Tag: playoffs

Philipsburg ends season right where it began: No. 1 in the rankings

The final Central Jersey Sports Radio Top Ten of the 2023 high school football season finds Phillipsburg not where they were when we last left them, rather, back on top.

The Stateliners finished 10-2 after a loss in the North 2, Group 5 title game, but a victory over Easton for the second straight year, the first time they’ve done that in 20 years. They were also Big Central Conference American Silver Division Champions, one of five division champs to finish in the Top Ten.

The Stateliners are followed by St. Thomas Aquinas, which finished 10-1 and was the champion of the United Gold Division. The Trojans are 19-3 in two seasons under Tarig Holman, and 28-4 since the COVID-shortened season.

Ridge (8-2) – which finished second to P’burg in the United Silver – finished in third in the final rankings.

In fourth is Bernards, which at 12-1 set a school record for wins, and won the North 2, Group 2 title, its first state sectional title in program history. The Mountaineers were the only Big Central team to win a championship this season, but lost at 17-0 at Westwood in the Group 2 semifinals. They also were the Patriot Gold Division Champions.

North Brunswick, the National Silver Division Champions, finished fifth, with a record of 8-1, that lone loss coming in the first round of the playoffs by a single point to Freehold Township.

Montgomery checks in at No. 6, and like North Brunswick, suffered its only loss of the season in the playoffs, ending at 8-1-1, with the Liberty Silver Division title.

The final four teams include Hillsborough (8-3) in seventh, followed by Sayreville (8-3), St. Joseph Metuchen (7-3), and Watchung Hills (8-3). Summit, which had been tied for tenth in the last ranking after cutoff weekend, dropped out, finishing 7-3.

Below are the full Central Jersey Sports Radio Final high school football rankings for 2023:

Postgame reaction from Westwood after Group 2 semis win sends Cardinals to state finals

The Westwood Cardinals are off to their first-ever true state final – in the event’s second season.

The North 1, Group 2 champs shutout North 2, Group 2 champion Bernards at home Friday night, 17-0, to move on to the Group 2 title game, which will be held the week after Thanksgiving.

Westwood (12-0) will play South Group 2 champion Rumson-Fair Haven, which beat Central 2 champ Willingboro 35-28 Friday night. The game will either be at MetLife Stadium or Rutgers, and could be as early as Sunday, November 26th.

The NJSIAA expects to announce times, dates, and locations no later than Sunday at noon, according to association spokesman Mike Cherenson.

Click below for postgame reaction from Marcus Borden from victorious Westwood, presented by Sportsplex at Metuchen:

Best season in Bernards history comes to an end in Group 2 finals loss at Westwood

It may be tomorrow, it may be next week, or in 2024, but when all is said and done, and Bernards looks back on its 2023 season, everyone associated with the program will look back at it for what it was: the best ever in almost 120 years of high school football.

Some even were thinking about it as the clock reached zero up in Bergen County Friday night, where the Mountaineers lost to Westwood 17-0 in the Group 2 semifinals, shut out for the first time this season.

Bernards – which finishes the season 12-1 with a program record for wins and their first ever playoff sectional championship – couldn’t get anything going on offense the whole night.

Westwood plugged up the run game, and the passing game didn’t start clicking until the final minutes of the game, with the clock their biggest enemy.

Westwood – which is now 12-0 and headed to the Group 2 title game the week after Thanksgiving against Rumson-Fair Haven (8-4) – came out fired up, hitting hard, and just a step quicker than the Mountaineers.

But some early penalties on them stymied their opening drive, and the game sunk into a defensive battle between two teams that combined to allow single digits in points all year, on average, with seven total shutouts.

The teams were scoreless after one quarter, with neither team managing much on the ground or in the air. But late in the second quarter, the Cardinals were able to break through.

Getting the ball early in the period, Westwood went 60 yards in just seven plays and 3:40 to set up a chip-shot 22-yard field goal, a win for Bernards’ defense, which bent, but didn’t entirely break.

But after a Bernards three-and-out – and they had the time of possession edge to that point – Westwood went 67 yards in eleven plays in the next 3:25, capping the drive off with a three-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Robbie Carcich to receiver Joe Klein, and it was 10-0 Cards going into the half.

After halftime, the struggles continued for the Bernards offense. The line protected Laverty, who rarely had to scramble, but Westwood sacrificed that pressure to stuff the run game, which then limited the effectiveness of the passing game, stymieing the Mountaineer offense even after the break.

At that point, Westwood’s goal was to eat the clock, and they did just that ona drive that took 15 plays and 7:14 to go 70 yards, culminating with a two-yard touchdown run by Aidan Dugan to make it 17-0, the backbreaker that put the game out of reach.

It was the first time Bernards had been shutout since October 20, 2017. 2017, when they lost 35-0 at Voorhees in a 3-7 season, a year after going to a state final.

