Tag: NJSIAA

A look at girls’ basketball power points as we hurtle toward the NJSIAA cutoff

With the state tournament cutoff date just about two weeks away – Saturday, February 11th – a handful of teams in two sections are battling it out for top-seeds in the state tournament. We’ve got a section-by-section look below of where every team in the Central Jersey Sports Radio coverage area – the GMC and Somerset County – stands heading into play on Monday, January 30th:

Central Jersey Group 4

This is one of the sections where the top-seed could be up for grabs, depending on the strength of schedule the next few weeks for South Brunswick and Monroe. While the first place team – Hightstown (16-2, 493 points) appears comfortably ahead – one has to remember that the top 16 games count toward power points. That means teams that have won 16 games, as Hightstown has, have little room to increase their total. But teams like the Vikings (13-5, 400) and Falcons (10-6, 390) have a lot of room to make up points. South Brunswick, for example, could pick up three more wins and make up significant ground. Will it be enough? We’ll see. Teams often add games late if they need them, so it’s probably too early to call at this point.

Elsewhere in the section, Old Bridge (11-7, 356) sits in sixth-place, and is a good bet to finish in the top eight, earning a first-round home game, but it’s not a sure thing for the Knights yet. Likewise for East Brunswick (8-9, 309), which is in ninth, but just nine points out of the top eight. North Brunswick is in 14th with a 4-13 record and 221 points, and Montgomery (2-16, 192) sits in 17th.

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Central Jersey Group 3

Of the four area teams in this section, half are solidly in. Somerville (9-8, 329) is in fifth, a long way from top team Ewing (17-2, 574). South Plainfield (9-9, 267) sits in 8th. Neither team is likely a lock for the top eight at this point.

Similarly, JFK (5-14, 217, 13th) and Carteret (7-12, 208, 15th) are on the right side of the bubble, but may need some wins to really sew things up. Three teams behind them are within 50 points, not an insurmountable obstacle if they can put a few good wins together these last two weeks.

Central Jersey Group 2

Four teams from the CJSR-area should make the field here, where Manasquan (15-4, 481) is the top team right now, with a narrow lead over New Providence (14-3, 479).

Spotswood (15-4, 406) is tied with Holmdel (13-6) for fourth, with Metuchen (13-6, 372) behind them. Then South River (9-10) and Bound Brook (7-8) are tied with Voorhees (9-7) for ninth, all at 308 points, and just three ahead of Delran (9-6).

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Central Jersey Group 1

All eight area teams are on the right side of things here, with Middlesex (13-4, 284) just 45 points behind section leader Shore (16-2, 429). That’s not an impossible hill to climb for the Blue Jays, who have a huge matchup with North Plainfield Tuesday at 5:30, which can be heard on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

As an example of how much a win can do when you haven’t yet hit the 16-win plateau, a win over the Canucks would be worth 45 points in their 18th game. With 17 in the books now, their lowest score of 6 points comes off, but one more win would knock off their next lowest score, a 7-point game (a loss to Woodbridge). That’s a net gain of 38 points and gets them closer. Knocking a loss off the schedule allows for a bigger gain than Shore, which already has 16 wins, and would only be knocking off a lesser-quality win from their power point total.

In any event, Dunellen (13-3, 329) is having a fine year, and checks in fourth, just 21 points behind Point Pleasant Beach (15-2, 350). Behind the Lady Destroyers are Perth Amboy Magnet (12-2, 314) and Highland Park (10-7, 297).

Further down the list, outside the top eight, is Woodbridge Magnet (6-9, 201) in 10th and Manville (5-10, 191) checking in at No. 11, unlikely to move up much more than that.

In 14th and 15th, but still likely to be in the field of 16, are Somerset Tech (3-10, 130) and South Amboy (1-13, 122).

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North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4

Here’s another section loaded with teams from the CJSR coverage area. Bayonne (17-3, 534) is No. 1, with Elizabeth (19-0, 509) not far behind. With 17 wins already, Edison (17-2, 489) will be hard-pressed to make up that kind of ground, same for Watchung Hills (15-4, 485), which is only one win below the 16-victory threshold.

Right around that top eight bubble are three more teams: Woodbridge (10-8, 360), Ridge (10-8, 349) and Hillsborough (10-7, 342) are within 18 points of each other, but the last of them – the Raiders – are 34 points ahead of the next team back, 8-8 Union.

Toward the bottom, you’ve got Franklin (7-9, 257) – which is having an off year – and JP Stevens (7-12, 240) in 14th and 15th, respectively. They’re probably a good bet for the playoffs, especially with another win or two, and Perth Amboy (5-11, 227) could make a run with a win or two in the next few weeks.

North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3

Just two area teams are in this section, and both are locks to be in the playoffs, but a little more murky as to whether they’ll be in the top eight. Colonia (10-9, 381) and North Plainfied (13-4, 362) are fifth and sixth, respectively. But there are four teams behind the Canucks within 20 points, including Governor Livingston (10-8, 350), Warren Hills (11-7, 348), Cranford (9-9, 347) and West Morris (11-4, 342).

Randolph (15-1, 536) is comfortably in the lead in this section.

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North Jersey, Section 1, Group 2

There’s just one area team even in this section: Bernards (12-5, 321) sits in 13th place, pretty much in the postseason, and still potentially a chance to reach the top eight. In fact, everyone is bunched up in this section, and anyone could see a lot of movement. To wit: the Mountaineers are only 34 points out of 6th place.

The top team at the moment is Secaucus (17-1, 541).

Non-Public North B

Of course, the top of the non-public sections are loaded with talent, and Gill St. Bernard’s, as a result, sits in fifth at 12-4, with 352 points. They’re just ten points behind Montclair-Immaculate (14-3, 361) in fourth and Morris Catholic (15-3, 371) in third, but likely won’t catch Lodi Immaculate (14-3, 493) in second or top team Saddle River Day (13-5, 536).

Mother Seton of the GMC checks in at 11, with a 3-10 record and 131 points.

Non-Public South B

Defending group champion Rutgers Prep sits in fourth in the section, at 13-3 with 354 points. They’re a long way from top-teams Wildwood Catholic (16-4, 529) in first and St. Rose (16-3, 525) in second, but no matter.

Calvary Christian (8-9, 239) and Timothy Christian (4-12, 187), sit in 9th and 11th, respectively.

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Non-Public South A

St. John Vianney leads the pack here pretty well, at 20-0 with 585 points. They’re the team to beat in New Jersey, but with no more Tournament of Champions, they’ll have to settle for the team to beat in Non-Public Group A.

Mount St. Mary (13-6, 474) is in fourth, but could make up some ground on third-place red Bank Catholic (18-1, 516), but probably not Trinity Hall (17-2, 535). St. Thomas Aquinas (15-4, 468) is right behind Mount.

Then, there’s Pingry (11-7, 378) and Immaculata (9-9, 279) checking in at No. 11, tied with Union Catholic (7-9).

OPINION: NJSIAA proposal to allow one “free transfer” to all is a long time coming, and a step in the right direction

Full disclaimer: this is not a hot take.

Most people who know me know that when I’ve got an idea, I’ll tell anyone who will listen. Twice, if they let me.

So when a certain coach I know messaged me Wednesday afternoon to say the NJSIAA “stole” my idea, I had to wonder what it was.

