Tag: Somerville

Group 3 playoff analysis: Somerville needs some wins, and badly, while Cranford battles for a home game

With the midway point of the high school football season upon us, we start to take a closer look at playoff standing and the chase for the postseason, with Cutoff Weekend just four weeks away. Below is a look at Group 3:

NORTH (Click here for official standings)

Defending North 3 Regional Champion West Morris remains the class of the section this year, as the Wolfpack sit 5-0, with a UPR of 1.0, and Old Tappan behind them with a 2.4 UPR. Two undefeated teams lie ahead, both 4-0 at the moment: Morris Knolls this Friday night, and Randolph on the road two weeks later.

Cranford – which won the North 2, Group 3 section last year, but lost to West Morris in the regional final at Met Life Stadium – is the highest-ranked Big Central team here, at 2-2. They have wins over Summit and Woodbridge, with losses to North Hunterdon and St. Thomas Aquinas. If those schools continue to have good years, it will bode well for Cranford, with the goal here to earn at least a first-round playoff game, which necessitates a top eight finish.

They visit Rahway this Friday, which just took its first loss of the season Saturday on Central Jersey Sports Radio, 20-0 to winless Summit. That’s a big game, and then there’s a huge one cutoff weekend at home against North Brunswick. Should they beat the Raiders, that could seal the deal.

To find the next team in the section, you need to go all the way down to No. 17 to find Summit, a full UPR point behind Wayne Hills, with a 15.6 UPR. The Hilltoppers’ win over Rahway could be a turning point for the season, with winnable games against Scotch Plains-Fanwood (2-2) and Linden (1-3) the next two weeks before facing some of the big boys – Colonia (5-0) and St. Joseph-Metuchen (3-1) – the last two weeks.

After an 0-2 start, which has hurt them, Governor Livingston has all of a sudden won three straight. But they’re in 21st place, and the Highlanders have a tough schedule the rest of the way, though. South Plainfield, Carteret, South River and Bernards are a combined 14-4. The good news is this: beating those good teams will boost their chances a lot.

SOUTH (Click here for official standings)

This is a playoff section where – for the last several years, it’s been Somerville mostly trying to get over the hump to earn a top-seed despite their weak schedule. And more often than not, there was nothing they could do about except win and hope for the best.

That will be the thinking again this year, but that’s just to make the playoffs. After five straight playoff appearances (not counting 2020 where there were no playoffs) with one title and three finals berths, the Pioneers are in drastic danger of snapping that string under first-year head coach Ian Pace.

They sit in 23rd place, with a 22.2 UPR, ironically right behind Camden East Side (nee Woodrow Wilson), the team they lost to in their last finals appearance, in 2019. They will have to make up oodles of ground to get into the top 16, with Manasquan holding that last playoff position with four weeks to go, with a 16.8 UPR.

The good news is that if Somerville can get it in gear, their tough schedule will help it immensely. They play five Group 5 schools to finish the regular season, starting this weekend at Elizabeth, which just knocked off St. Joe’s in Metuchen Saturday afternoon for its first win of the season. Then, they have Westfield and Hillsborough at home before closing on the Friday night of Cutoff Weekend at South Brunswick. All will boost their power points and OSI – if they can beat them.

The highest-ranekd team here is South Plainfield in ninth, as Bill Hamilton has the Tigers 4-0 in his second season as head coach. Can they crack the top eight to earns first-round home playoff game? Too early to say, as their schedule the rest of the way is a bit weak after a Saturday afternoon road game at resurgent Governor Livingston. That’s the best team left on their schedule, with a road game at Voorhees the next week, followed by Perth Amboy at home and Monroe on the road.

Want a shot at a home game? GL is a must win.

Carteret is also having a fine season. Kevin Freeman’s squad is 4-1, their lone loss to South Plainfield, and they sit in 13th. Considering that among the teams behind them are Manasquan (0-3) and Triton (1-3) and the minimum number of wins to make the playoffs is two this season (up from one last year) it would appear Carteret, should they continue their excellent play this year, is a good bet to make the playoffs, and end up on the road in the first round. Next up is Group 5 JP Stevens in Edison this Friday night, the third Group 5 team they’ll play this year. (They’ve already beaten Perth Amboy and Plainfield.)