For Bernards, it was a tough loss, one game short of their season goal: to play 14. They go in 13, won a school record 12, and brought home the first state sectional title in school history.

There were few tears on the field. Players ran to the spot for their post-game huddle with head coach Jon Simoneau. There was a lot to be proud of. He let them know it.

And he’ll remind them of it for the rest of his life and theirs.

Click below for postgame reaction with Mike Pavlichko presented by Sportsplex at Metuchen:

Bernards senior wide receiver Jake Caldwell
Bernards head coach Jon Simoneau

Group 2 Semifinal Preview: Bernards Mountaineers vs. Westwood Cardinals

The Big Central’s last remaining team in the NJSIAA high school football playoffs will try to become the first-ever to reach the group finals, in just they second year they’re being played in New Jersey.

We’ve got a full preview of the game, including notes, links to previous coverage, stats and more below!

Group 2 Semifinals (North):
When: Friday, 7 pm
Where: Westwood High School (Bergen County)
Matchup: Bernards (12-0, North 2 Group 2 champion) vs. Westwood (11-0, North 1 Group 3 champion)
Coverage: LISTEN LIVE on Central Jersey Sports Radio (Mike Pavlichko, Justin Sontupe) Pregame begins at 6:25 pm.
Weather: cloudy, 58 degrees, winds S 4 mph


Bernards: Jon Simoneau (16th season, 110-55)
Westwood: Bobby Guy (1st season, 11-0)


Bernards – #2 seed in North 2 Group 2:
First Round: def. #7 Ramsey, 46-13
Semifinals: def. #6 Sussex Tech, 48-0
Finals: def. #5 Lakeland 23-17 (OT)

Westwood – #1 seed in North 1 Group 2:
First Round: def. #8 Dumont, 41-12
Semifinals: def. #4 Newton, 42-8
Finals: def. #2 Rutherford, 20-7

Who’s Next? The winner moves on to the Group 2 finals against the winner of the South Group 2 semifinal between Central champion Willingboro and South champion Rumson-Fair Haven. (If you think that’s geographically challenged, you’re right!) The Central champ Chimeras are 10-2 and won the title by knocking off top-seed Point Pleasant Boro on the road last weekend, 26-21. The South champion Bulldogs are 7-4 and were the top-seed in their section, beating 2-seed Haddonfield 14-7 on a late 4th-and-goal stop.

That 7-4 record for Rumson is a bit misleading, too, as they played one of the toughest schedules in the state, with the four losses coming to Toms River North, Red Bank Catholic, Point Boro and Donovan Catholic. RBC and Donovan Catholic are both playing separate non-public title games after Thanksgiving, while TRN won the Central 5 title last weekend and faces Cherokee Friday night in the South Group 5 semis, and Point Boro lost to Willingboro in the CJ2 final.


This will be the first-ever meeting between Bernards and Westwood.




The Mountaineers won their first sectional title in school history Friday, when they beat Lakeland at Olcott Field, 23-17 in overtime, on a seven-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Connor Laverty. Bernards, which trailed most of the game, took its first lead with one minute remaining, on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Laverty to Jake Caldwell, the team’s top receiver, on fourth-and-goal. Lakeland marched down the field and tied with a field goal as time expired. But Lakeland was held to a field goal attempt – which they missed – in overtime, and Laverty won the game when it was Bernards’ turn.

Playoff Berths: 16
Playoff Record: 10-15
Sectional Titles: 1

  • 2023: #2 seed, beat #5 Lakeland, 23-17 (OT) (N2-G2)


The Cardinals have won seven state sectional titles overall, including the last two in North 1, Group 2, and both came over Rutherford. This year’s game wasn’t as close as last year’s, and Westwood has been nearly as dominant against its opponents this season as Bernards has.

Playoff Berths: 27
Playoff Record: 32-20
Sectional Titles: 7

  • 2023: #1 seed, beat #2 Rutherford 20-7 (N1-G2)
  • 2022: #2 seed, beat #1 Rutherford 21-20 (N1-G2)
  • 2014:  #2 seed, beat #1 Waldwick 21-7 (N1-G2)
  • 2013:  #1 seed, beat #3 Waldwick 26-7 (N1-G2)
  • 2006:  #5 seed, beat #3 Pascack Valley 9-8 (N1-G2)
  • 2004:  #1 seed, beat #3 Butler 22-20 (N1-G1)
  • 2000:  #2 seed, beat #4 Pompton Lakes 33-7 (N1-G2)


Senior QB Connor Laverty runs four yards for a touchdown against Hillside in a Big Central game on September 2, 2023 at Conant Street Park in Hillside. (Source: Marcus Borden)


Bernards: Connor Laverty, 111 of 160 for 1,541 yds, 17 TD, 1 INT
Westwood: Robbie Carcich, 143 of 179 for 2,048 yds (80% completion rate), 21 TD, 3 INT

