NJ football: Darren Cooper's predictions for state semifinals – NorthJersey.com

NJ football: Darren Cooper's predictions for state semifinals – NorthJersey.com

So Westwood-Rutherford is this year’s Clifton-East Orange, right?
I was not covering the game. I was at Old Tappan on Saturday (more on the Golden Knights in a bit) but I saw the video of the two-point play, then the reverse angle of the play, then, of course, the pictures from Rutherford which show why they think their guy scored a touchdown.
The call on the field was that he was short. He may very well have been short. In the pictures Rutherford parents and fans are sharing online, you can’t see a knee down, you don’t know where the ball is exactly. The Clifton touchdown from last year, on the other hand, I think we can all agree was clear.
I will admit though that I was struck by the players’ reaction on the initial play, right? Doesn’t it look like the Westwood kids are slumped and the Rutherford kids are celebrating? Once upon a time I was an official, and you know what you learn in ref school? The players make the calls themselves – a lot.
The players know, that’s why you so often see a hesitancy by officials to make calls. Essentially, they’re waiting for the players to indicate the move and they just confirm it.
So, what about instant replay?
Yes, New Jersey high school football had instant replay for a few years, led by former North Jersey officiating czar Carmine Pichardo. We had it last year in the North Group 5 final, and there was nothing to overturn the East Orange grab-and-go.
The National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) now only allows instant replay for postseason play. I’m told only Alabama is using it.
You can tell me that instant replay is not 100 percent accurate and that’s correct. You can tell me that it undermines the officials on the field, and that’s correct. You can say it’s just high school football, so why would we need to do something like that, and that’s correct too.
I still wish we had it. That’s my opinion. It makes the game better and adds a layer of integrity to the contest. The technology is only going to improve, and when you’re dealing with events that create lifelong memories, why wouldn’t you want to do it?
I don’t know if replay would have been able to tell what happened at the end of the Rutherford-Westwood game. And, trust me, I know the officials work hard and want to get every call right. No one was trying to ‘fix’ the game.
But I just worry that this is going to keep on happening when the technology is out there to help us. New Jersey is a progressive state in so many ways; I wish we could get back on board with instant replay.
We have now reached state semifinal weekend in New Jersey high school football. North Jersey has seven teams left.
This is it. Does North Jersey play the best brand of football in New Jersey? After Sunday night, there will only be 14 teams left playing. How many does North Jersey (Bergen and Passaic counties) need to make that claim? Four. I’m pegging the number at four.
Man, I can’t wait for the state finals. Remember, next Friday is the Non-Public finals and the public school finals are at Rutgers the following weekend.
Westwood at Caldwell, 2 p.m. Saturday at Franklin High School
We focus on Bergen and Passaic counties, so I personally don’t see a lot of Essex County schools. But from everything I have read, seen and heard, Caldwell has been the team in Group 2 all year.
Here is what I know. I knew Newton is really good. Caldwell took the Braves apart pretty easily in the sectional final.
I thought Westwood would beat Rutherford, but thought the win could come a little more comfortably than it did.
But here’s what’s going for the Cardinals right now: They are coming off this incredible, dramatic win over the Bulldogs where they made a play at the end to win the game. Caldwell has only played in one close game the last two years (a three-point win over West Essex in 2021). I’ve seen it happen that a team that has experienced sustained success, but the minute someone doesn’t immediately fold, they get frazzled.
The pick: OK, so that’s the recipe for Westwood to win, hang close, make it a game in the fourth quarter and then make some plays. Will the Cardinals do it? I don’t think so. I like Caldwell to win.
Northern Highlands at North Hunterdon, 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Franklin High School
Can Ramapo and Northern Highlands just play every week, in everything?
I was in the hospital in Philadelphia with Daniel (by the way, the news was all good on him, we don’t have to go back for six months), watching the tweets and wondering why the heck the lights kept going out.
Apparently, Ramapo hadn’t adjusted the app to reset them when the game was moved to Thursday, at least that’s what I was told. By the way, can you imagine the uproar if the lights had popped when the ball was live? We could have used instant replay for that.
When I was at Ramapo last week, I told Green Raiders coach Mike DeFazio that Highlands wouldn’t be intimidated because, much like Bergen-Bosco, Ramapo and Highlands have the same type of kids, the same type of gutty, athletic, run-through-a-wall kids. And it came down to one play at the end.
Highlands has come so far in the last few years. Even this season, they were 1-2, got smushed by Old Tappan and then really probably should have beat Ridgewood, but lost by a point. Coach Dave Cord has done a great job picking up the culture that was created by Greg Russo (give him some credit too) and building on it. I shouldn’t be surprised by Northern Highlands’ success, but I still am.
The pick: My friends tell me that this is a situation where Northern Highlands is just probably the better team. It’s so hard to know, I mean, North Hunterdon is 11-1 and can move the ball on anyone, but Highlands has to feel so confident right now. Plus those seniors remember losing in this round last year to Irvington. Everything just points to Northern Highlands.
Old Tappan vs. West Morris, 11 a.m. Sunday at Franklin High School
I finally got a firsthand look at Old Tappan on Saturday and was struck by something when I was working on the stats after the game. Three Golden Knights handled the football on offense. Three.
But when it works, why stop? Hey, I see this in the NFL too all the time, a team is dominating with a running game, but then, for whatever reason, they decide to start passing, and suddenly they lose momentum and maybe the game.
I went to a football clinic once and saw River Dell coach DJ Nimphius talk about making the game simple. That always stuck with me. Make the game simple and win the game. Isn’t that the goal? That’s the Old Tappan philosophy.
The other thing about Old Tappan is every time a good head coaching job comes up, I tell people Golden Knights assistant Joe Clause needs to be interviewed. He’s the best assistant coach in North Jersey and has been for a long time.
The pick: As much as I liked Old Tappan, I wonder if the Golden Knights have the horses to match up with West Morris, which is going to play the game a lot like the Golden Knights will: run the ball, control the clock. Of all the games on the slate this week, I don’t have a great read on this one, but I think I like West Morris to win.
Passaic Tech vs. West Orange, 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Franklin High School
Rematch alert!
Wouldn’t it be something now, after a lot of drama ,that Passaic Tech finishes the season as the No. 1 team in North Jersey (public school)?
Everything about Passaic Tech screams that they should be a state power and could become a national power. The Bulldogs are 10-2. But they still don’t do anything easy. They beat Clifton by a touchdown, then beat Union City by a touchdown.
Earlier this season, they went on the road and beat West Orange, 12-6, in a typical ugly-grind-it-out game. That’s just the Bulldogs style.
The pick: If you’ve been with me before, you know my rematch theory. In high school football in North Jersey, when Team A beats Team B, it almost always beats Team B the second time. Shoot, I went against the rematch theory last week on Highlands and Ramapo and look how that turned out. I have to go with Passaic Tech to beat the Mountaineers again.
Seton Hall Prep at Don Bosco, Friday, 7 p.m.
Delbarton at Bergen Catholic, Saturday, 1 p.m.
So, I could kind of see Seton Hall Prep beating St. Joseph last week. I feel bad for St. Joe’s, though, and I stand by what I said about them a few weeks ago. They may be New Jersey’s No. 1 team … in 2024.
But Delbarton beating St. Peters Prep? I didn’t see that coming at all.
I will just say that I know that Bergen Catholic still has maybe a little bit of an edge when it comes to Delbarton after that whole COVID situation back in 2020. Bergen Catholic beat Delbarton, 21-6, earlier this year in a game that was close. The thing about the Green Wave is they don’t beat themselves, which puts pressure on Bergen to make plays.
But man, don’t you know Bergen just wants to get back at Bosco? Isn’t it clear now that they are the best two teams? I like Bergen Catholic to win by two touchdowns again.
Coincidentally, two touchdowns was the same margin of victory by Don Bosco over Seton Hall Prep in the regular season (35-21).
Did you know that Bosco’s six-game win streak is the longest the school has had since 2012? That year, it won eight in a row.
I’m picking Don Bosco to beat Seton Hall Prep. It’s destiny that we get Bosco-Bergen again in the state final.
St. Joseph Academy at DePaul, Friday, 7 p.m.
This is the moment for DePaul, right? The Spartans are 5-5. They were 1-4 but have played much better down the stretch, gave Don Bosco a little bit of a goose three weeks ago, but this is the game that determines whether its season is a success or not.
DePaul won’t be favored against Red Bank Catholic if that’s who gets to the final. I know coaches don’t talk like this, they want to win every game, but this was a rebuilding/retooling year for DePaul, and they bring a lot back next year. A state title in 2022 would be sweet, and they could do it, but DePaul has to win this game.
The Wildcats aren’t going to make it easy, but we still live in a football world where North Jersey non-publics are usually better. That’s the reason to go with DePaul on Friday night.

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