Some high school football teams roll into the state final after leveling every team in their path all season long.
Not Madison or Chatham.
Both schools are headed to state championship games later this week. Both had some very strong performances with some trouble sprinkled along the way.
Both have this in common: They are playing terrific football and most certainly belong in the finals.
And they have what it takes to win it all against undefeated opponents.
Madison (9-2) will travel to MetLife Stadium Thursday night, when the Dodgers will face Rutherford (10-0) for the North 2 Group II championship at 5 p.m.
Chatham (9-2) will head down to Kean University Friday night, when the Cougars will meet Cranford (11-0) for the North 2 Group III title at 7 p.m.
Chatham performed well during the summer months, going 24-4 and reaching the semifinals in two 7-on-7 passing tournaments held at William Paterson and Kean universities.
“We knew we had playmakers and a huge offensive line,” quarterback Alex Sands said. “All the pieces were there.”
Still, the Cougars had struggled in recent years — they had a 23-game losing streak snapped just last year — so would everything materialize? Well, everything came together perfectly in a resounding 45-6 victory over West Essex in the North 2 Group III semifinals on Saturday.
Chatham is peaking at just the right time. The team scored on the final play of the game to win its opener at Randolph, 25-22 but then lost a 48-13 decision to Sparta in Week 2.
The Cougars then rolled through the soft underbelly of the NJAC-American, beating High Point (47-0), Montville (29-6), Morris Hills (34-7) and Vernon (20-0), before losing to Pope John (34-17).
The Cougars qualified for the playoffs by going to Parsippany Hills and winning on the road (24-17).
Two weeks ago, they crushed Barringer on the road, (31-6).
Heading into West Essex, Chatham coach Jason Isza was willing to give a little yardage here and there but to limit any big gainers.
“We didn’t want to give them any big gains,” Isza said. “Two or three yards per carry would be fine. Then the offense scored and we held them. Then we scored again and we held them.”
On and on it went, until Isza’s team had a can-you-believe-this 45-point bulge on West Essex on the way to a shockingly easy win.
Madison, meanwhile, has enjoyed a bit of a roller-coaster ride this year. The Dodgers enter the final with an eight-game winning streak.
The Dodgers have experienced both the highs and the lows this year.
They began the year by thumping two-time defending North 2 Group II champion Mountain Lakes (33-6), which had come in riding a New Jersey-high 24-game winning streak.
Madison’s imposing defensive front completely overwhelmed Mountain Lakes in winning its opener.
But in the following weeks, the luster from the opening victory was completely lost.
In Week 2, Madison fell behind Lenape Valley by 17 points on the way to a 23-15 loss. The following week, Madison surrounded almost 400 yards of offense on the way to a 42-41 loss at Butler.
Since then, the Dodgers defense has been about as good as any in Morris County. They have reeled off eight straight wins, including a 14-7 win at Lenape Valley in a rematch of the first game.
Madison won three straight sectional titles with coach Chris Kubik at the helm from 2010-12. The Dodgers were undefeated each time and won in various ways. They won with speed and finesse in some weeks and in others with power and muscle.
This year’s team might not be undefeated but they have proven themselves to be resilient.
Bleak Playoffs for National Publics. The public schools in the NJAC-National are usually terrific but that simply wasn’t the case this year. Roxbury, Morris Knolls, and West Morris were good-not-great and overmatched in the first round of the playoffs last week.
For the second straight year, Roxbury had a powerful, wide-open offense but struggled against a more physical opponent in the postseason. In the first game of the playoffs, Roxbury was pushed around on both sides of the ball in a 35-14 home loss to Wayne Hills. Last year, the Gaels dropped a 19-0 decision at home to Paramus.
Morris Knolls and West Morris both moved the ball in the first half but couldn’t finish drives and then found themselves outmanned in the second half.
The Golden Eagles controlled the ball early in the game against Wayne Valley before one drive in particular stalled out. Once the Passaic County school got untracked, Knolls had very little success in a 34-14 loss.
West Morris ran the ball successfully for much of the first half against Indian Hills but fumbled the ball away twice and, in the second half, couldn’t do much of anything in a 21-7 loss.
Season-long standouts. Morristown coach Chris Hull loved the work of linebacker Sami Cazimoski, who registered over 100 tackles for the Colonials.
“He’s our best inside linebacker since Darren Dungee,” Hull said, referring to the standout who helped lead the Colonials to a North 2 Group III championship at what was then called New Meadowlands Stadium in 2010.
Jefferson junior Connor Brown had a big season, rushing 185 times for 935 yards and eight touchdowns for the junior-heavy Falcons, who finished 5-5.
“We wanted to improve from last year and I believe we did,” coach Joe Mattesich said. “We still need to find some more courage and a mental toughness to seal the victories. We will have 21 seniors next year, while eight are leaving us this year.
Montville struggled at times this year but quarterback-defensive back Graham Jespersen concluded a nice career. He rushed 134 times for 862 yards and five touchdowns while completing 96 passes in 166 attempts for 931 yards and six touchdowns. He also had 36 total tackles and an interception.
Morris County Top 10
1. Delbarton (8-3).
2. Chatham (9-2).
3. Roxbury (8-2).
4. West Morris (7-3).
5. Morris Knolls (7-3).
6. Madison (9-2)
7. Boonton (9-2)
8. Hanover Park (9-2)
9. Pequannock (9-2)
10. Butler 6-4.