Had Metuchen taken care of business and defeated Spotswood on Saturday, there would be no need from the Bulldogs’ perspective to have a conversation about how the schedule-makers and a flawed power points system conspired to keep the Group II high school out of the NJSIAA playoffs.
But because Metuchen lost the Greater Middlesex Conference Blue Division championship to the two-time champion Chargers for a second consecutive year, its omission from the postseason with a 6-2 record requires some analysis.
The Bulldogs will not be joining 11 other GMC schools in the playoffs, which commence with opening-round games Friday and Saturday at the site of the higher seed.
Metuchen is the fifth smallest of the NJSIAA’s 75 Group II football-playing members with an enrollment of sophomore through senior classes of 500 students. Only Gateway (499), Roselle (498), Woodstown (496) and Hawthorne (495) have smaller enrollments. The NJSIAA groups schools exclusively by enrollment and geography.
Before the NJSIAA diluted the playoffs by expanding each group to five sections, a total of 19 teams comprised each section compared to the 15 that make up the current sections. Under the old format, Metuchen would have qualified for the playoffs this year as the fourth seed in Central Group I.
Instead, the Bulldogs are left to wonder why 18 schools with 3-5 records statewide – including Roselle and Rahway, which ironically both factored into Metuchen’s failure to reach the postseason – qualified. Two of those 3-5 schools – Roselle and Raritan – both reached the playoffs in Metuchen’s section.
Metuchen’s loss Saturday, coupled with Rahway’s 21-20 comeback win over Governor Livingston in the final minute, gave Roselle enough residual points to bump the Bulldogs out of a playoff spot. Had Metuchen defeated Spotswood, it would have qualified in Central Group II as the third seed.
Metuchen’s strength of schedule, or lack thereof, and inability to schedule more than one Group II opponent (Spotswood) are the reasons it will be playing a consolation game instead of competing in the playoffs.
Of the eight Central Group II playoff qualifiers, New Providence is the only school whose schedule was comprised exclusively of Group I opponents.
While Spotswood had two Group 2 foes on its slate (Holmdel and Metuchen, the latter of which did not factor into the Chargers’ power point calculations because it was their ninth opponent), 85 percent of the schedules (41 of 48 games) for the six other playoff qualifiers were comprised of non-Group I opponents.
Lincoln (a Group 5, a Group 3 and a Group 2); Delaware Valley (five Group 3s and three Group 2s); Point Pleasant Boro (two Group 4s, two Group 3s and three Group 2s); A.L. Johnson (three Group 3s and four Group 2s); Raritan (a Group 4, six Group 3s and a Group 2); Roselle (a Group 4, two Group 3s and four Group 2s) had ample opportunity to accrue more power points.
Under the current power point structure, which rewards schools for losing to opponents of bigger group sizes, Delaware Valley’s loss to undefeated Group 3 foe Cranford was worth as many power points (seven) as Metuchen’s victory over winless Dunellen.
Metuchen’s schedule is a byproduct of competing in the Blue Division, whose only non-Group I school is Spotswood, and of the GMC’s crossover agreement with the Shore Conference, which added four Group I foes (Asbury Park, Keyport, Keansburg and Mater Dei) to the Bulldogs’ nonconference schedule.
Meanwhile, two of the Shore Conference’s three Group II schools – Point Pleasant Boro (7-1) and Raritan (3-5) – qualified for the playoffs. The Shore Conference’s division alignments afford those schools, as well as Holmdel, its other Group II member, opportunities to play foes of larger group sizes without having to compete once against a Group I team.
Raritan enters the postseason with a five-game losing streak but qualified on the strength of significant wins over defending Central Group III champion Matawan and Central Group 4 playoff qualifier Freehold Boro.
Point Pleasant Boro qualified having competed against eight schools with a combined 20-44 record for a .313 winning percentage. The strength of its schedule was merely group size, not quality wins.