As it turns out, per a published report out today by the USA Today Network, the NJSIAA has a proposal in the works that would allow all student-athletes, regardless of gender, sport or level – freshman, JV, or varsity – one transfer within their high school career without penalty. They would not need to have a bona fide change of address, a rule which has been the standard for many years now, and which also often has proven too difficult to enforce.

Any additional transfers, however, would be subject to the typical 30-day sit-out rule, while seniors would only have to sit out 15 days, per the report.

There are still more hurdles to clear, but in all honesty, it’s about time.

For one, the NJSIAA doesn’t have the personnel to track every single case. And we all know some schools find ways around the rules, both public and private.

I’ve been saying for a year or two now that the idea that kids don’t transfer for athletic advantage needs to be thrown out the window. It’s happening, and will continue to happen. Even when they enroll in a non-public school at the start of ninth grade, and sometimes even when they legitimately move from one town to another. Most times, it’s not about academics.

Everyone knows this. So why keep up the charade?

This proposal – though perhaps not directly – acknowledges that theory.

As I have been saying: “Let them transfer. Everyone gets a free pass – once. After that, if they want to transfer willy-nilly, it’s on them.”

But the proposed rule is also about equity. It levels the playing field: no more advantage to the schools that kind find the loophole.

And, it fits with the national trend – like it or not – of the student-athlete’s rights. It began in the college ranks, with NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) rules, and is filtering down to the high school level.

Meanwhile, per the report, the NJSIAA wants to focus more on illegal recruiting, and punishing the adults involved, not the players. This is also a step in the right direction.

It’s also likely a much less prevalent problem than the copious amount of transfers seen in New Jersey – 242 with more than one move over the past three years, according to the report – as not all of those involve recruiting. And determining whether a coach or administrator took part in recruiting is much easier than determining where a student-athlete’s primary residence is.

To the NJSIAA, and its membership, the new transfer rule is a great idea, and we hope to see it work its way through the system and become official in 2023-24.

This year’s state playoffs were great; here are 5 suggestions to make them even better

For the first time ever, New Jersey has just seven state champions – five public and two public – and by all accounts, it was a blast. The new thing, of course, were the public school group championships, held for the first time at Rutgers. And Toms River North, Old Tappan, Caldwell, Millville, and Woodbury all left Piscataway with hardware.

The group championships didn’t cheapen the sectional championships at all, something a few coaches feared. There was plenty of glee in Edison and Annandale when the Eagles and Lions won sectional titles that will be celebrated for decades to come.

But nothing is ever perfect, and far be it from us not to have a few suggestions for how to make things even better. Some may never get off the ground, but that’s ok. This is our take on five things to improve the NJSIAA state football playoffs:

1. Bring back true geographic playoff sections

When the playoffs changed drastically with the advent of the NJ UPR system, the state did away with traditional sections, in a way. Instead of four pre-determined sections in each group, it split each group into north and south supersections, then divided the top 16 teams into fields of eight by Northing number (geographically).

But some felt that left some sections “stronger” than others, so beginning in 2019, the brackets were “snaked,” so that the top two teams earned No. 1 seeds, the next two were the number two seeds (with the overall 2 belonging with the overall 3, and overall 1 with overall 4), etc. This conceivably resulted in a much more even bracket.

But it also resulted in some long trips, particularly those in the South supersections. With more density among high schools up North – about two thirds of the schools are in the top one-third of the state, geographically – many schools had bus rides close to two hours.

Among Big Central teams, Delaware Valley had the longest ride, over two hours down to Oakcrest, a 107-mile bus trip down to near Atlantic City. That’s fine for a vacation, but not for a first round playoff game. New Providence had to go all the way down to Willingboro.

And just so its doesn’t sound like we’re whining about the Big Central, Camden Eastside had to come all the way up to play at South Plainfield in the first round.

And as far as those matchups, who cares? Playoffs are better when you see rivals, and you build those by playing the same teams every couple of years. Piscataway had some a great playoff rivalry with Hunterdon Central, which initially began in their Mid-State Conference days. They played epics with Phillipsburg, too.

Johnson-Pleasantville? Somerville-Seneca? South Plainfield-Camden Eastside? Other than a game that advances you in the playoffs, there’s just no juice to these games.

Titles also carry more cachet when you actually win the geographical section you’re in. Salem is not remotely in Central Jersey, and shouldn’t be winning Central Jersey Group 1 any more than Manville should have a crack at South Jersey Group 1.

Throw in inflation and today’s gas prices, and it’s just a smarter idea to play these games more locally. Your section is loaded? Them’s the breaks.

2. Play Group Semifinals at bigger venues

I wasn’t down at Cherokee for the South group semifinals, but I was at Franklin, and Athletic Director Ken Margolin and Anthony Brito were tremendously accommodating and ran a fantastic show. They have a fantastic facility, with a large concession stand, plus heated bathrooms that came in real handy for the North Group Semifinals. There’s plenty of parking, the roads can handle the traffic, and even the mobile service in the area has improved (they’ve got 5G now).

We’re immensely grateful, of course, that they helped get Central Jersey Sports Radio get some room in the press box as well, so we could broadcast the game live. We got in, so there’s no complaint there.

But the attention these games get require a bigger facility than any high school in the state can provide. In a shrinking media landscape, the idea of putting all these games at a neutral site is to have just two sites where you can send reporters, instead of ten, and the newspapers would have to choose one over another. And that’s a good idea. But there’s not enough room to accommodate everyone in high school.

Then, what about the coaches? The “eye in the sky” guys should be indoors, especially in mid-November, when you can have rain, wind, snow and brutally cold weather. The fact that we had all of that except for rain on group semifinal weekend underscores that point. These games don’t have to be at Rutgers, but could be at Kean, Montclair State, Rowan or TCNJ. They’ve hosted state finals before, they should be good enough for state semifinals.

It’s likely a money issue, and we get that, but maybe better deals could be worked out with these schools. After all, sheer math tells you a greater amount of New Jersey high school talent will play at any one of these four schools than will play at Rutgers. It’s a good recruiting tool, and better for the NJSIAA. It’s a win-win.

3. Get rid of multipliers… or expand them

Of the two top seeds in the South Jersey Group 5 section, one team was head and shoulders above the others. That’s Toms River North. The Mariners finished the year as the first 14-0 team in state history and are the top-ranked public school in the state in all the year-end polls for good reason. But the other No. 1 seed was Lenape, which was 4-4 at the cutoff, with two losses to multipliers in St. Joe’s of Hammonton, and St. Augustine.

They might have lost those games by a combined eight points, but a loss is still a loss. It was all set up for Lenape: top seed, home game in the finals, and yet – with all due respect – they lost that final at home to a sixth-seed – Edison – after getting the choice whether to move the game or not due to the miserable, rainy, windy weather. They kept it where it was, ostensibly to gain an advantage over the Eagles and their passing game – as is entirely 100% their right. And it still didn’t help.

Edison shouldn’t have been the No. 1 seed, let’s be clear, even though they won the title. It took a skillful miracle against North Brunswick to even get to the finals. But should Lenape have been a top seed? They were clearly aided by the multipliers – and not only that, but got credit for both mutlipliers, a new wrinkle this year added by the NJSIAA.

I’m not a fan of them to begin with, but to allow getting credit for a second multiplier when the Shore Conference and West Jersey Football League clearly have a multitude of scheduling options is terribly wrong, and a move in the wrong direction.