INSTANT REPLAY: Montgomery 27, Somerville 21

Montgomery used three straight touchdowns – spanning the second and third quarters – and rallied from two touchdown deficits in the first half to beat visiting Somerville, 27-21, at Montgomery High School on Friday, September 16th, 2022.

The win moved the Cougars to 4-0 for the first time since 2007, while the Pioneers dropped to 1-3.

Click below to listen back to the original broadcast, with Mike Pavlichko and Justin Sontupe calling all the play-by-play:

1st Half (including part of the halftime performance by the Montgomery H.S. Band)

2nd Half


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Montogmery matches program’s best start ever with 27-21 victory over Somerville for fourth straight win

Some wins just feel bigger than others.

That’s what it felt like in Skillman Friday night, with Montgomery and Somerville locked in a tight first-half battle that saw the home Cougars trailing 14-13 after getting a second quarter touchdown, but failing on the two-point conversion.

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But Montgomery scored the next two touchdowns, and it was enough to stave off Somevrille – which got closer with a late third-quarter scoring drive led by backup quarterback Brendan Pacheo – and the Cougars came away with a 27-21 win, as heard Friday night on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

It was Monty’s first win in the series since 2013, although their only other meeting in between was in 2018, at the height of Somerville’s recent dominance, a 55-12 Pioneers’ win.

Junior quarterback Mike Schmelzer threw three touchdown passes – to Matt D’Avino, Eddie Qian and Ethan McManus, while Gavin Guidette ran for another in a balanced offensive attack.

Somerville scored first and never trailed in the first half, but then two third quarter scores by Montgomery gave them three straight TDs – all TD passes – until Pacheo capped a long drive with a two-yard touchdown run to get Somerville within 27-21. But that was as close as they would get.

The victory puts Montgomery at 4-0 for the first time since the 2007 season, when the Cougars also won their first four, and finished 9-2, with a loss in the Central Jersey Group 3 semifinals to eventual title-winner Holmdel.

A win next week against Hamilton (1-2), which plays tomorrow against Hopewell Valley, would be the program’s best start ever.

Click below for postgame reaction from Montgomery’s 27-21 win over Somerville:

Montgomery junior quarterback Mike Schmelzer in the postgame huddle. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)
Junior WR Matt D’Avino and junior QB Mike Schmelzer
Montgomery junior wide receiver Matt D’Avino. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)
Head Coach Zoran Milich

It’s Pace’s program as new ‘Ville coach looks to rebound off enigmatic start

Ian Pace’s journey to becoming the head coach at Somerville is a bit of a winding road. An offensive lineman at Fordham then an assistant coach for 12 years at the college level, Pace found his way to The ‘Ville almost by accident. While on a recruiting trip for Division 3 St. John Fisher, he heard of the open position, knocked on the front door to the high school, and was led upstairs to the athletic offices. That day, Pace says he got a feel for how great an opportunity this would be. Eight months later, that feeling has only gotten stronger.

“It takes a village to run The ‘Ville,” Pace said, emphasizing the unbelievable community support surrounding the Pioneers football program. “It’s our program. It’s the community.”

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Somerville has been a juggernaut in Central Jersey for the better part of a decade. Shouldered by a 57-8 run since 2016 under Jeff Vanderbeek (2016-17) and Dallas Whitaker (2018-21) that featured three state finals appearances, this isn’t a reboot or a rebuild for Pace; he’s just receiving the baton.

Third-year starting quarterback Mike Miller has thrown for almost 3,500 yards and nearly 40 touchdowns in his career. Senior Hashym Hobbs-Harris (178 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns) and sophomore Terrell Mitchell (156 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns) are dynamic in the backfield. Senior slot receiver Wes Hack (14 catches, 236 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns) has emerged as the Pioneers’ main target through the air.

One of the Big Central’s most explosive offenses, Somerville has tallied 88 points in its three games. But after a forfeit in the season opener and a loss to St. Joseph-Metuchen last week, the Pioneers have just one win, 42-33 at Old Bridge on September 2, through three games. They will look to get back to .500 in the Big Central Game of the Week Friday night at Montgomery.