As a newcomer to Central Group II, Metuchen is the new Bernards, another Central Group II program that has made the playoffs just once – as a seven seed – over the past four years despite compiling an impressive 29-10 record for a .744 winning percentage during that span.
Without any relief from the schedule-makers or a decline in enrollment, Metuchen will have little margin for error in qualifying for the postseason.
Fittingly, perhaps, if misery loves company, the Bulldogs will host Bernards in a consolation game on Saturday.
GMC FOOTBALL TOP 10
1. South Brunswick (7-1): Idle. Next: Hunterdon Central, Friday, 7 p.m.
2. Piscataway (6-2): Danny Haus completed nine of 13 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-14 drubbing of Old Bridge. Next: Union, Saturday, 1 p.m.
3. Colonia (7-2): Bashir Lauderdale rushed for 106 yards to climb over the 1,000-yard mark for the season in a 28-14 win over South Plainfield that clinched a second consecutive White Division title for the Patriots. Next: Summit, Friday, 1 p.m.
4. New Brunswick (8-1): Samad Davila amassed 225 rushing yards and the defense made two huge red-zone stops in the closing minutes as the Zebras held on for a 27-21 win over St. Joseph. Next: Freehold Township, Friday, 7 p.m.
5. Old Bridge (5-3): Nick Sodano returned the opening kickoff 91 yards for a score in a 42-14 loss to Piscataway. Next: Edison, Friday, 7 p.m.
6. South Plainfield (6-2): Trouble inside the red zone negated Jason Lee’s 164-yard rushing effort in a 28-14 loss to Colonia. Next: at Red Bank, Friday, 7 p.m.
7. Sayreville (5-4): Playing without injured starting quarterback Jayson DeMild, the Bombers received 119 rushing yards from Michael Liberti in a 20-19 loss to Edison. Next: at Middletown North, Friday, 7 p.m.
8. Woodbridge (5-3): Idle. Next: at Phillipsburg, Friday, 7 p.m.
9. St. Joseph (3-5): Despite 178 rushing yards from Luke Yakely, the Falcons endured their third consecutive heartbreaking loss, dropping a 27-21 decision to New Brunswick. Next: Bishop Ahr, Nov. 21, 1 p.m.
10. Spotswood (7-2): Ryan Szatkowski’s 31-yard field goal with nine seconds left and a complete team effort enabled the Chargers to win their second consecutive Blue Division title with a 27-24 victory over Metuchen. Next: at Delaware Valley, Friday, 7 p.m.
NJSIAA FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
North 2 Group IV
7. Woodbridge at 2. Phillipsburg, 7 p.m.
6. Summit at 3. Colonia, 7 p.m.
5. Sayreville at 4. Middletown North, 7 p.m.
Central Group V
8. Hunterdon Central at 1. South Brunswick, 7 p.m.
7. Freehold Township at 2. New Brunswick, 7 p.m.
6. Edison at 3. Old Bridge, 7 p.m.
Central Group 3
8. Rahway at 1. Rumson-Fair Haven, 7 p.m.
6. South Plainfield at 3. Red Bank, 7 p.m.
Central Group 2
7. Spotswood at 2. Delaware Valley, 7 p.m.
Central Group 1
5. Middlesex at 4. Florence, 7 p.m.
North 2 Group V
6. Union at 3. Piscataway, 1 p.m.
NJSIAA CONSOLATION GAMES
Linden at Bayonne, 7 p.m.
Dickinson at J.P. Stevens, 7 p.m.
Iselin Kennedy at Long Branch, 7 p.m.
Dunellen at Bound Brook, 7 p.m.
Monroe at Montgomery, 7 p.m.
East Brunswick at Hillsborough, 7 p.m.
Franklin at North Brunswick, 7 p.m.
North Plainfield at Carteret, 7 p.m.
Highland Park at New Egypt, 7 p.m.
Pingry at Bishop Ahr, 7 p.m.
Perth Amboy at Plainfield, 1 p.m.
Bernards at Metuchen, 1 p.m.
South River at Keansburg, 1 p.m.