Those on the other side of this argument say, “Well, then schedule a mulitplier instead of complaining!” But not every one can. The Big Central Conference has 59 teams, but only two private schools – St. Joseph-Metuchen and St. Thomas Aquinas – and neither is a multiplier. You think St. John Vianney is going to help out a Central Jersey public school? Of course not.

And even if St. Joe’s and Aquinas become multipliers next year, if they all played different Big Central teams, still only 18 of the 57 remaining teams could schedule them. Still not a level playing field.

And what’s the difference, really, between Vianney and Aquinas? The Trojans beat SJV this year in a Week 9 game. Why isn’t STA a multiplier? They’re just like Vianney in that they can pull from multiple towns, unlike public schools.

Look, this whole thing started when North Jersey non-publics like Don Bosco and Bergen Catholic has “trouble” scheduling opponents. Multipliers were an incentive, even if only a handful of public schools took advantage of them. They don’t have that issue now, so why do we have them anymore? St. John Vianney is in a public school division, they have no issue scheduling opponents. And with the NJSIAA seeding non-public playoffs by committee, they can – and clearly did this year – deviate from the UPR formula for seeding, so what’s the worry here?

Either get rid of them entirely, or give them to every non-public school in the state. And while we’re at it, why not choice schools, which also can attract kids from anywhere else in the state? In that case, make the multiplier a “true” multiplier. That is, a natural power point value times a certain amount. This way, there’s a difference between an 8-0 multiplier school and one that’s 4-4. You should get more for beating or losing to a multiplier that’s 8-0 versus one that’s .500.

4. Consider one formula or another, but not both, in the coming years

The NJ UPR formula – even with out-of-state opponents out of the mix – is still way too complicated. It’s been in place now since 2018, and there are still coaches who can’t follow it. And some of it makes no sense. In some cases, you have to jump a team behind you in UPR in either power points or OSI to make a move up in the standings. It’s just counterintuitive.

That said, 2023 is not the year to make a change. We really don’t have that much data yet, or enough to make a good, informed decision. That’s how we ended up with the Born Power Index fiasco in 2018. And with no playoffs in 2020, we really only have three years worth of playoff data to analyze.

Some teams had complaints with the old power point system on its own. Some people have legitimate complaints with the UPR system. And if we went to OSI on its own, some would have complaints about that, too.

The bottom line is this: No system is perfect. So why have a complicated imperfect system when you could have a simpler one, just different teams complaining?

Don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying to make a move one way or the other, or even saying to do it right now. Even with three playoff years to analyze, it’s not enough. Take a few more years. Look at five or six seasons of data, then think about it.

Now, one might look at the playoffs this year, and those five public group champions, and say the best teams certainly won. No one could even say any of the ten teams in the group finals didn’t deserve to be there.

My thinking is this: if those teams are good enough, they’ll get there, whether they’re a one-seed or an eight-seed. If they’re the best team in the bracket, they should beat anyone, right? If we could get to the same seeding with a simpler model, give it a go.

Don’t do it – yet. Just think about it.

5. Helping out the small schools

The Big Central has a scheduling problem. It doesn’t have enough “good” small schools for teams like Brearley or Manville to play without hurting their playoff chances. And there aren’t enough teams for Highland Park or Dunellen (or Bound Brook this year) to play without hurting their league-mates. So, what to do?

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of those teams like Highland Park or JP Stevens to make an Ivy division (similar quality schools that agree to play only each other, but aren’t playoff-eligibile) like they have in the Super Football Conference and the NJIC. So how can the Big Central get some help?

Currently, any team whose SI is below a 20 counts as a minimum of 20 for their opponents’ playoff qualification. Inotherwords, if Manville plays Highland Park, and the Owls’ SI is a 13.4, they get 20 minimum toward their for a win.

Our thinking? That’s too low. That number needs to be closer to 30, or maybe even 35.

And if you tell me that’s a concession to Central Jersey by the NJSIAA, absolutely it is! But so was adding a second multiplier for playoff qualification. Clearly none of the northernmost leagues asked for it. That was a gift to the Shore Conference and WJFL.

Now, the NJSIAA needs to give the Big Central a gift.

Ridge leads Big Central in final 2022 Strength Index rankings

With the 2022 high school football season now complete, the numbers are in: five state sectional finalists and two champions. And who knows what 2023 will bring.

But according to Central Jersey Sports Radio’s unofficial Strength Index calculations, Ridge came in with the highest rating of all 59 teams at the end of the year.

Strength Index doesn’t so much take into account wins and losses. Rather it looks at how a team performed against another team relative to their ratings. A team consistently ranked 30 points lower than its opponents that loses all its games by just a field goal would increase its Strength Index, the thinking being that the team is better than the rankings indicated.

Those numbers would indicate Ridge is a “tough out.” At 7-3, their three losses came by 18 to North 2 Group 5 finalist Phillipsburg, by 10 to Hillsborough (before injuries forced the Raiders into their third-string quarterback), and by seven to North 1 Group 4 finalist Ramapo.

All five teams that ended up in sectional finals finished in the top eleven, with North Hunterdon second, Phillipsburg, Hillside and Edison fifth through seventh, and Brearley at No. 11.

Westfield and Roselle saw the biggest gains, nearly 20 points, from the start of the 2022 season. Westfield was 4-6 a year ago, but finished 8-3 this year. Roselle was 5-6 last year, and started this season 0-4, but didn’t lose the rest of the way, finishing with a strong 8-4 record.

The biggest falls were seen by North Plainfield (-23.85), Belvidere (-27.25) and Bound Brook (-32.43).

Overall, 30 teams increased their SI rating, while 29 saw their Strength Index value fall.

The end-of-year SI values are used to determine next year’s starting numbers, with all teams reduced or increased towards 60, which is considered the mid-point.

For example, a team rated 90 – which is 30 above the midway point of 60 – would see its SI reduced by 10, or one-third of 30, and start next season at 80. Alternatively, a team rated 51 – which is nine points below the midway of 60 – would increase by three points, or one-third of nine, and start next season as a 54.

Those Strength Index numbers – which change throughout the season – are used to calculate the Opponent Strength Index, which is 60% of the NJ UPR formula to determine playoff seeding. Playing strong opponents – not just beating them – helps a team’s OSI.

Knowing the starting values for next year can help leagues create favorable schedules for their teams to make the playoffs, and can help schools know what kind of out-of-conference opponents they shoudl schedule.

The average SI value among Big Central teams in the final unofficial 2022 calculations was 58.1.

