North Jersey, Section 2 - Group 5
#8 Ridge at #1 Westfield (Sat 1 pm)
#7 Bayonne at #2 Piscataway (Sat 1 pm)
#6 Watchung Hills at #3 Bridgewater-Raritan (Fri 7 pm)
#5 Elizabeth at #4 East Orange (Fri 7 pm)
In a normal world, Westfield would be the clear favorite in this section. The Blue Devils have won a New Jersey best 32 straight games, and the last two North 2, Group 5 titles. In each of the past two seasons, Westfield and Bridgewater-Raritan have made it to the finals undefeated. And both times, the Blue Devils have come out on top – but not by much. In 2015, Westfield beat Bridgewater 10-7 up at MetLife Stadium. Back at the Meadowlands, Westfield won the same matchup 15-13.
Westfield gets 8th-seed Ridge in the opening round. And this is an intriguing matchup because the Red Devils lost to the Blue Devils 23-7 early in the season at home. Ridge had quarterback cramping issues in that game, and while they're not an excuse for a defeat, one imagines if Ridge could have gotten an offensive rhythm going, they could have been in this game before a sell-out crowd.
They’re still very good, but their games have been closer this year. And when you add Piscataway to the section – coming over from Central Jersey, Group 5, where they were sectional champs last year – Westfield can’t possibly be the clear favorite. But they can be one of them.
Both the Panthers and Chiefs have to be considered to have just as good a shot to take home the title as Westfield. Even though Bridgewater and Piscataway both have two losses.
The Panthers have only lost to Phillipsburg (8-0) and North Hunterdon (8-1). And despite losing runningback David Usewick to a season-ending injury, junior Anthony Goffe has filled in more than ably in his place. And despite the fact Watchung Hills beat a tough Ridge team in Week 9 for the Warriors' 4th straight win, the Panthers should move on to the semifinals.
As should Piscataway, against the 7th seed Bayonne. I’ll get a chance to see that game tomorrow (as I listen to Chris Carlin call Rutgers-Penn State on the WCTC stream). The Chiefs love those Saturday afternoon playoff games, even though Dominic Ciardi Stadium has lights. Sure, Elijah Barnwell is gone, but Juwon Jackson is solid, and the Piscataway O- and D-lines have been good this year. Their two losses are to Old Bridge and Manalapan. The Knights are in a three-way tie with the Chiefs and South Brunswick for the Red Division title, with each team having lost once (Piscataway to Old Bridge, Old Bridge to South Brunswick, and South Brunswick to Piscataway). Manalapan may be the best public school in the state, even better than Westfield. The Braves have been dominant, so throw that loss out. They should prevail over the Bees, who are 4-5 and have lost three straight.
You have to like the Chiefs, Blue Devils and Panthers in this section.
North Jersey, Section 2 - Group 4
#8 Millburn at #1 Phillipsburg (Fri 7 pm)
#7 Orange at #2 North Hunterdon (Fri 7 pm)
#6 Sayreville at #3 Colonia (Fri 7 pm)
#5 Linden at #4 Irvington (Fri 7 pm)
Phillipsburg and North Hunterdon are the two favorites here, but third-seed Colonia could surprise and make a run to the finals here. Luke Pero has been solid for Colonia, and the Patriots can be explosive. They couldn’t have that success with poor line play, and that will come in handy in this section.
It’ll also come in handy when they host 6th-seed Sayreville. The Bombers are coming off a state championship, but have four losses this season. But two of those losses (to Brick Memorial and Old Bridge) have come by 22-21 scores in overtime, with 2-point conversions being the difference. They also lost 12-6 at home to Piscataway.
Not only is this a fantastic matchup, but it’s a meeting of future GMC White Division foes, as the conference undergoes a realignment next year and adds a lower division (the Gold). Both teams have great line play and can run the ball, but have quarterbacks who can put it in the air.