opponent – yes, Group 5 JP Stevens – and that will at least soften the blow from the Hawks not having won a game yet this season. (They’ve lost 27 straight, in fact, the second longest streak in New Jersey at the moment.)
Will it be enough? Stay tuned.
South River – despite a 2-2 mark – sits in 24th place, and would be hard-pressed to make a dent. Then again, their last three games are at Delaware Valley and Governor Livingston, then home to Johnson. Should they win at least two of those, maybe – maybe – they have a shot. Check back in a couple of weeks.