Central Jersey Sports Radio will broadcast the game live with Mike Pavlichko and Justin Sontupe calling the play-by-play. Kickoff is at 7 pm at Montgomery High School, and the pregame show begins at 6:45. Click here to listen.

Central Jersey Sports Radio will broadcast the game live Friday night, with Mike Pavlichko and Justin Sontupe calling all the play-by-play. Kickoff is at 7 pm at Montgomery High School in Skillman, and the pregame show begins around 6:45. Click here to listen.

Click below to hear Justin Sontupe talk with Somerville head coach Ian Pace about the Pioneers and the upcoming matchup with Montgomery:

Montgomery looks to keep best start since ’07 going when Somerville comes to town

Having lost a ton of key players – Alex Benitez, Brandon Feury, Andre Soumeillant, to name just a few, but hardly all – Montgomery football coach Zoran Milich would be forgiven if he wasn’t sure what to expect in 2022.

After dropping its first four games of the season, the Cougars won three in a row and got close enough to the 16th and final playoff spot in South Group 4 to be given a spot as the next team in when Scotch Plains-Fanwood was ruled ineligible for the postseason over a number of early-season disqualifications.

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So what has this year’s squad done? Well, with QB Michael Schmelzer starting the year from the very beginning (he sat 30 days last year after transferring in from Notre Dame in Lawrenceville) they have done just fine, thank you, winning their opening three games for the first time since the 2007 Cougar team that finished 9-2, making it to the Central Jersey Group 4 semifinals, where they lost to Howell.

Offensively, that team was led by QB Kevin Watson (2,039 yds, 21 TD), receivers Chris Garcia and JT Tartacoff (700+ yards apiece), and running back Devon Saunders (1,017 yards, 6 TD). Defensivlely, they got after quarterbacks, registering 37 sacks (led by senior DE Matt Tholis with 13 1/2), and the Cougars picked off 11 passes all year.

But this year’s team is forging its own way, with a group of players that isn’t necessarily young, but isn’t exactly rife with seniors either. Schmelzer already has thrown for 760 yards in three games, but more impressively, the junior has thrown seven touchdown passes and just one interception.

Fellow junior Matt D’Avino is his top target (270 yds, 5 TDs) and senior Chris Eubanks can run the ball (253 yards, 1 TD). Gavin Guidette leads the flexible “3-3 stack” defense at middle linebacker with a team-leading 18 tackles, 15 solo, and junior safety Zack Schick already has three interceptions of the year.

And a win over Somerville would go a long way, with the Pioneers being a program that has had immense success over the past several years, including a state title and three finals appearances under the combination of Jeff Vanderbeek and Dallas Whitaker as head coaches.

Central Jersey Sports Radio will broadcast the game live Friday night as its Big Central Game of the Week, with Mike Pavlichko and Justin Sontupe calling all the play-by-play. Kickoff is at 7 pm at Montgomery High School in Skillman, and the pregame show begins around 6:45. Click here to listen.

Somerville leads the all-time series 6-4, but Montgomery has won four of the last six in the series. The Pioneers, however, beat the Cougars 55-12 in 2018 en route to a sectional final, where they lost to Rumson-Fair Haven at Brooks Field.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk about Montgomery, and the Somerville matchup, with Cougars head coach Zoran Milich:

“The Big Central in 2 Minutes” – Week 1: Explaining No. 1, and a Group Size alternative?

On our latest trip around “The Big Central in Two Minutes,” veteran CJSR sportscaster Mike Pavlichko explains why North Brunswick is still his No. 1 team, looks at Hillsborough having not missed a beat, and wonders if the current method of determining a school’s group size is really fair?

Click below to listen to the Week One edition of “The Big Central in Two Minutes”:

North Brunswick moves into top spot in Big Central Media Poll

With a 19-0 win over South Brunswick in its season opener, North Brunswick picked up one more first place vote in the Week One Big Central Media Poll, and the Raiders used it to climb into the top spot.

Sayreville, which got one first place vote last week, fell to fifth after a 14-7 home loss to Phillipsburg in the season opener for both teams. The Stateliners got the other two votes.

It may be up to one or the other to trip up the rest of the way, as North Brunswick and Phillipsburg don’t play each other in the regular season. They’re also in separate playoff supersections, with the Raiders in South 5 and the Liners in North 5; the only way they could meet this year is if both won sectional championship and advanced to the NJSIAA’s first-ever Group Finals.

P’burg got two first place votes, just as they did last week, and came in second, up one spot. Somerville held in third. Hillsborough went up one spot to fourth.

After Sayreville, Hillside – ninth last week – and Ridge – number seven last week – tied for sixth. Edison and Bridgewater-Raritan held at eight and nine, respectively, while Delaware Valley jumped in at 10 after receiving votes last week.

Union, after a 7-6 season-opening loss to Bridgewater, dropped out.

The field of teams with votes also narrowed a bit after the first two weeks of play. The Preseason and Week Zero polls saw 20 teams get votes from the five voting members. This week, that number was down to 17.

Below is the full Week One Media Poll:

Raiders take both first place votes to lead CJSR Week 1 Top Ten

A season-opening 19-0 win over South Brunswick, coupled with a 14-7 Sayreville home loss to Phillipsburg in both teams’ opening games, has given North Brunswick both first place votes, putting them all alone in the No. 1 spot in the Week One Central Jersey Sports Radio Top Ten after being tied with the Bombers a week ago

The Raiders are followed by Somerville – up a spot from third – and two teams tied for third this week: aforementioned Phillipsburg, and Hillsborough, which blew out East Brunswick 42-6 on Thursday night in its season-opener.

Sayreville dropped to fifth with the loss. Three new teams entered the rankings in Week One, the first of them Bridgewater-Raritan, which gutted out a 7-6 road win over Union Friday night in the opener for both teams. The Panthers – who received votes last week – are in sixth.

Hillside held in seventh, while Ridge – despite a win – dropped to eighth.

Then Edison and North Hunterdon – neither of which received votes last week – tied for the ninth spot. Both teams are off to 2-0 starts.

Below are the complete Week One rankings:

Little movement in the Big Central Media Poll, with few teams playing in Week Zero

North Brunswick remained the No. 1 team and the top four teams stayed the same this week in the Big Central Media Poll, with only four teams in the top ten playing in Week Zero.

The Raiders – who again got one first-place vote – were followed by Sayreville and Phillipsburg, each of whom got two first-place votes, but had fewer overall points than North Brunswick. Somerville – which won its opener handily over Mastery Charter H.S. of Camden – pulled up one spot into a fourth-place tie with the Stateliners.

Hillsborough – which did not play – dropped to fourth, followed by Union holding in sixth, Ridge up two to seventh, Edison up two to eighth after a win over defending South 3 regional champion Cedar Creek in the Battle at the Beach in Ocean City Sunday, and Hillside and Bridgewater-Raritan tied for tenth. The Comets didn’t play Week Zero, but the Panthers lost their opener at Passaic Tech Friday and dropped from sixth.

No. 8 St. Thomas Aquinas and No. 10 Cranford – which didn’t play last week – dropped out, but they and eight other teams also received votes.

Below are the complete Week 0 rankings:

From the Midwest to The ‘Ville: Ian Pace doesn’t need to change much to keep the Pioneers’ engine humming

Since Jeff Vanderbeek took over as head coach at the athletic complex that bears his father’s name, Somerville football has been a player, both in its league and statewide.

In his two years as skipper, and the four that followed led by protege Dallas Whitaker, the Pioneers went a combined 57-8, with three state finals appearances and a championship in 2017.

Not too shabby.

But it also means that the new leader of the program won’t have to change much from an expectations standpoint: there’s already a culture of accountability and excellence in The ‘Ville, so much so that Ian Pace can hit the ground running.

Somerville head coach Ian Pace – in the background – watches his players run drills during voluntary summer workouts on August 1, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

Pace knew little of Somerville when he was in the AD’s office on a recruiting trip from Division 3 St. John Fisher up near Rochester, but when he learned there was an opening that day, he suddenly became very interested in the job. Plus, it could be a homecoming for his wife, who – as Samantha Clark – was a Top 100 recruit out of St. Rose in Belmar and played collegiately at Fordham.

Besides the “program” already being in place, there’s talent coming back, too. On offense, big numbers return in the form of the senior duo of quarterback Mike Miller and runningback Hashyn Hobbs-Harris.

Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko got a chance to talk to Ian Pace recently. Click below to listen: