Tag: Westfield

North Hunterdon rises to No. 1 in final Top Ten rankings; Lions are CJSR 2022 Team of the Year

CORRECTION: Our initial version of this poll inadvertently omitted Watchung Hills, which tied for third in the poll for 9th place with Westfield and Montgomery. The rest of this story has been updated to correct that omission.

In the final Central Jersey Sports Radio high school football rankings of 2022, North Hunterdon is Number One, and the CJSR Team of the Year.

With just one regular season loss – to Phillipsburg, which finished at No. 2 – the North 2, Group 4 Champion Lions finished the season 11-2, after a loss to Northern Highlands in the Group 4 semifinals this past Saturday, 21-20 in OT at Franklin High School.

Led by the backfield tandem of Kente Edwards and Alex Uryniak, quarterback Luke Martini, and top receivers Derek Vaddis and Danny Delusant – with several of those players also playing critical roles on defense – North Hunterdon won its first state title since 2017, beating Randolph in a finals for the ages, 49-35, a contest which saw the teams explode for a combined 49 points in the final quarter.

The Lions also won the Liberty Silver Division of the Big Central Conference.

Phillipsburg, which was undefeated going into the North 2 Group 4 final, was shocked in the title game by West Orange, 28-7. The American Silver Division champs are 10-1, heading into their Thanksgiving Day battle with Easton.

In third was Edison, the Central Jersey Group 5 champion, which beat Lenape in the title game 28-14 a week ago down in Medford. It was the Eagles’ first title in 31 years, and they finished the season 9-4 with a group of seniors that included several four-year starters, including QB Matt Yascko, wide receiver Malcolm Stansbury, offensive lineman Matthew Bueno, and and kicker/linebacker Selbin Sabio.

Tied for fourth was St. Thomas Aquinas and North Brunswick. The Trojans beat Edison in the regular season, but got knocked out of the playoffs in the opening round by Holy Spirit. Aquinas won the United Gold Division title, and will take a 17-game conference winning streak into the 2023 season, the best in the league. (Phillipsburg and Brearley both have won 11 straight regular season BCC games, the closest teams to Aquinas.

The Raiders finished 8-2, National Silver Division champions. Their lone regular season loss came out-of-division to Cranford, but they lost in the Central 5 semifinals to Edison, after the Eagles scored the game’s final 16 points in a furious comeback in the final five minutes of the game, recovering two on-side kicks and winning on a field goal with :04 left on the clock.

Ridge finished the year 7-3 and came in sixth.

In seventh was Hillside, which finished the season 9-2, tied with Cranford. The Comets were the Patriot Silver Division champions, and their only regular-season loss came to St. Thomas Aquinas in a divisional crossover. They made the North 2, Group 3 finals, but lost to Old Tappan 28-14; the Golden Knights are in the first-ever statewide Group 3 final at Rutgers in two weeks.

Cranford was 7-3, and won the American Gold Division title.

Westfield, Watchung Hills and Montgomery all tied for tenth. The Warriors and Cougars both finished 7-3, while Westfield also is 7-3, but still has to play its Thanksgiving game against Plainfield.

Below are the complete final 2022 Central Jersey Sports Radio High School Football rankings:

Four Big Central teams punch their tickets to sectional title games, Hillside has a Saturday semi

Top-seeds Phillipsburg and North Hunterdon, along with Brearley and Edison, will play for sectional championships next weekend in the NJSIAA state high school football playoffs, after winning semifinal games Friday night.

Hillside, the ninth team that advanced int he first round, still has to play a semifinal game in North 1, Group 3, as the second-seeded Comets host third-seed River Dell at Conant Street Park at 1:00 Saturday afternoon.

In North 2, Group 5 action, Phillipsburg remained undefeated with a 30-7 win over fourth-seed Paterson Eastside at Maloney Stadium. Click here for a recap and audio from the Phillipsburg game.

In North 1, Group 5, third-seed Westfield saw its season come to an end with a 20-14 loss at second-seed Union City.

In Central, Group 5, sixth-seed Edison stunned second-seed North Brunswick, 33-31 on two touchdowns and a field goal, all in the final four minutes, aided by two onside kick recoveries. Click here to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with reporter Chris Tsakonas, who was at the game, and had postgame reaction.