Below are the 59 teams in the Big Central, with their starting SI, final SI, and the amount of change:

TEAM2022 STARTFINAL SICHANGE
1Ridge73.7890.3416.56
2North Hunterdon69.4984.4915.00
3Westfield63.3483.2019.86
4Cranford76.2783.116.84
5Phillipsburg72.3383.0210.69
6Hillside68.1282.0413.92
7Edison62.5280.5718.05
8St. Thomas Aquinas72.8478.966.12
9Watchung Hills60.2178.3818.17
10North Brunswick69.0975.586.49
11Brearley61.5375.0513.52
12Bernards66.0673.177.11
13Hillsborough84.8771.05-13.82
14Roselle49.5569.2819.73
15Montgomery60.2369.188.95
16Somerville75.3768.95-6.42
17Piscataway52.0568.7716.72
18Plainfield54.3268.4614.14
19Delaware Valley68.0167.53-0.48
20Summit61.8467.515.67
21Manville48.8466.4017.56
22Union82.2365.32-16.91
23Hunterdon Central54.2565.2210.97
24Woodbridge63.5464.741.20
25Linden59.5264.254.73
26Bridgewater-Raritan66.3564.21-2.14
27St. Joseph-Metuchen63.7763.76-0.01
28South Hunterdon59.3662.993.63
29Sayreville71.8659.94-11.92
30Colonia70.4159.90-10.51
31South Brunswick59.6259.28-0.34
32Johnson42.8658.7615.90
33South Plainfield51.9656.614.65
34Carteret53.0356.543.51
35Rahway65.1156.54-8.57
36Old Bridge61.7855.15-6.63
37East Brunswick65.1954.73-10.46
38New Providence66.8052.38-14.42
39Scotch Plains-Fanwood59.6051.25-8.35
40Elizabeth58.6349.97-8.66
41Monroe53.1548.80-4.35
42Franklin57.3748.07-9.30
43Voorhees48.9247.10-1.82
44Perth Amboy42.4346.263.83
45JFK52.8144.18-8.63
46Roselle Park39.9142.682.77
47Spotswood34.0140.586.57
48Middlesex51.8139.30-12.51
49New Brunswick58.0738.87-19.20
50Dunellen34.5837.202.62
51Governor Livingston44.8036.56-8.24
52Dayton46.5136.11-10.40
53South River47.8535.33-12.52
54North Plainfield56.7832.93-23.85
55Metuchen46.5929.48-17.11
56JP Stevens33.3725.41-7.96
57Belvidere51.5524.30-27.25
58Bound Brook54.2621.83-32.43
59Highland Park26.3215.65-10.67

As for the rest of the state, it’s little surprise who’s at the top of the rankings: the two teams widely considered the best among their peers this season in the non-public and public realms.

Non-Public Group A champion Bergen Catholic finished with the highest Strength Index value in the state, at 111.19. While the Crusaders only gained 15.83 points this year, the next team on the list gained a lot more: Toms River North. The Mariners – the state’s first-ever Group 5 champion, and first-ever 14-0 team in state history – ended the year with a 107.01 SI rating.

Ridge – tops in the BCC – finished 11th overall in the state, with north Hunterdon – second in the BCC – at 29, and Westfield (33rd), Cranford (34th), Phillipsburg (36th), Hillside (40th) and Edison (43rd) all in the Top 50.

The Super Football Conference had seven of its teams in the top ten, while the Shore Conference had two and the West Jersey Football League had one. Six of the top ten were public schools.

Below is a downloadable PDF version of the full Strength Index values – according to Central Jersey Sports Radio’s unofficial calculations – for every team in the state of New Jersey, including starting 2022 SI number, final number, and the amount of change.

South Group 5 Semifinal Preview: Edison vs. Toms River North

A lot has changed since Edison last won a sectional title in 1991.

There were only four-team fields in each playoff section at the time – you know, in the days before everyone got a participation trophy – and you could fill up your gas tank at one of the discount stations along Route One between Old Post Road and Wick Plaza for just over a dollar a gallon.

Ah, good times.

Of course, that long stretch has gone by the boards, after the 6th-seeded Eagles won 28-14 at top-seed Lenape Friday night to claim the Central Jersey Group 5 championship. Now, it’s on the Group 5 semifinals at Cherokee High School in Medford this Saturday.

And we’ve got a complete preview of the game below, with stats, key players, title histories, notes and more:

Group 5 Semifinals
Edison (Central 5 Champion, 9-3) vs. Toms River North (South 5 Champion, 12-0)
When: Saturday, 5:30 pm
Where: Cherokee High School, Medford

Coverage: Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Chris Tsakonas will be covering the game, providing live updates during our broadcast of the North Group 4 Semifinal between North Hunterdon and Northern Highlands, which also begins at 5:30. Follow Chris here on Twitter for updates, and postgame reaction and a recap will be available on cjsportsradio.com after the game.

How they got here:

Edison defeated #3 Hillsborough 10-7 in the opening round, then rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat #2 North Brunswick 33-31 in the semifinals, by way of two touchdowns, two onside kicks, and a field goal with four seconds remaining. In the Central Jersey Group 5 title game last Friday night, the sixth-seeded Eagles doubled up top-seed Lenape 28-14, in a game played just 15 minutes away from where they’ll be Saturday, in Medford.

Click the play button above to hear Edison Councilman Richard Brescher congratulate the Eagles on their Central Jersey Group 5 championship, and wish them luck this week against Toms River North!

Toms River North – the top-seed in the section, and top overall seed in South 5 – has done what they’ve done pretty much the entire season, maul the competition. They beat 8th-seed Old Bridge 49-7 in the opening round, fourth-seed Marlboro 42-6 in the semifinals, and second-seed Kingsway – last year’s South 5 champion – 48-14 in the title game Friday night.

Who would be next?

The winner of this game advances to the state’s first-ever public school Group Finals in two weeks at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium in Piscataway. They would play the winner of the North semifinal, featuring North 1 winner Passaic Tech (10-2) and North 2 winner West Orange (8-3), which knocked off top-seed Phillipsburg 28-7 in the North 2, Group 5 title game. That North Semifinal will be played at 2:30 Sunday afternoon at Franklin.

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Series, League History

This will be just the second meeting between Edison and Toms River North. The Mariners won last year’s sectional semifinal playoff game at home over the Eagles, 48-7, after Edison pulled off an overtime road win at Manalapan in the first round, 23-20 in OT. Edison hung around in that game against the Mariners for three quarters, trailing just 21-7 entering the fourth until the wheels came off.

In 1991, the year of Edison’s most recent sectional title before this year, the Eagles actually beat two Shore Conference teams en route to the Central Jersey Group 4 championship: 4th-seed Manalapan 9-7 in the first round/semifinals, and third-seed Middletown South 20-16 in the finals.

Overall, Edison is 3-1 in the playoffs against the Shore Conference: 2-0 in 1991, and 1-1 last season.

The Greater Middlesex Conference used to have a scheduling arrangement with the Shore Conference, so the Eagles have played a good number of its teams over the years. They had home-and-homes with Jackson Memorial, Marlboro, Freehold Township and Freehold Boro in back to back years from 2010 thru 2017. That makes them 6-14-1 overall against the Shore, 3-13-1 in the regular season.

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Finals Histories:

Edison (3-0 in finals)  (13th appearance, 10-10 overall)

  • 2022:  Central 5:  #6 seed, beat #1 Lenape 28-14 (9-3 thru finals)
  • 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)

Toms River North (7-2 in finals) (21st appearance, 24-14)

  • 2022:  South 5:  #1 seed, beat #2 Kingsway 48-14 (12-0 through finals)
  • 2021:  South 5:  #3 seed, lost to #4 Kingsway 21-14 (7-4)
  • 2016:  South 5:  #1 seed, lost to #3 Millville 22-15 at Rowan (11-1)
  • 2015:  South 5:  #4 seed, beat #3 Williamstown 14-7 at Rowan (11-1)
  • 2007:  South 4:  #2 seed, beat #3 Mainland 22-19 (12-0)
  • 1997:  South 4:  #3 seed, beat #4 Millville 30-27 (9-2)
  • 1994:  South 4:  #2 seed, beat #1 Cherokee 28-16 (10-1)
  • 1991:  South 4:  #3 seed, beat #1 Eastern 24-6 (10-1)
  • 1979:  South 4:  #3 seed, beat #2 Brick Township 15-14 (9-2)

Beyond the “Finals”

In 2018, the NJSIAA added another round onto the playoffs following the sectional finals. “Bowl Championships” were held in 2018 with the North 1 and North 2 sectional winners playing in each group, and the South and Central winners doing the same. Those became known as “Regional Championships” in 2019, but they were still one game shy of crowning group champs, as New Jersey will do for the first time this year.