Bernards: Jake Caldwell (37-522 yds, 4 TD); Jack Morra (21-379 yds, 6 TD)
Westwood: Joe Klein (53-663 yds, 7 TD); Thomas Bussanich (33-590 yds, 7 TD)

Bernards: Logan Stevens (75-605 yds, 10 TD); Connor Laverty (57-423 yds, 11 TD)
Westwood: Aidan Dugan (90-633 yds, 2 TD; Robbie Carcich (80-646 yds, 11 TD)

Bernards: David Brothers (67 tackles, 14 TFLs, 11 1/2 sacks – a school single-season record); Jake Caldwell (4 INT-161 yds, 1 punt block)
Westwood: Luke Biello (7 1/2 sacks, safety); Dario Mathurin (7 1/2 sacks, safety); Steve Klein (6 INT)


Wins Pile Up…

Yes, Bernards continues to win. In addition to a 110-55 overall record in the 16 seasons Jon Simoneau has been head coach, the Mountaineers have been extra good since 2018, with a record of 52-10. Half of those losses have come to Hillside. In that span, only one of the other losses came to a Big Central School, that being Delaware Valley in a 2021 regular season road game. Four came in the postseason, and only three of them happened at home. This year, Bernards rallied to beat Hillside on the road all the way back on September second.


Bernards and Westwood are a bit mirror images of each other. Besides the obvious that both are undefeated (the Mountaineers are 12-0, the Cardinals 11-0), they also have dominated opponents.

Bernards is beating the opposition by an average 31 points per game, Westwood by 29.6. And the Cardinals varsity defense has only allowed two touchdowns all year, according to head coach Bobby Guy.

They also both have quarterbacks who can throw it, and accurately. Connor Laverty has tossed for 1,641 yards and 17 touchdowns with just one interception for the Mountaineers, while Cardinals’ signal caller Robbie Carcich has thrown for 2,048 yards (he runs it less than Laverty) and 21 touchdowns, with just three picks. Both offense will use multiple wide receiver sets, and often feature one runningback.

Lucky Sevens…

With the North 2, Group 2 title in hand – its first ever – Bernards has become the seventh Somerset County team to win a sectional title. Somerville (8) has won the most, followed by Franklin (5), Immaculata (4), Ridge (3), Hillsborough (3), and Bridgewater East (2).

Meanwhile, Westwood’s title was its seventh overall, as well as its second straight. And interestingly, their last four titles have been in back-to-back fashion. In addition to winning this year and last season, they also went back to back under Vito Campanile in 2013 and 2014, also beating the same team two years in a row; that time, it was Waldwick.

Gameday with Marcus Borden: Group Semifinals!

The Big Central saw Bernards get crowned as a sectional champion last weekend, while Phillipsburg was knocked off by Union City and St. Thomas Aquinas was eliminated in the group semifinals.

Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko talks about it all on another Playoff Edition edition of “Gameday with Marcus Borden!” We look back at last week’s action, and get into details on Bernards and the Mountaineers’ matchup with Westwood for a trip to the state Group 2 championship game.

Click below to listen to the Group Semifinals Edition of “Gameday with Marcus Borden”:

Training at Elite QB has been a weekly, year-round ritual for Bernards signal-caller

When Bernards quarterback Connor Laverty came to Matt Bastardi to train to be a better quarterback, there wasn’t one thing that necessarily stuck out more than anything else that he wanted to improve upon.

“All of the above,” says Bastardi, founder and instructor at Elite QB Football Training Academy.

In fact, he’d come to Elite QB on the heels of one of his predecessors, Teddy Gouldin, who – in the 2020 COVID year – threw for 1,172 yards and 14 touchdowns with just one interception during an 8-1 campaign, the only loss coming in the opener, 14-9 at Hillside.

Even during what has been perhaps the most memorable season ever in Bernards’ long history, Laverty has come by every Sunday, according to Bastardi, bringing several of his receiver teammates with him to train.

Click below to hear Elite QB coach and founder Matt Bastardi talk about Bernards senior QB Connor Laverty and his training experience:

Westwood – like Bernards – has had fantastic, undefeated season, but only one will move on to state’s Group 2 finals

The Westwood Cardinals are have had a tremendous 2023 season, undefeated at 11-0 and North 1, Group 2 state champions, a perfect repeat performance of the 2022 season, right down to the team they beat – Rutherford – in last year’s sectional final.

But this year’s team has one big difference: they hope it doesn’t end here.

The team that knocked the Cards out in 2022 is gone from the playoffs; Caldwell and its 37-game winning streak – the longest active in the state – were eliminated in the North 2, Group 2 semifinals by Lakeland, which then was beaten by Bernards last week, a 23-17 thrilling overtime win for the Mountaineers.