In North 2, Group 4 – in a game heard live on Central Jersey Sports Radio, North Hunterdon fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter to visiting 5th-seed Morris Knolls, but came back to win 25-14. Click here for a full recap and postgame reaction with Mike Pavlichko.

Meanwhile, in North 1, Group 4, third-seed Ridge was eliminated with a 34-27 loss at second-seed Ramapo.

In North 2, Group 3, Cranford was knocked out, as the 2nd-seeded Cougars lost 14-7 at third-seed West Essex.

And in North 1, Group 1, Brearley made it to its first final since 2015 as the fourth-seeded Bears ran past 8th-seed Kinnelon, 45-14 in Kenilworth. Click here for postgame reaction form head coach Scott Miller and quarterback Matt Sims.

Here are Friday’s results in the sections with teams remaining:

North 2, Group 5:
#1 Phillipsburg def. #4 Eastside (Paterson), 37-0
#6 West Orange def. #2 Ridgewood, 34-31 (2OT)
Final: #6 West Orange at #1 Phillipsburg, Friday at 7 pm

North 1, Group 5:
#1 Passaic Tech def. #4 Clifton, 21-14
#2 Union City def. #3 Westfield, 20-14
Final: #2 Union City at #1 Passaic Tech, Friday at 7 pm

Central Group 5:
#1 Lenape def. #5 Atlantic City, 21-20
#6 Edison def. #2 North Brunswick, 33-31
Final: #6 Edison at #1 Lenape, Friday at 7 pm

South Group 5:
#1 Toms River North def. #5 Marlboro, 42-6
#2 Kingsway def. #3 Cherokee, 41-14
Final: #2 Kingsway at #1 Toms River North, Friday at 7 pm

North 2, Group 4:
#1 North Hunterdon def. #5 Morris Knolls, 25-14
#2 Randolph def. #3 Wayne Valley, 31-28
Final: #2 Randolph at #1 North Hunterdon, Friday at 7 pm

North 1, Group 4:
#4 Northern Highlands def. #1 Irvington, 17-14
#2 Ramapo def. #3 Ridge, 17-13
Final: #4 Northern Highlands at #2 Ramapo

North 2, Group 3:
#1 West Morris def. #5 Warren Hills, 49-15
#3 West Essex def. #2 Cranford, 14-7
Final: #3 West Essex at #1 West Morris

North 1, Group 3:
#1 Old Tappan def. #4 Sparta, 37-14
#3 River Dell at #2 Hillside, Saturday at 1 pm

North 2, Group 1:
#4 Brearley def. #8 Kinnelon, 45-14
#2 Mountain Lakes def. #3 Waldwick, 27-21
Final: #4 Brearley at #2 Mountain Lakes, Friday at 7 pm

North 1, Group 1:
#4 Cedar Grove def. #1 Wood-Ridge, 17-10
#2 Weequahic def. #3 Butler, 45-28
Final: #4 Cedar Grove at #2 Weequahic, Friday at 7 pm

Every Big Central team in this week’s sectional semifinals can get to a title game: We explain how

With nine public schools from the Big Central Conference remaining in the state playoffs – and just one win away from a sectional final – we think all of them have a good chance to make it to a championship game and play for a title.

Of course, the road won’t end there. For the first time ever, the NJSIAA has football playing down to group championships. So anyone who wins a sectional title in 2022 will go on to the group semifinals the week before Thanksgiving. North 1 and North 2 winners in each group will play locally at Franklin High School, while South and Central winners in each group will play at Cherokee High School in Burlington County, about 15 minutes East of the Turnpike in the Cherry Hill area.

The Group Championships are two weeks later, the first week of December, at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium in Piscataway.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, here’s each team’s path to the sectional finals:

#1 Phillipsburg (9-0) vs. #4 Paterson Eastside (6-3): North 2, Group 5 semifinals, Friday 7 pm

The top-seeded Stateliners have been dominant all season long. Since a 14-7 Week One win at Sayreville, they have not won a game by fewer than two touchdowns, and have an average margin of victory of 25 points. Any concerns how a talented group that wasn’t entirely the “A” team last year certainly has been washed away by this season’s performance.

READ MORE: “Score early, score often” is the recipe for success as Phillipsburg cruises past Elizabeth for first round playoff win

The fact that P’burg is balanced also makes them less vulnerable to a team that can shut down one player. Xavier Moore leads a ground game that has rushed for 1,804 yards and 26 touchdowns with 627 yards and seven scores of his own. But junior Caleb Rivera – who should get the bulk of the carries next year when Moore graduates – has 427 yards and seven scores, while Jinior John Wargo has 336 yards and five touchdowns, and QB Jett Genovese – just a sophomore – has rushed for 252 yards and 6 touchdowns. Plus, five receivers have at least 120 yards, including top catcher Matthew Scerbo, Jr.

Paterson Eastside has played some good teams, but their schedule is not nearly as challenging as Phillipsburg’s. You’d be hard-pressed for us to find a team we think can beat the Stateliners this year – and that may include Easton on thanksgiving.

For the record, the program’s last undefeated season was in 2005, when the ‘Liners went 12-0 under Bob Stem, beating Easton on Turkey Day, and Piscataway the following weekend in the North 2, Group 5 championship game, a win that stopped the Chief’s three-year reign as sectional champions, the first of which came in Joe Kuronyi’s last season as head coach at P’way.

#3 Westfield (7-2) at #2 Union City (8-1): North 1, Group 5 semifinals, Friday at 7 pm

This may be the challenging game for a Big Central team this weekend. Not taking anything away from anyone else’s opponents, but just the style of play is different from what Westfield sees in the Big Central, particularly the type of teams on its schedule. Not to mention Roosevelt Stadium (a.k.a. the Eagles’ Nest) is on the roof of the high school!

Altitude issues aside (just kidding), Union City can pour on points like nobody’s business. They have scored 45 or more points four times this year, beating Union in the opening round of the playoffs 62-20 (Westfield beat them 21-14 in Week Two) and routed Livingston 66-7 on September 9.

READ MORE: Westfield uses ground game and its usual stellar defense to top Bridgewater-Raritan

Last week, the Blue Devils made some early mistakes and fell behind against Bridgewater-Raritan. They were able to recover, but that may not be possible against Union City. Westfield not only will have to avoid early mistakes, but avoid them almost entirely.

READ MORE: Westfield’s Wragg wants Blue Devils to have success he saw growing up

They’ll need a mix of the run and pass game from guys like runningback Dylan Wragg and dual-threat QB Trey Brown, son of former Giants quarterback Dave Brown. And they’ll need to keep fresh on D. The Soaring Eagles run the Wing-T, and don’t bust a lot of big plays. Time of possession could be a factor here, and the best Westfield defense is a good offense that can keep Union City off the field.

#6 Edison (7-3) at #2 North Brunswick (8-1): Central Group 5 semifinals, Friday at 7 pm

These two teams have played some epic games over the years, with North Brunswick winning all five coached by Mike Cipot. Edison’s looking for its first title since 1991, and the Raiders are looking for their first ever, but having made two finals in the last four Playoff years – 2018 and 2021 – losing an epic in its own right, 6-0 at Sayreville in 2018, as the Bombers went on to win the South 5 “bowl game” that year.

READ MORE: Edison-North Brunswick rivalry is a friends and family affair as they meet again, this time for a chance at a title

All that aside, the last time out was on September ninth in Edison, a 13-10 win for North Brunswick. But Edison QB Matt Yascko was out that game – for a second straight week – with a broken nose, while top receiver Malcolm Stansbury also missed the game due to injury. Getting those two back could be a difference-maker if there wasn’t always some other storyline surrounding the game. This is one where anything can happen.

READ MORE: Edison guts one out at Hillsborough, knocking off defending Central Jersey Group 5 champs on the road

For Edison to move on to the sectional final (it would be a surprise if it weren’t on the road at Lenape next week) they’ll need Yascko – in his fourth season as a starter – to have one of his big games. The kid is a leader, and his team will follow. But he’s also 0-3 against North Brunswick. (He didn’t start the game against the Raiders his freshman year; that was Lucas Loffredo, whose injury later that season opened the door for Yascko to be the No. 1 QB.)

Remember that 50-49 win at the end of the COVID season over Hillsborough? Yascko ran in a two-point conversion for the lead as the Eagles went for the jugular. That’s the kind of performance Edison needs.

READ MORE: North Brunswick tops Hunterdon Central in a shootout, will face another Big Central team in CJ5 semis

And while Edison has a very good defense and can get after the QB, Frankie Garbolino will pilot the offense. He’s another leader, and a champion – playing on the Raiders’ GMC Tournament winner last year – and he and the offense will put up some points. North’s D will have to continue playing at the high level it’s played at all year long, and clean up any mistakes they made two weeks ago in the regular season finale against Cranford – where they allowed a season-high 34 points – and in last week’s opening round win over Hunterdon Central, a 45-31 win. That’s an average of 32.5 points per game allowed in the last two contests. In the first seven games of the year, North Brunswick had three shutouts, allowed an average of 5.9 points, and had three shutouts. That’s the form they’ll need against the Eagles.

#1 North Hunterdon (9-1) vs. #5 Morris Knolls (7-2): North 2, Group 5 semifinals, Friday at 7 pm (on CJSR – click here to listen live)

One might have wondered when Kente Edwards got banged up against Colonia how the Lions would fair with only one of their two-headed monster backs on the turf at a time.

Just fine, thank you.

In fact, North Hunterdon has tightened up defensively, allowing more than a touchdown only once since then, in a 21-14 road win over a good Montgomery team. They’ve held six of their ten opponents to a single touchdown, and their only loss is to Phillipsburg, a team they won’t have a chance to see in the playoffs, being in different groups.

READ MORE: North Hunterdon keeps winning, as Lions cruise past Middletown North in North 2, Group 4 opening round

And Alex Uryniak has more than held up his end of the bargain. He’s now rushed for 900 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season, including 169 yards and two scores – his first multi-TD game of the year – at Montgomery, and a career high 264 yards and three touchdowns the following week against Woodbridge. Now, he did go for under 100 in the next two games, but they didn’t really need all that much, and relied a little more on the passing game in a 35-7 win in the regular season finale over Voorhees and a 34-7 opening round playoff win over 8th-seed Middletown North.

I’d count on the offense doing what it does, and even a bit more of Edwards’ presence. The question is the defense.

The key for North Hunterdon will be stopping the “Houston veer” option offense, which can really take advantage if a team is not disciplined. Sure, the Lions have lost to Morris Knolls in their last two matchups. But the first of those was the opener of the 2020 season, and a game scheduled within a day, essentially, after a last-minute COVID cancellation, something that happened fairly frequently that year all across New Jersey. Preparing for this offense takes more than a day. That game was a 35-14 loss, and they met again to open last season, with the Lions falling 35-21. They narrowed the gap, and this year’s North Hunterdon team is better, hungry and extremely focused. If the defense can learn from last year’s game and be prepared, the the offense keeps doing what it does, North Hunterdon will be in its first final since it won it all in 2017 over – of all teams – Phillipsburg.

#3 Ridge (7-2) at #2 Ramapo (7-2): North 1, Group 4 semifinals, Friday at 6:30 pm

Both these teams can score, but Ridge has had a better defense, at least in its wins. In the Red Devils’ seven victories, they have allowed a grand total of 24 points, but in their two losses allowed 49. They turned it over early, particularly in the air, but one could also say that had something to do with the teams they faced: Phillipsburg and Hillsborough, the only two squads to beat Ridge this year. They have pitched three shutouts, and no one has scored more than a touchdown against them in any of their wins.

READ MORE: Ridge pounds Roxbury to move on in North 1, Group 4 playoffs

That allows their offense the opportunity to produce, and produce they do. Junior Will Deady has rushed for 1,071 yards and 14 touchdowns, while quarterback Jack Berisha has passed for 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns. While he has thrown seven interceptions, six of them came against P’burg and ‘Boro; he threw one more in a 35-7 win over Hunterdon Central, and has been flawless since – a streak of five games without a pick.

READ MORE: Deady has helped Ridge dominate since 1-2 start, as Red Devils seek first title game berth since 2013

Valuing the ball will be key for Berisha and Ridge, and then stopping Ramapo, which has racked up 2,263 passing yards behind the arm of junior QB Landon DePrima, who has found seven different receivers this year to the tune of at least 100 yards each. On the ground, they’ve rushed for another 1,562 behind a blanaced attack led by senior runningback Ethan Morgan. The Red Devils’ need to keep the ball out of Ramapo’s hands, and get it into the end zone. Eating some time off the clock wouldn’t hurt either.

#2 Cranford (7-2) vs. #3 West Essex (6-3): North 2, Group 3 semfinals, Friday at 7 pm

Cranford and Hillsborough were the only two Big Central teams to win championships last year, and both graduated a ton of talent. Yet both were looking in contention for another trophy this year. That is, until the Raiders suffered a couple of quarterback injuries to backup Tyler VanCleef, then starter Ryan Tasetanoi,and were down to their third string quarterback, sophomore Alex Reiling.

Cranford suffered no such bad luck, and could very well be back in a final for the second straight year. Their only two losses are to a pair of the Big Central’s top teams: North Hunterdon and St. Thomas Aquinas. And they knocked off state-ranked North Brunswick, 34-14, on Cutoff Weekend, depriving the Raiders of a top seed in the South Group 5 supersection.

How’d they do it? With homegrown talent that grew up playing together all through youth football, just like last year’s team did. And a coach – in Erik Rosnemeier – who encourages his players to participate in multiple sports. (It’s really more of a blessing than a curse!)

Shane VanDam threw for over 1,500 yards last year, while Colin Murray rushed for over 2,100 and a state-best 31 touchdowns. And though no one has Murray’s number’s, this year’s Cranford team has more of a ground game, albeit more balanced, and that can make them extra dangerous. It starts with their quarterback, Liam Godwin – a bit player last year with 166 receiving yards – good for fourth on the Cougars – who has moved to quarterback and proved a dual threat. While he doesn’t have gaudy stats, you just don’t know what he’s going to do with the ball; he’s thrown for 750 yards and five touchdowns, but rushed it for 866 – to lead the team – and 14 trips into the end zone. Cranford has three – yes, three! – runningbacks with over 600 yards, including senior Shane Kanterman (772, 9 TDs) and Ryan Lynskey (636, 7 TDs). Such balance and mystery has been the key to the Cougars’ success.

READ MORE: Cranford a win away from another title game after 31-7 opening round playoff win over visiting Wayne Hills

Their opponent Friday night has three very good losses: at Wayne Valley, to Caldwell and at West Morris, teams that are a combined 29-0, and they will be a challenge, no doubt. There’s never been a truer cliche: Cranford just needs to play Cranford football.

#2 Hillside (8-1) vs. #3 River Dell (5-4) : North 1, Group 3 semifinals, Saturday at 1 pm

Sometimes you’d rather be lucky than good, but fortunately Hillside is both. The Comets – who are playing up in Group Three this year, don’t forget – had to pull one out last week to beat seventh-seed Parsippany Hills and Conant Street Park last Saturday afternoon in the first round. But they were good enough to score the game’s final 19 points to survive and advance to this week’s semifinals, getting another home game to boot.

It all starts with a pair of thousand-yard rushers from last year, Syracuse-bound Muffawaq Parkman and Army-bound Kyon Simonson. Yet, it was someone else, Darvens Tunis, whose 44-yard touchdown catch gave Hillside the lead, after they thought they had the game tied up at 28, but didn’t as Par Hills blocked the PAT.

READ MORE: Hillside scores 19 unanswered to top Parsippany Hills in a wild one in North 1, Group 3 first round

River Dell has been a bit of a mystery this season. They were just .500 heading into the playoffs, and have a loss to the top-seed in this section, Old Tappan. But they also have losses to 4-5 Parsippany Hills and 3-6 Pascack Valley, while also losing to unbeaten Westwood (9-0). So go figure this one.

We’ll try. Put it this way: for all the offense Hillside has, this one may come down to denfense. They have pitched three shutouts on the season, and held two others to a single touchdown.They are 7-1 when holding the opposition to under 21 points, which isn’t really a big ask, all things considered. In their only loss, St. Thomas Aquinas only needed 17 points in a 17-7 win, but River Dell’s D is not nearly as good. They’re allowing 26 points a game, and only twice have they allowed fewer than 15 points. But those have come in the last two games: seven by Paramus in the regular season finale, and 14 last week in the opening round to 6th-seed Vernon, which was a season low for the Vikings.

#4 Brearley (9-0) vs. #8 Kinnelon (6-3): North 2, Group 1 semifinals, Friday at 7 pm

I’ve never understood teams that root for the 8-seed in an 8/1 game, figuring that team will be the easier one. Quite the opposite, they scare me. Anyone who can knock off a No. 1 seed in the playoffs scares me, because they’re playing good football. It’s hard to get that lucky, especially in either of two brackets that are snaked, because you’re really talking about the 1/16 or 2/15 game, and – in general – there’s a bigger disparity.

That said, Brearley head coach Scott Miller surely will have his team respecting 8th-seed Kinnelon, which knocked off top-seed Pequannock last weekend. Miller told CJSR he was all ready with buses on cue if they needed them; now the Bears get an unexpected home game.

READ MORE: Brearley rides Sims – surprise, surprise – to 9th straight win, and into North 2, Group 1 semifinals

It starts and ends with Matt Sims for the undefeated Bears. He has thrown for a modest 803 yards and seven touchdowns, with fellow senior Brendan Fitzsimmons his top target – 589 yards and four touchdowns – but has run it to the tune of 1,156 yards and 23 scores this season. (By the way, Sims – a two-way player – also has four interceptions on defense.)

Kinnelon is a tough nut to crack. There’s not a lot of history, with head coach Dustin Grande in his first year at the helm, but they play a ball control offense, run by his son, Zach. The Colts have gotten stronger as the season progressed, starting 2022 with a 2-3 mark, but winning their last three regular season games, in addition to their playoff opener. They won’t be intimidated on the road either; we saw that last week. But Park Ridge is not Brearley, although only two of their six wins came against teams below .500, so they’ve played a good schedule.

Westfield’s Wragg wants Blue Devils to have success he saw growing up

From 2015 to 2017, Westfield went 36-0, and won three straight North Jersey, Section 2, Group 5 championships, all at MetLife Stadium and all coming over Bridgewater-Raritan.

Dylan Wragg say those games as a kid, and now – as a senior – has a chance to go out that way – as a champ – if his team can win two more games.

The first of those two comes Friday night, when the third-seeded Blue Devils (7-2) visit 6-seed Union City (8-1) in the North 1, Group 5 semifinals. The winner will play either top-seed Passaic Tech or fourth-seed Clifton.

Wragg is the leading rusher on the team, with 929 yards and nine touchdowns, while senior quarterback Trey Brown – the son of one0time Giants QB Dave Brown – runs the offense well, going 51-for-121 on the season with 648 yards and five TDs.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko talk with Westfield senior runningback Dylan Wragg about his season, growing up with football, and watching the Blue Devils of the mid-2010s win back-to-back-to-back championships:

Who’s the “strongest” team in the Big Central? It’s a playoff team, but (maybe) not who you think

Phillipsburg is the No. 1 team in the latest Central Jersey Sports Radio and Big Central Media polls, which won’t be conducted again until the season is over for every league team, but in unofficial Strength Index numbers calculated by CJSR, the Stateliners are No. 2.

Who’s at the top of the list?

It’s Ridge, and if you’ve been sleeping on the Red Devils, apparently you should do so at your own peril.

While P’burg has gotten a lot of ink this year – and deservedly so – as has North Brunswick’s defense and St. Thomas Aquinas continuing to win (17 Big Central games and counting) despite a big bump up in quality of schedule, Ridge has done well, but it may have been the way they started.

The Red Devils’ first win was over Monroe, 48-0 in the season opener. The Falcons ended up the year 2-7. Ridge then lost to Phillipsburg – as everyone has this year – and Hillsborough, before they ended up on their third string quarterback. So, they were 1-2, with good losses, but unclear how good they may have actually been.

Since then, they’ve won six straight, including a playoff-opening win over Roxbury, and in that span have allowed a grand total of 24 points, with two shutouts, and never more than seven points in a game against Hunterdon Central, Bridgewater-Raritan, South Brunswick, Westfield, Union and Roxbury last weekend.

This Friday night, 3rd-seed Ridge travels to 2nd-seed Ramapo for a North 1, Group 4 semifinal game. Both teams are 7-2.

Phillipsburg is second in the current Big Central Strength Index rankings, followed by Cranford third and St. Thomas Aquinas fourth. Statewide, the Trojans are third among Non-Public South B teams, but seeded fifth, behind Holy Spirit and DePaul, which are behind Aquinas in Strength Index. The Trojans also finished first in power points and fourth in OSI.

North Hunterdon is fifth in the Big Central in Strength Index, followed by Hillside, Watchung Hills, Edison, Westfield and North Brunswick to round out the top ten.

All but Watchung Hills remain alive in the playoffs, while Aquinas opens the postseason this weekend at 4th-seed Holy Spirit.

The only Big Central playoff teams not in the top ten in league Strength Index are Brearley and St. Joseph-Metuchen.

The Bears are 11th, while the Falcons are 18th.

Below are the complete, current, and unofficial rankings based on SI value, as calculated by Central Jersey Sports Radio:

“The Big Central in 2 Minutes” – Playoff Edition: Nine Advance, Aquinas Snub

After the opening round of the high school football state playoffs, just nine area teams remain. But as veteran sportscaster Mike Pavlichko explains in “The Big Central in Two Minutes,” any of them could win a title. And then there are the Non-Public brackets, with 8-1 St. Thomas Aquinas getting passed over for a top four seed, despite ranking No. 1, No. 4 and No. 3 in the NJSIAA’s metrics. What gives?

Click below to listen to the First Round Playoff edition of “The Big Central in 2 Minutes”:

Westfield uses ground game and its usual stellar defense to top Bridgewater-Raritan, move on to North 1, Group 5 semis

The Westfield defense might not hold its next opponent to seven points.

But they did in the first round of the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 5 playoffs, as the 3rd-seeded Blue Devils topped 6th-seed Bridgewater-Raritan Saturday afternoon at Kehler Stadium in Westfield, 28-7.

Dylan Wragg rushed for 163 yards and a touchdown, while quarterback Trey Brown rushed for another 123 yards and two scores ,also throwing a touchdown pass. The Panther offense was held to just 107 yards of total offense, 53 on the ground and 54 through the air.

Defense has been a calling card of Westfield for years under Jim DeSarno. And Saturday afternoon was no exception. It’s the fifth time this season the Blue Devils (7-2) have held an opponent to 12 points or fewer, while they also have two shutouts.

Bridgewater falls to 4-6, having played one of the toughest schedules in the entire Big Central Conference.

Next up for Westfield is second-seed Union City, which plays on the roof of its Hudson County high school. The 2nd-seeded Soaring Eagles – now 8-1 – beat 7th-seed Union at home Friday night 62-20 to make it to their ninth sectional semifinal since 2010.

Westfield is looking to make it to a sectional finals for the first time 2017, when they won the last of three in a row, all over Brigdewater-Raritan, in a stretch that saw the Blue Devils go 36-0 from 2015 to 2017.

Click below for postgame reaction from Chris Taskonas who was in Westfield for today’s game:

Senior RB Dylan Wragg

Head coach Jim DeSarno

Piscataway, Cranford debut in CJSR’s Week 8 Top Ten, while Phillipsburg remains No. 1

Three top ten teams going down in Week 8 play opened the door for two new teams to enter the rankings this week, one of whom knocked off one of the final four remaining unbeaten teams in the Big Central Conference.

Cranford’s 34-14 home win over previously-unbeaten and No. 2 North Brunswick knocked the Raiders down two pegs in the Week 8 Central Jersey Sports Radio Top Ten, while also getting the Cougars in at No. 7, tied with Watchung Hills, in the final rankings before the postseason is concluded. Our next Top Ten will come out at the end of the season.

Piscataway also made its debut, the Chiefs’ first appearance ever in a CJSR poll, after not playing in our inaugural season due to COVID, and going 0-8 last season in their first season back. Head coach Dan Higgins has helped get his team to 6-2 heading into the postseason for the first time since 2019.

Phillipsburg remained No. 1, getting both first-place votes.

Below are the full Week 8 rankings:

North Group 5 Playoff Analysis: Phillipsburg appears locked in as overall top seed

Cutoff Weekend is just a few days away, and we’re taking a look at every team in the Big Central to see where we think they’ll end up in the playoffs.

We’re not looking at tiebreakers just yet, we’re looking at where we think teams will fall in the top 16. Tune in to our Playoff Projection show Saturday at 6 pm on Central Jersey Sports Radio for all our unofficial pairings.

Below is our analysis, with each team’s current ranking in the UPR standings noted.

(Click here for official standings on Gridiron New Jersey)

#1 Phillipsburg: Even if the Stateliners were to suffer their first defeat of the season this week at winless East Brunswick, we believe they would still be the overall top seed. That’s even if Passaic Tech, Ridgewood, Clifton, Union City, Westfield and Watchung Hills all win behind them, and assuming all those teams get all possible residuals. Phillipsburg would be the top-seed in the North 2, Group 5 section.

#5 Watchung Hills: Can the Warriors make the top four, which would get them one of the No. 2 seeds in the sectionals and first-round through at least the sectional semis? We thought so, but they’d have to beat Elizabeth Friday night at home, and would need losses by Union City and Clifton – who, unfortunately for Watchung Hills, play each other. A loss, and they could drop as low in seven. We project they’ll be a top eight finish, meaning they will at least open up the playoffs at home.

#7 Westfield: The Blue Devils can get no higher than sixth place overall, which is still good for a top eight finish. That’s even with losses by the teams above them. If they lose, they might be able to finish in the top eight, but if things break the wrong way, they could drop as low as No. 9, meaning they’d start the playoffs on the road as a five-seed.

#8 Piscataway: We think the Chiefs top out at No. 8 if they beat New Brunswick in their finale this Friday afternoon at home – a good possibility – and they get losses from Eastside, East Orange and Bridgewater. It looks like all four need to happen, or else they’ll be a nine or lower and start the playoffs on the road.

#11 Bridgewater-Raritan: The Panthers could reach as high as No. 8 overall, even if Piscataway wins Friday, since New Brunswick is a weaker opponent than Old Bridge. But they would need some help. The Panthers would have to not only beat the Knights at Basilone Field Friday night, but also get losses from West Orange, East Orange, Eastside (Paterson) and Montclair. Ultimately, wherever they end up, if Briddgewater and P’way both win, we think the Panthers move higher because of the strength of their opponent.

#14 Union: Our initial inkling was that Union was a likely playoff team, and we still hold to that. If they beat Ridge Friday night, they’re in, and could finish as high as 11 overall if they also get losses from Montclair, Bridgewater-Raritan, and Piscataway. If they lose, it looks like wins from Elizabeth and Bayonne would send them outside the top 16, and into the consolation tournament, a new feature this year.

#16 Elizabeth: We think if the Minutemen can win at Watchung Hills Friday night – no easy task, mind you – they’re in, due to the strength of their opponent. And if Bloomfield, Bayonne, Columbia, Morristown, Montclair and Dickinson all lose, they could end up anywhere from 16 to 14 overall. Those six teams probably won’t all lose, though. In fact, Bayonne losing to North Bergen (0-7) would be a shocker in and of itself. So, they probably end up in one of the last two spots. What if they lose? We think that will leave them out, because the only way they could get in is if Bayonne loses to North Bergen.

All but Phillipsburg, North Brunswick shuffle in latest CJSR Top Ten

Phillipsburg again got both first place votes, and North Brunswick is No. 2 again, but the rest of the Week 8 Central Jersey Sports Radio Top Ten got all mixed up after three ranked teams went down this weekend, with two losing to unranked – but talented teams.

Unranked Piscataway was a 14-8 winner at No. 6 Sayreville Friday night in the Big Central Game of the Week, earning the Chiefs a vote for the first time ever in three years of the poll. (Piscataway did not play during the 2020 COVID year.) Third-ranked Hillsborough lost at unranked Somerville 35-14, as the Pioneers’ seemed sparked by offensive line coach Matt Bloom taking over as head coach from Ian Pace. And Fifth-ranked Ridge beat No. 10 Westfield at home, 31-3.

The upshot was that the bottom nine teams (there were two tied for tenth – Watchung Hills and Edison – got shuffled around, while Sayreville dropped out. And three teams also received votes: Piscataway, Sayreville and Colonia.

Below are the complete Week 8 Central Jersey Sports Radio rankings: