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:
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.
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.)