Now, Bernards (12-0) and Westwood (11-0) will face off Friday night with a trip to the Group 2 final on the line. And you can hear the game on Central Jersey Sports Radio, with Mike Pavlichko and Justin Sontupe on the call. Kickoff is 7:00, pregame at 6:45, and you can listen live by clicking here.

Westwood is in its first season under head coach Bobby Guy, who took over after last year but has been in the program as an assistant – working with wide receivers and defensive backs – before being promoted to offensive coordinator. Now, he’s in charge, and this year’s results are much of the same: another undefeated regular season and sectional title.

There’s still a cachet to winning a sectional, one of the concerns of some who didn’t – and some who did – vote for the NJSIAA proposal a few years back that allowed group championships in football last season for the first time ever. For some, there’s a feeling of playing with house money this week and the week after.

But Guy says his team feels like they left something on the table last year, that there’s unfinished business to be dealt with.

Click below to hear Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko speak with first year Westwood head coach Bobby Guy:

Bernards looking to keep the ball rolling in North Group 2 semifinal matchup at Westwood

The Bernards football team already has set a program record for wins with 12, and the Mountaineers are keen to keep it going.

They could have as many as two more opportunities, and become the first-ever Big Central team to win 14 games in a season. But to have that chance, they’ll have to win Friday night.

That’s when North 2, Group 2 champion Bernards takes on North 1, Group 2 champion Westwood (11-0) out of Bergen County and the Super Football Conference, in a game you can hear live on Central Jersey Sports Radio Friday night at 7 pm, with pregame at 6:45. Click here to listen.

Bernards players practice at Olcott Field in Bernardsville on November 14, 2023, in advance of the Group 2 semis against Westwood Friday night. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

The Mountaineers have been tremendous all season long. Besides being undefeated, second-seed Bernards won its first playoff era sectional title last Friday night, beating 5th-seed Lakeland 23-17 in overtime, rallying twice. Connor Laverty’s pass to Jake Caldwell on fourth-and-goal from the 11 with one minute to go gave Bernards a two-point lead, with the PAT making it three.

Though Lakeland tied the game on a field goal as time expired, sending the contest to overtime, Bernards held on defense, as the Lancers missed a field goal on their chance in OT, before Laverty ran a touchdown in virtually unscathed to win it.

Now, it’s a battle of unbeatens for the championship, and the similarities go beyond that. Each team has scored a ton of points, and allows very few.

Bernards is averaging 38.4 points per game, allowing 7.4, for a differential of +31, while Westwood is scoring 32.2, but only allowing 5, for a differential of +27.2 points per game. The teams have combined for seven shutouts; Bernards has recorded three, Westwood four.

Simoneau says he expects a very athletic, hard-hitting, well-coached team Friday night.

Just like his.

Click below to hear Bernards head coach Jon Simoneau preview Friday night’s Group 2 North semifinal:

PA man Phil Nardone had almost seen it all at Bernards; now that they’re champs, he really has

At last Friday night’s North 2, Group 2 championship game, Bernards public address announcer Phil Nardone was all bundled up, ready for the cold weather up in the Somerset Hills. He wore a quarter-zip dark grey fleece under his jacket with an embroidered logo on the chest that said “Bernards State Champs” with the years 1969 and 1970 in white on top of a red football.

That was the pre-playoff era. The playoffs started in 1974, with just two teams – if qualified – in each section. It eventually expanded to four. It took 23 years for the Mounties to make their first finals, and another 19 for them to get to a second. Both times they lost; the first in dramatic fashion at Olcott Field to Shore Regional, the second by blowout at Kean University to Manasquan.

Nardone has seen those games, and hundreds in between. He is, after all, the PA voice of Bernards football for the last 60 years.

That’s right: Bernards’ last home game, the North 2 Group 2 final last Friday night – with no more possible home games – put a wrap on his 60th season at the mic just a few days ago.

The Phil Nardone Press Box at Bernards honors the man who just wrapped up his 60th season on the PA for Mountaineers’ football. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

He’s seen wins. He’s seen losses. He’s seen so many losses the program almost folded up at one point. Then again, since Jon Simoneau came on board 16 seasons ago as head coach, he’s also probably seen so many wins its hard to keep track of them all. In the past five seasons alone, including this one, Bernards has 52 games and lost just ten, with half of those losses coming to Hillside (which they beat this year) and only three of the ten defeats coming at home.

And last Friday night, he finally got to see them win a playoff championship: the North 2, Group 2 title. They got in with an overtime win over Lakeland which the whole town – including Nardone – is still buzzing about.

So, we decided to talk to Phil Nardone about all that he’s seen, since he might as well be the football program historian.

And to think, when he was first hired, he only got half the job.

How’s that possible?

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with Bernards public address announcer Phil Nardone, who’s in his 60th season as the PA voice of the Mountaineers: