With the Greater Middlesex Conference ending its scheduling agreement with the Shore Conference, a new series of games will be popping up on schedules across Central Jersey this fall. The GMC is partnering with the Mid-State 37 Conference, which will mean some new - and maybe renewed - rivalries.
Overall, there will be 14 meetings between GMC teams and Mid-State 37 squads from Somerset County. But only 12 of those are due to the new scheduling arrangement, since Franklin-Piscataway and South Plainfield-North Plainfield are traditional Thanksgiving Day games anyhow.
Here are some of the highlights:
Hillsborough at Colonia - Friday, August 31: The crossovers will kick off in Week Zero, with seven teams in action this year on that quasi-Opening Weekend. That's the most ever from Central Jersey, but in part because of the new playoff format that will take place this year. There's no more Week 9, cutoff weekend is one week sooner, and the playoffs start the first weekend in November. This will be the first-ever meeting between Hillsborough and Colonia, which both began football around the same time (Colonia in 1967, Hillsborough in 1970).
Carteret at Rahway - Friday, October 5: This one is an intriguing matchup for many reasons. First, there's the obvious: the geography, since the two towns border each other. They've also met 22 times, but only once going back to the early 80s. The Ramblers beat the Indians 19-14 in the mud in the 2007 Central Jersey Group 2 semifinals, en route to a state championship win over Rumson. But their last meeting before that came in 1981. Rahway leads the series 12-8 with 2 ties, and the first meeting was 1926. This one also has our interest because Rahway's head coach is a former GMC head man. Brian Russo was 48-45 in 9 seasons at Woodbridge. There, he only coached once against Matt Yascko and Carteret, a 21-14 defeat at "The Pit" on Halloween in 2008.
Immaculata at St. Joseph - Saturday, October 6: The Spartans are one of those Somerset County programs steeped in tradition, and will be led by first-year head coach Mike Columbo, who takes over for the retired Tom Falato. St. Joseph is led by second-year head coach Rich Hilliard and coming off an undefeated regular season, the Falcons second straight and third in just seven varsity seasons. And it's the first time these two teams will meet on the gridiron. St. Joe's and Bishop Ahr met each year from 2012-2015 when they were in the GMC White Division together, but that rivalry didn't continue when the Trojans petitioned to play down in the Blue Division the last two seasons. With the league's realignment, Joe's is down to the Blue, but Ahr drops to the Gold. This could be the start of a beautiful rivalry.
Bridgewater-Raritan at Piscataway - Friday, October 12: A rematch of a North Jersey, Section2, Group 5 semifinal game from last fall at Ciardi Stadium, this should be another good one. In a game that figured to be a toss-up, with the Chiefs maybe being a slight favorite, the Panthers dominated. That got them to the sectional final for the third year in a row against undefeated Westfield. Alas, B-R lost for the third straight year to the Blue Devils. This could be a big regular season game, depending on whether the NJSIAA shuffles either of these teams back into Central Jersey or keeps them in North 2. It's also part of a brutal stretch for Piscataway, because....
Piscataway at Westfield - Saturday, October 27: The Chiefs will close their regular season with games against a playoff finalist, a sectional semifinalist and a three-time sectional semifinal champ that will have not lost a game in 1,385 days by the time they kickoff September 7th. Westfield has gone undefeated the last three seasons, beating Bridgewater-Raritan in the finals each time. Some believed the Chiefs were the team with the best shot to knock off Westfield last year. Thanks to the Panthers, we never got to find out. Westfield has a tough schedule this year. They'll play St. Joe's-Metuchen for the first time (at home). They host Old Bridge in a crossover. They have to go to Phillipsburg. If (after?) they get through all that, a win over Piscataway - which would top off a fourth straight undefeated season - might be the feather in the Blue Devils' cap.