Edison has never taken part, their previous sectional title before this year being back in 1991, when the sectionals only had fields of four teams. Toms River North has never been there either, having not won a sectional title during that “expanded” period, though they had a chance to get there last year; however, they lost to Kingsway 21-14 to finish 7-4.

Key Players and Stats

Take into account anyone on offense or defense, there’s no more important player than senior quarterback Matt Yascko, who took over the reigns midway through his freshman year in 2019 when starter Lucas Loffredo went down to injury, then moved and transferred to Piscataway. He’s gutsy, and leads with words and by example. He’s the heart and soul of the team, whether it’s running for the game-winning two point conversion in a postseason “pod” game against Hillsborough in 2020 to win a 50-49 donnybrook, or taking advantage of open field and running 20 times against Cedar Creek in the Battle of the Beach in the 2022 season opener, scoring four times, and winning Bellamy & Son Paving Player of the Week honors for Week Zero. Or leading three scoring drives in the final four minutes as he did two weeks ago in a dramatic come-from-behind win over North Brunswick in the Central Jersey Group 5 semifinals. But there’s a super supporting cast, and one that has played a lot. Other four-year starters include wide receiver/safety Malcolm Stansbury, offensive tackle/tight end Israel Rodriguez, and defensive end/H-back Adekunle Shittu. Right guard Matt Bueno has also been playing since his sophomore season in 2020. That continuity and experience not only makes those players better, but their teammates as well.

Yascko has thrown for 1,736 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, while only throwing two interceptions. He values the football. Nyekir Eato is the primary ball carrier with 1,224 yards on 171 carries and 15 touchdowns, but Yascko is No. 2 on the list, carrying 96 times for 553 yards and 10 TDs, four of them coming against Cedar Creek. And he spreads the love to his receivers, with at least five guys catching 10 or more passes this season, and three with 24 or more, led by Malcolm Stansbury’s 46 hauls for 579 yards and four touchdowns. Junior Ricky Harvey has 24 for 392 yards and 4 scores, while senior Michael Strachan has 38 grabs for 356 yards and a team-leading 5 TDs.

Defensively, Shittu is a top-notch defensive end with five sacks, 19 tackles for loss and a team-leading 26 quarterback hurries. But Selbin Sabio is the anchor. The senior linebacker is all over the place, with a team-leading 137 tackles, 97 solo, and 30 TFLs. No one else even comes close. Not to mention what he does on special teams as the squad’s kicker; he executed two onside kicks in the final four minutes of the sectional semifinals against North Brunswick, and booted the game-winning field goal. He had done the latter the previous week as well, kicking a field goal as time expipred in the CJ5 semis to give Edison a 10-7 lead at halftime. Those points would be huge, as neither team scored in the second half. Having a reliable kicker is an advantage many high school teams don’t have.

For Toms River North, it all begins with Micah Ford. The junior quarterback already has offers from Maryland and West Virginia, and interest from Rutgers, among other D1 schools. A dual threat, he has thrown for 1,061 yards this year, with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions, while running 187 times for 1,951 yards and 28 scores. And that’s factoring in four blowout games where he never ran the ball more than seven times, hed still went over 100 yards rushing in two of them, and his team won by a combined 249-7.

And that’s the other thing: TR North can score. And play defense. That’s a deadly combo. To wit: they have not scored fewer than 42 points in a game since their Week Zero win over Washington Township in the Battle at the Beach, a 28-21 victory, and are the highest-scoring team in the state, with 590 points already. (They’re also the highest-ranked public school in New Jersey, at No. 3 according to NJ.com.) Since then, they have averaged 51 points a game, scoring over 50 or more points five times, hitting hitting 70 in a 70-6 win over Toms River East; they also beat South 60-0. They’ve pitched four shutouts this season, and held nine of their 12 opponents to single digits. Their average scoring margin this year is plus-41.3 points per game. Be scared.

On the other side of the ball, the same defensive line that held Yascko to 38 yards rushing last season, and 51 as a team, is back. That forced Edison to throw the ball more, and Yascko wouldn up throwing two interceptions, one a pick-six. Ty Kazanowsky leads the team with 5 1/2 sacks and 21 TFLs, while four others have at least ten each.

The bright side for Edison is that Toms River North has been a bit undisciplined, although they have been able to make up for it with superior talent all season long. Can they do that against Edison? We’ll see.

Notes and Nuggets

Edison head coach Matt Fulham, now in his 18th season leading the Eagles, earned his 80th win with the championship over Lenape. He’s now 80-98-1, that lone tie coming in 2016 against Old Bridge. He’s the longest-tenured coach in school history, and the winningest, having passed Mike Wojick’s school mark of 66 last September with a victory over St. Joseph-Metuchen.

With the Central Jersey Group 5 title win, Matt Yascko the quarterback and his father, Matt Yascko the offensive coordinator, both have earned championship rings at Edison. Yascko was a receiver on the 1991 title team, the last one to win a sectional crown before this year’s win. Obviously, neither played on Edison’s only other title team, in 1976, but Yasckos have bee involved in two of Edison’s three sectional title wins.

Also with that win, Edison is 3-0 all-time in sectional finals.

Previews:

Past Edison Coverage:

Fulham knows full well Eagles have their biggest challenge yet against Toms River North

Sports reporters ask a lot of the same type of questions all the time. “How do you feel after that win?” “What can you say about your offense?” “What went wrong tonight?”

One that you would be best not bothering ask this week of the Edison football coaches is: “Have you seen a team as good as Toms River North?”

Because the answer is very easily going to be a big fat “No.”

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Edison (9-3) will play Toms River North (12-0) Saturday afternoon in the Group 5 semifinals at Cherokee High School in Medford, a 5:30 pm kickoff. The Eagles won the Central 5 title, while the Mariners won the South 5 championship. The winner gores on to play in the state’s first ever public school group finals, to be held in two weeks at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium in Piscataway.

https://www.edisonboysbaseball.com/

And Edison probably hasn’t seen a team like this in a long time.

Toms River North has scored at least 42 points a game in all but their first, a tight win in the 20s over Washington Township in the same Battle at the Beach in Ocean City where Edison got its season started on the right foot, with a four rushing touchdown performance from quarterback Matt Yascko in a win over Cedar Creek. They also have four shutouts.

Click the play button above to hear Edison Councilman Richard Brescher congratulate the Eagles on their Central Jersey Group 5 championship, and wish them luck this week against Toms River North!

They are led by junior QB Micah Ford, who runs all over the field, and sometimes passes it, with great success on both accounts. He has major D1 interest, including offers from West Virginia and Maryland, and interest from Greg Schiano at Rutgers.

Stopping him isn’t really an option. It’s the old ESPN adage: “You can only hope to contain him.”

Problem is, TRN has other weapons, too.

Click below to hear Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko talk about Edison’s CJ5 championship, and Saturday’s matchup against Toms River North:

How far has New Jersey come in HS football? The evolution from declared champs to Group Finals in 104 years

In the early 1970s the NJSIAA was still using a version of a ranking formula designed by a Trenton High School math teacher to determine state champions in the eight public school sections in the state, as well as the parochial sections.

After studying 130 teams over a four-year period, J. Whitney Colliton devised a system that paid little regard to group size, but how each team had performed over a four-year basis. They would be put in one of nine groups, in descending order, based solely on their records. Wins over higher-tiered teams would garner more points, with fewer points being awarded for losses.

This system took effect in 1937.

By 2018, the NJSIAA had added another mathematician’s formula – the Born Power Index – to the Colliton System’s eventual replacement, the long-standing “power point “power ranking” system.

Now, the state uses a variant of the BPI – in reverse fashion, so as to not reward teams for winning by greater margins – and for the first time ever, will crown Group Champions in 2022, as nearly every other state in America does.

What a long, strange trip it’s been. But how did we get to this point?

Here’s a look at how the last more than 100 years of crowning football champions have gone in New Jersey

  • 1918: The NJSIAA is formed, initially to regulate football, but eventually all high school sports.
  • 1919: The first football champions are declared by the NJSIAA. The public school championship was given to Barringer out of Newark, while Peddie Institute – as it was called then – of Hightstown was awarded the prep school trophy. Around this time – and no one is really sure how or why – a clause was written into the NJSIAA Constitution stating that no state champion should be declared in football, and for more than a century These words would later dog efforts to determine public school champions.
  • 1937: There’s no documentation as to when the NJSIAA began using the Dickinson method of rating teams, which took into account wins and group size, but by now, there is a plan to replace it with the Colliton System, developed by J. Whitney Colliton, a math teacher from Trenton. NJSIAA Secretary Walter E. Short is “completely sold” on the system, saying, “I don’t know of anything quite like it anywhere in the country. It’s really a scientific solution to our problem.” But over the years, there are more than a few instances where one team would rank ahead of another, despite the lower-ranked team having won a head-to-head matchup. And so, fairly frequently, controversy would ensue, especially when co-champions were declared, when teams were within a certain threshold of points from each other.
  • 1974: Tired of ties and controversies – which were plenty under the Colliton system – the state adopts a playoff, at the behest of a a special Football Playoffs Committee headed by legendary Brick Township coach Warren Wolf. Teams must opt-in after Week Four of the season. Not all do, and some sectional champions are still declared when there are no eligible teams according to the state’s point system. The playoffs aren’t really playoffs with a bracket as we think of them now. They would only include two teams in each section, if necessary; they must be separated by a certain number of points. Too wide a gap between No. 1 and No. 2 means a champion would instead be declared. Out of 16 potential public school playoffs, only eight are held. And there was controversy right off the bat, when in North 2, Group 4, there were four undefeated teams heading into Thanksgiving that many thought deserving of a shot at a state title: Westfield, Morris Knolls, Morristown and Barringer.
  • 1975: Just a year in, calls from the Skyline Conference in North Jersey echo down to Robbinsville to reform the ranking formula, and there’s even talk of the league’s schools seceding from the NJSIAA. The pressure results in changes that are adopted in time for the 1975 season, expanding the playoff field in each section to four teams, with the schools chosen according to a new “power ranking” formula – a precursor to the power points system we now know and love. It deals only in wins and losses, and awards “quality points” based on group size. Almost immediately, Vineland – a Group 4 school – has a gripe in that there aren’t enough “big” schools for it to play in South Jersey compared with schools like Brick Township, and wants credit for beating Philadelphia schools, which it plays on a somewhat regular basis. Sound familiar?
  • 1998: The playoffs are expanded again, this time to eight teams in each section. The minimum for playoff qualification is that a team must be .500 or better at the end of the regular season through its first eight games. Byes are given when there aren’t enough teams to fill a bracket.
  • 2000: Then-Wallkill Valley assistant football coach and co-Athletic Director Mike VanZile proposes a major overhaul to the way the state divides up schools into groups and how they qualify for the playoffs. His idea is to eliminate conferences, creating ten-team groups that are based on geography and school size. Power points would be eliminated, with the top four teams in each group making the playoffs. There would be a uniform start date, no bye weeks, Thanksgiving games would remain, public schools would be mixed in with parochials, and two more weeks added to the playoffs to play to group champions, the first serious proposal to bring New Jersey in line with all but a handful of other states. But the plan fails to gather enough support, with many coaches bemoaning the loss of traditional rivals, extended travel, an earlier start to the season that encroaches upon summer vacation, and a later end to the season that bleeds into the winter sports calendar, even though no more than 16 public schools would play an extra week, and only eight would go the extra two weeks. At least three additional attempts to enact the plan, with variations each time – and even a separate plan that would also include group champs proposed by then-East Brunswick coach Marcus Borden – fail over the next 13 years, but the vote would get closer over the next decade or so, losing by just 23 votes in 2010.
  • 2003: Up until now, teams have been placed in sections based on geographical lines, mainly on county borders. North Group 1 featured Hudson, Bergen, Passaic and Sussex County teams, while North 2 had Union, Essex, Morris and Warren. Central Jersey had Middlesex, Somerset, Monmouth, Mercer and Hunterdon, while the Ocean and Burlington Counties and south were in South Jersey. But that resulted in an imbalance: 92 schools in the south, 82 in Central, 88 in North 1, and 74 in North 2. A redistribution in the works for a couple of years takes effect in ’03, eventually landing some Somerset schools in North 2, while others stayed in Central. Warren, Morris, Essex and Bergen were split among North 1 and North 1. Eventually, some GMC teams found their way into North 2 as well.
  • 2012: In an effort to get more teams in the postseason – and reduce the disparity between the largest and smallest schools in each group, the NJSIAA expands from four to five public school groups, paving the way for 20 public school champions. In order to fill out more eight-team brackets, the state eliminates the rule requiring playoff teams to be .500 or better at the cutoff. The move came after only five teams qualified in North 2, Group 3, in 2011.
  • 2013: The last push to play to group champions in nearly a decade – put forth by the Big North Conference – fails by about a 2-to-1 margin, with a two-thirds majority needed for approval. With such a resounding defeat, and at least four losses in 13 years, another vote would not come until 2021.
  • 2016: The NJSIAA adopts the concept of “multipliers,” where public schools playing certain North Jersey powerhouses – Bergen Catholic, Don Bosco and the like – are awarded extra points. (Controversially, it also allows mutliplier teams to get points for playing multipliers, making a mess of the parochial playoff seeding.) It’s seen as a way to get more public schools to play the big-time schools, but only three public schools take advantage. Those playing United Red Division teams get two times the power points as if they had won, regardless of outcome. United White opponents garner 1.5 times a typical win. The NJSIAA also changes the “power point” system to eliminate each team’s lowest point total, ostensibly to keep at least one weak opponent from hurting schools’ playoff seeding.
  • 2017: After much controversy over the multiplier formulas, teams are now given set amounts for a win or loss against one of those teams. For example, playing a United red team gets a public school 54 points for a win, 36 for a loss. The United White is worth 38 and 32.
  • 2018: The NJSIAA enacts the biggest changes to determining state champions since the dawn of the “playoff era” in 1974. The New Jersey United Committee – a group of Athletic Directors and coaches from around the state – devises a plan that merged elements of two competing overhaul proposals. It added a second playoff metric to complement the “power points” system: the Born Power Index, created by math teacher Bill Born, who’s system had been used for decades to seed county basketball tournaments, and was published in North Jersey newspapers. Each team would be ranked in power points – now an average, and no longer cumulative, eliminating the “Game 9” rule – and in the BPI, with power points accounting for 40 percent and the BPI for 60 percent of a team’s UPR – the United Power Ranking. (For non-public schools, the UPR would be considered, but the tournament would be seeded by a Committee.) Further, instead of four pre-determined geographical sections and eight teams qualifying in each group, they’d be split into North and South, with the top 16 in qualifying in each “supersection.” Teams would then be broken into “traditional” eight-team sections by Northing number. The problem was with the entire setup was that Born’s formula was proprietary, and never released, despite calls for transparency. On the air at WCTC at the time, with the help of Piscataway assistant coach John Thompson, I was able to crack the code, using results from the first few weeks games to figure out how much each team’s Born Power Index ranking would change, and working backwards, eventually able to correctly predict the next week’s Born Power Index rankings. (I never figured out the actual formula, but another path to arrive at the same numbers as Born, even correcting a handful of mistakes made with the official calculations.) But the results showed that teams were being rewarded for blowouts; the more a team won by, the higher their rating went. In addition, there was no blowout cap, so teams could be encouraged to run up the score just to improve their ratings. That was altered a couple of weeks into the season. But by the end of the year, as more coaches and administrators learned of the system, how it worked, and what its results were, the uproar over the Born Power Index being used grew so loud, the NJSIAA promised to take a hard look at the system in the offseason. The other big change, though, was that for the first time, the playoffs wouldn’t end at sectional championships. The North 1 and 2 winners, and the South and Central winners in each group would play each other in “bowl championships” to be held at MetLife Stadium. Sectional finals were moved out of venues like Rutgers, Kean and The College of New Jersey and back to higher seeds. The change got lukewarm reaction, as it was halfway to a group championship, but didn’t go all the way. Some saw – including this reporter – saw it as a “test run” for the idea of playing a longer season.
  • 2019: The NJSIAA ditches the Born Power Index and adopts a similar formula, the Strength Index. They’re essentially the same in that a team’s rating depends on how well it does against an opponent, based on the team’s ratings at the time they play, and the final score. But rather than using a team’s own Strength Index towards a team’s UPR, it uses that number in reverse: the Opponent Strength Index, also known as OSI. Team’s get the full value of an opponent’s SI for a win, half for a loss. In that way, winning by more points doesn’t benefit the team itself; in fact, blowing out a an opponent can hurt a team, by lessening their opponents’ value to that team. The NJSIAA also scraps the “northing number” sorting in favor of “snaking” the top 16 in each section. Team 1 goes with teams 4, 5, 8, 9 etc… and Team 2 goes with team 3, 6, 7, etc., similar to the NCAA college basketball tournament. But it leads to long trips for some games, since about two-thirds of the state’s teams are concentrated in the Northern third of the state, with the rest in the South.
  • 2020: For the first time since the playoff format began in 1974, there are no playoffs, a casualty of the global COVID-19 pandemic, as teams play six-game schedules, with leagues allowed to have two weeks of postseason, in any format they choose. But the beginning of major changes come quickly after the season.
  • 2021: In January, the NJSIAA membership votes to allow football championships by eliminating the language that “no state champions shall be declared in football.” (We think it never had to be, since playoffs to determine group champions is different from declaring champions. But anyhow.) That paves the way for an official playoff proposal to be made, one in which the season would start earlier, but be shortened by a week, preventing the season from ending any later than the first weekend of December, as it has for decades now. Thanksgiving games would be maintained with an off week between the group semifinals and group finals. With something to seemingly please everybody, by June, the tide of oppositionhad turned so much that all but a handful of member schools voted overwhelmingly to have public schools play all the way down to group champions.
  • 2022: The NJSIAA will hold its first-ever public school football Group Championships, with the finals being played at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium on the first weekend of December.

It’s been a long time coming!

Read more on our coverage of the historic vote that brought New Jersey group championships:

St. Thomas Aquinas passed over for home game as NJSIAA Non-Public playoff brackets are announced

Despite finishing third in the UPR standings, fourth in OSI, and with the highest power point total in Non-Public Group B, St. Thomas Aquinas was seeded fifth in their section for the state playoffs, as the brackets were announced officially Sunday morning by the NJSIAA and Gridiron New Jersey.

The Trojans were 9-0 in last year’s regular season against smaller public schools before losing in the first round of the playoffs, 45-12 to St. Joseph-Hammonton. This year, they took a major step up in competition – against the likes of Cranford, Summit, Rahway and Edison – and still ran the table in Big Central play. They are 9-1, their lone loss to Timber Creek on Week Zero, and will carry a 17-game league winning streak – tops in the Big Central – into the 2023 season.

Despite all that – and an impressive 27-14 road win at St. John Vianney, a Group A school that was seeded 9th today – the resume apparently wasn’t enough for the NJSIAA committee that seeded the non-public schools, as it has done for a number of years now.

St. Joseph of Metuchen, meanwhile – the only other Non-Public in the Big Central – was awarded an 11-seed in Non-Public Group A.

Out of the Big Central, but locally, Immaculata was seeded seventh in the eight-team Non-Public B field, where seven teams opted out.

In Group A, 14 teams were seeded, with three not participating, including Pingry.

Below are the official pairings released Sunday by the NJSIAA. Home teams set the date and time for each matchup.

Non-Public A:

#9 St. John Vianney at #8 St. Augustine Prep (winner at #1 Don Bosco Prep, which gets a bye)
#10 Hudson Catholic at #7 Donovan Catholic (winner at #2 Bergen Catholic, which gets a bye)
#11 St. Joseph-Metuchen at #6 Delbarton
#12 Pope John at #5 Seton Hall Prep
#13 Paul VI at #4 St. Joseph-Montvale
#14 Notre Dame at #3 St. Peter’s Prep

Non-Public B:

#8 Gloucester Catholic at #1 Red Bank Catholic
#7 Immaculata at #2 DePaul
#6 Immaculate Conception at #3 St. Joseph-Hammonton
#5 St. Thomas Aquinas at #4 Holy Spirit

The Playoffs are Here! A Friday preview of the historic 2022 H.S. football postseason

It’s the opening weekend of the NJSIAA state football playoffs! Between tonight and tomorrow, 160 public schools will being their quest for a championship, and for the first time ever, true state championships.

Over the last two years, the NJSIAA worked to eliminate language from its Constitution that had previously banned state champs from being decided in football, and its membership voted to alter the schedule to allow for champions to be crowned in each of the four public school groups, One through Five.

The playoffs have moved a week earlier this year, with sectional finals now two weeks before Thanksgiving (prior to 2018, they were the week after Thanksgiving), the group semis the week before the holiday, and Group Championships at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium in Piscataway the first week of Decemmber, which has been the traditional Championship Weekend for years.

Coverage plans…

Central Jersey Sports Radio will show some small school love on Friday night, as Mike Pavlichko and Justin Sontupe will bring you all the live play-by-play of a South Jersey Group 1 first round game between 4th-seed Manville and 5th-seed Shore Regional out of the Shore Conference. The game kicks off at 7 at Manville’s Ned Panfile Stadium, with pregame at 6:45.

We’ll have recaps and postgame audio from that and other games on our website later that evening, as well as all Big Central scores and projected second-round matchups.

Saturday, Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Chris Tsakonas will be in Westfield as 6th-seed Bridgewater-Raritan visits the 3rd-seeded Blue Devils in a North Jersey, Section 1, Group 5 opening round matchup. Though they have played since, the two schools played three epic games three years in a row in the North 2, Group 5 finals at MetLife Stadium, where Westfield won ell three en route to a 36-0 record from 2015 to 2017.

A postgame recap with audio will follow.

Full schedule

Click here for every public school matchup in the 2022 state playoffs, with days and times for every game involving a Big Central school.

Right again…

Of the 57 public schools in the Big Central, we once again correctly predicted the number of wins it would take to get into the playoffs for the vast majority of the league: 57 teams.

For those who made it, they equaled or surpassed the number we said they would need to get in. For those who missed – except for Roselle and Middlesex – they didn’t meet that threshold.

We figured out what that number would be by looking at the minimum target OSI needed to make the playoffs, based on an average of the last two playoff seasons, 2019 and 2021 (there were no playoffs in 2020). There isn’t a minimum, per se, but we based it on the highest OSI team to miss the playoffs, then took the next team up as the minimum.

READ MORE: How did we do? Central Jersey Sports Radio’s preseason predictions for the postseason largely held true

We think it’s a pretty accurate number now after two years of analysis. We’ve projected for 115 public schools over two seasons, and have been right on 110 of them. That’s a 95.6% rate.

It’s also a good scheduling guide for future seasons.

Gas up the bus…

The way the state’s Groups are divided into North and South, the dividing line in some cases is about two-thirds the way up the state. What’s that mean? Some long bus rides.

We counted six Big Central teams that will be on a school bus for more than an hour to get to their first-round playoff destination this weekend, although one – Elizabeth and Phillipsburg – has been a postseason trip in the past. But the trips to South Jersey are long.

Delaware Valley, New Providence, Somerville and Johnson all have long trips down south, while Montgomery has a hike up North.

READ MORE: Road Trip: Some Big Central schools have a much longer drive than others to get to their first round playoff games

The shortest trips? By a slim margin, Edison over Bridgewater-Raritan. The Eagles open up at Hillsborough, an 18.5 mile drive that Google Maps says will take 29 minutes with no traffic. That could be the wild card, of course, on a Friday night in Central Jersey. When is there ever no traffic?

The Panthers’ game at Westfield Saturday is 18.5 miles away from their field house, and a 31 minute trip without traffic.

Previewing Playoff Runs…

Below are links to previews of some Big Central teams and players heading into the postseason:

Tradition-rich Shore will be tough opponent for Manville in Mustangs second-ever playoff home game

The time is now for Manville as Purcell, Wildgoose look to make history in the playoffs

Hillsborough will be challenged in home playoff game against Edison

A.L. Johnson’s big road win got them in the playoffs, now the Crusaders want to make some noise

Bosch “sparks” Woodbridge to playoff-clinching win, and Week 8 Bellamy & Son Paving Player of the Week honors

Want the short version?

Here’s our quick look at the postseason: “The Big Central in 2 Minutes” – Week 8: It’s Playoff Time!

What about the non-publics?

They have an extra week of the regular season built into the schedule. This week is a regular season week, with the playoffs to be seeded this weekend in Groups A and B by committee.

St. Jospeh of Metuchen is still in with the big boys of Group A like Don Bosco and Bergen Catholic. St. Thomas Aquinas is in Group B and will tune up with St. John Vianney on the road this weekend. The Trojans had a tougher schedule this year after an undefeated regular season last year.

They should get a high seed in Group B at 8-1 so far with that tougher schedule, pending what they do against the Lancers. Kudos to first-year head coach Tarig Holman and Athletic Director Jerry Smith for challenging themselves and scheduling a difficult road game against a Group A non-public. Smith has always been a bold scheduler for his teams, and this move is no exception. We’ll see if it pays off.

Friday schedule…

8-Old Bridge at 1-Toms River North (South 5) – 6 pm
5-Morris Knolls at 6-Colonia (North 2, Group 4) – 6 pm
5-Johnson at 4-Pleasantville (South 2) – 6 pm
5-North Arlington at 4-Brearley (North 2, Group 1) – 6 pm
6-South Hunterdon at 3-Maple Shade (south 1) – 6 pm
5-Montgomery at 4-Northern Highlands (North 1, Group 4) – 6:15 pm
7-Woodbridge at 2-Ramapo (North 1, Group 4) – 6:30 pm
8-Elizabeth at 1-Phillipsburg (North 2, Group 5) – 7 pm
6-West Orange at 3-Watchung Hills (North 2, Group 5) – 7 pm
5-Piscataway at 4-Eastside Paterson (North 2, Group 5) – 7 pm
7-Union at 2-Union City (North 1, Group 5) – 7 pm
7-Hunterdon Central at 2-North Brunswick (Central 5) – 7 pm
6-Edison at 3-Hillsborough (Central 5) – 7 pm
8-Middletown North at 1-North Hunterdon (North 2, Group 4) – 7 pm
7-Rahway at 2-Randolph (North 2, Group 4) – 7 pm
8-Sayreville at 1-Irvington (North 1, Group 4) – 7pm
7-Wayne Hills at 2-Cranford (North 2, Group 3) – 7 pm
8-Somerville at 1-Seneca (Central 3) – 7 pm
5-Camden Eastside at 4-South Plainfield (South 3) – 7 pm
5-Benards at 4-Ramsey (North 2, Group 2) – 7 pm
5-New Providence at 4-Willingboro (Central 2) – 7 pm
5-Shore at 4-Manville (South 1) – 7 pm (LISTEN LIVE)

Saturday schedule…

6-Bridgewater-Raritan at 3-Westfield (North 1, Group 5) – 1 pm
7-Parsippany Hills at 2-Hillside (North 1, Group 3) – 1 pm
6-Delaware Valley at Oakcrest (South 2) – 12 pm


NJSIAA to Coaches: Make sure your scores are correct when reporting them

The NJSIAA sent a reminder memo to coaches across New Jersey Tuesday afternoon, emphasizing the importance of correctly reporting scores to Gridiron New Jersey, which is the official calculator of power points, OSI and the UPR rankings that seed the public school playoffs.

The move follows an incorrect score that affected more than a dozen teams.

A copy of the memo – forwarded to coaches by the NJ Football Coaches Association – was obtained by Central Jersey Sports Radio.

The memo says, “Gridiron was recently made aware of an incorrect score on its website from a game on September 30th… the error was identified and reported by a 3rd party. While the score was corrected, it will cause changes to both schools [sic] Strength Index and ultimately the UPR of all opponents.”

On Twitter, @GridironNJ reported that the score being referenced was Northern Highlands’ victory over Ramapo, originally reported as 29-20. The actual score was 29-26.

Not only did that discrepancy affect each team’s Strength Index number, but also the Strength Index of the teams they played the next week, as well as the opponents of all four teams to whom the error had spread.

Essentially, in two weeks, one wrong score led to incorrect OSI values for 16 teams.

The memo went on to remind coaches of the reporting requirement, that final scores must be reported to Gridiron “within 2 hours of the conclusion of each game.” Not doing so will result in a warning the first time, but future violations can result in a $150 fine.