In an attempt to negate New Brunswick’s quick-strike ability, expect the Old Bridge High School football team to look to put together sustained drives in the Central Group V semifinals at Memorial Stadium on Friday night.
The teams are meeting for the first time in school history, and both are looking to end long sectional final droughts.
Once a perennial power under former head coach John Quinn, who led the Zebras to eight consecutive NJSIAA playoff appearances (2002-09), second-seeded New Brunswick (9-1), which is enjoying a rebirth under second-year mentor Don Sofilkanich after going 5-45 over the five previous seasons, last played for a championship in 2006.
Third-seeded Old Bridge (6-3) has only been to a title game once, falling to J.P. Stevens in the 2001 Central Group IV final.
The contest pits the Greater Middlesex Conference White Division runner-up (New Brunswick’s only loss was to reigning division champion Colonia) against the Red Division’s third-place team (Old Bridge’s lone division setbacks were to reigning division champion South Brunswick and runner-up Piscataway).
It also features two of the conference’s marquee players: New Brunswick running back Maurice Ffrench, who is a University of Pittsburgh commit, and Old Bridge quarterback Artur Sitkowski (81 of 156 for 1,208 yards with 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions), who holds scholarship offers from Rutgers and Maryland.
Ffrench’s ability to score from anywhere on the field on offense and special teams is of primary concern to Old Bridge head coach Anthony Lanzafama, who knows the Zebras have a multitude of other weapons.
“They are dangerous,” Lanzafama said. “Their backs are very good, their line is quick, and they execute well. They have good overall team speed and are a solid football team. Ffrench is electric. He’s got moves and speed. He’s physical, too. He’s a dynamic player.”
New Brunswick running back Samad Davila and quarterback Jah’bree Jeffery-Seawright can also inflict damage.
For that reason, look for the Knights, with their triple-option, to try to establish the running game and control the clock, as they did in the early and latter stages of last weekend’s thrilling 38-35 opening-round playoff victory over Edison.
Sitkowski attempted just six passes in that contest as the Knights rushed for 326 yards on a season-high 53 carries.
“We’ve got to try to keep possession of the ball,” Lanzafama said, “and keep their explosive athletes off the field.”
Establishing the ground game, however, could prove difficult because New Brunswick’s outstanding secondary — which will be the finest OId Bridge has faced since falling to South Brunswick — allows the Zebras to blanket receivers in single coverage while adding an extra defender at the line of scrimmage.
“They can go man-to-man, put an extra guy or two in the box and create some more problems in the running game and put you in a position where you’ve got to try to beat them one-on-one, and with that team athletically in the secondary, it’s tough to do,” Lanzafama said.
Linebacker German Pimentel (6-foot-5), the conference’s sack leader, who recorded a season-high six sacks in New Brunswick’s season opener, benefits most from the secondary. A student at Piscataway Tech, Pimentel is allowed to play for the Zebras as a resident of the city under NJSIAA rules because his high school does not offer football.
Lanzafama said he hopes Old Bridge’s offense — the Zebras have not faced an option team all season — can create problems.
“It’s hard to simulate the speed of our offense and the way we execute it in practice,” Lanzafama said. “We’re just hoping we can take advantage of some of that and keep them kind of honest and don’t allow them to attack us as much as they have done.”
Old Bridge relies heavily upon Jake Esposito (1,546 all-purpose yards) and Nick Sodano (911 all-purpose yards) — a couple of dynamic performers in their own right — and receiver Anthony Imbimbo (22 catches, 283 yards). A season-ending injury to wideout Jake Kodros (18 catches, 291 yards) will allow others to get in the mix.
Esposito has replaced Kodros, who is also the team’s punter, at that position, while placekicker Jon Sammarco, who missed the opening-round of the playoffs with a family commitment, will return.
Their performance is key for Old Bridge, which must win the field position battle and also negate New Brunswick’s ability to score on special teams.
Staff Writer Greg Tufaro: firstname.lastname@example.org