Friday, September 9, 2011

EBHS Football, the First 50 Years: Part IV, the Late 1980s

Josh Miller, the 1st EBHS graduate to play in the NFL

The latter half of the Eighties continued East Brunswick High School's pursuit of football glory. But something always seemed to be getting in the way.

1985: 8-3, .727
September 21 A Brick Township Won 21-0
September 27 A Madison Central Won 9-0
October 6 H Edison Won 22-14
October 12 H Perth Amboy Won 32-7
October 19 A Woodbridge Won 14-7
October 25 A Sayreville Won 14-13
November 2 H J.P. Stevens Lost 17-18
November 8 A Cedar Ridge Won 31-6
November 16 H Middletown North Won 14-7
November 30 H Colonia Lost 10-20
December 7 A J.P. Stevens Lost 7-19

This would be a good, but weird, and ultimately unsatisfying season. Many of the players from the 1984 near-miss were back. Because it was our 25th season -- not our 25th Anniversary, that was the next season -- the team wore commemorative patches on their jerseys. (I hope they wear something special for the 50th Anniversary this season.)

No team had ever shut Brick out on its home field, but we did. The Edison game was postponed a day due to Hurricane Gloria. This was the season that both Edison schools and Sayreville got their lights, but in their 1st home night game, Sayreville, whose coach Milt Theodosatos and some big players were talking a lot of trash, especially about us, blew a 13-0 lead on us, and we beat them 14-13.

The last MCAC title came down to us and a senior-loaded Stevens, and they kicked a last-minute field goal to beat us by one point. Again. We still made the Playoffs, beating Middletown North. This would turn out to be the last Playoff game EB would win for 19 years. The Thanksgiving game with Colonia was delayed to the following Saturday by rain, and as a result we wouldn't play on Thanksgiving again for 9 years. A snowstorm rendered Stevens' home field unplayable, but across town, Edison's field was okay, and the State Final was moved there. We lost again.

1986: 6-2-1, .722
September 21 H Cherokee Tied 14-14
September 27 A Brick Township Won 23-10
October 2 H Madison Central Lost 0-22
October 10 A Edison Won 33-14
October 17 H Woodbridge Won 16-0
October 25 A Perth Amboy Lost 17-20
October 31 A J.P. Stevens Won 17-12
November 7 H Cedar Ridge Won 28-0
November 14 H Sayreville Won 33-14

This might have been the strangest season in EB football history. It was the 1st football season of the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC). The league had been formed the schoolyear before, and it had held seasons and championships for all other sports, phasing out the Middlesex County Athletic Conference (MCAC), Bicentennial Athletic Conference (BAC) and Central Valley Conference (CVC). But, for scheduling reasons, its 1st football season was delayed 1 year.

Divisions were set up by enrollment, but instead of naming the Divisions A, B, C and, in those sports with enough teams to fill 4 divisions, D, as the Shore Conference did (further dividing each division into North and South because they had 44 schools), the 36 GMC teams (30 of whom then played football) were divided into Divisions named for colors: Red for the largest schools, White, Blue and Gold. This made no sense, since only 3 teams in the Red Division (Edison, Woodbridge and Perth Amboy) wore red as a school color.

EB played Cherokee, of Evesham Township (Marlton mailing address) in Burlington County, a 2-time defending South Jersey Group IV Champion. Somehow, we managed a tie even though their linemen outweighed ours by an average of 50 pounds. We went down to Brick, and at the half, it began to rain. By the 4th quarter, it was a torrential donwpour. With 3:37 left to play, and a 2-touchdown lead, Josh Miller (who would go on to become the first, and still only, EB football player to play in the National Football League, and won a Super Bowl ring as a punter for the New England Patriots) was waiting to punt, when a lightning bolt came out of the sky, like in Back to the Future, and struck one of the light towers, shorting out the lights and making a terrifying sound, and 5,000 people ran screaming for their cars. Two days later, having no practical option, the NJSIAA declared the game over and EB the winners.

Six days later, on a Thursday due to the Jewish holiday, EB had its first home night game. Madison ruined it. People from Old Bridge tend to ruin things. We bounded back, but some hideous officiating at Perth Amboy knocked us out of Playoff contention. (Had the current system, with 8 teams making it from each section, been in effect, we would have made it.) This was mere hours before the Mets won Game 6 of the World Series in an incredible comeback (or Boston Red Sox collapse) that is remembered as the Bill Buckner Game, on their way to winning Game 7. The Mets haven't won the World Series since.

Six days after that came the game of the season. Two-time defending CJ Group IV Champion Stevens, riding a 22-game winning streak, hosted us in front of an enormous crowd (by non-Thanksgiving New Jersey high school standards, anyway) on Halloween night. Boo: EB won one of the most satisfying victories in school history.

As it turned out, this win was crucial: While EB finished up with wins over Cedar Ridge and Sayreville, Stevens lost to Edison on Thanksgiving, throwing the GMC Red Division race into a tie, giving us the tiebreaker and the first-ever GMC Red title. Stevens also ended up losing the CJ Group IV Final, to Middletown North. That was the end of the line for MN, as their crosstown rival Middletown South had just became a power and remain so to this day.

1987: 8-2, .800
September 20 A Cherokee Lost 27-33
September 26 H Brick Township Won 25-12
October 2 A Madison Central Won 19-14
October 9 H Edison Won 24-14
October 17 A Woodbridge Won 35-20
October 23 H Perth Amboy Won 12-0
October 30 H J.P. Stevens Won 31-20
November 6 A Cedar Ridge Won 42-14
November 13 A Sayreville Won 41-22
November 21 H Madison Central Lost 0-33

EB went down to Cherokee -- our 2nd-longest roadtrip ever, after the 1963 trip to Millville -- and nearly came back from a 33-14 deficit. We had the ball in Cherokee territory at the end, but there just wasn't enough time. For a few years, this would be the most points EB had ever scored in a game while still losing. This great game with a bad result came back to haunt us, as it prevented us from getting the 1st seed in the Playoffs instead of the 2nd.

So instead of hosting 4th-seeded Neptune, we hosted 3rd-seeded Madison. It may have been the coldest day in EB football history, and we got clobbered by Madison's seemingly unstoppable wishbone. Madison then went on to beat Neptune for their 1st Central Jersey Championship (in football, anyway).

This changed everything: Prior to this, Marcus Borden had EB playing in a pro-style attack that emphasized passing; with strong-armed quarterbacks like Steve Hughes and Bryan Fortay, and several good receivers and some quick running backs who could also catch passes, it was ideal for us. But, as football, like any other sport, is a "Monkey see, monkey do" game, Borden started the wishbone bandwagon, and installed it for the next season, in the hope that he could build one as strong as Madison's. To this day, EB still uses what Borden calls "the E-Bone."

The 10/23 game was the week of the biggest drop, in terms of percentage, in the history of the New York Stock Exchange, although, unlike the 1929 version (and very nearly the 2008 version), it did not lead to a depression.

1988: 7-3, .700
September 16 H Cherokee Lost 20-27
September 23 A Sayreville Won 15-0
September 30 H Edison Won 29-18
October 8 A Perth Amboy Won 44-19
October 16 H Piscataway Won 33-8
October 21 A J.P. Stevens Won 21-0
October 28 A Madison Central Lost 3-55
November 4 H Bayonne Won 38-21
November 11 H Woodbridge Won 30-0
November 19 A Madison Central Lost 7-31

A big change in the schedule: Cedar Ridge, due to declining enrollment, dropped down to the GMC White Division, and Piscataway, which had been in the Mid-State Conference, moved into the GMC Red. This would prove, though not immediately, to be a bad thing.

But a bad thing did happen the week of the Piscataway game: For the first time ever, an EB football player died during a season. Matt Black, a backup quarterback, was killed in a car crash on the Tuesday. The funeral was held on the Friday, and the game was pushed back to the Sunday. For the rest of the season, the "Bears" script decals on the right side of the helmets was replaced with a black Number 10 in Matt's memory.

EB and Madison were on a collision course. The Star-Ledger had Madison ranked Number 2 in the State. The Home News and The News Tribune had Madison ranked Number 1 in their polls, and EB Number 2. Over 5,000 people jammed into Lombardi Field for the Friday night showdown. Madison took a 7-0 lead, and held us to a field goal on our 1st possession. Had we scored a touchdown instead, who knows. But Madison scored again, and we drove again, setting up another field goal. If this one was good, it would have been 14-6 and we still would've been in it. Instead, it was missed, and it was 27-3 at the half. Madison ran up the score: The final was 55-3, the most definitive victory in the history of Middlesex County football.

The next week, we played a nonconference game with Bayonne, and it was essentially a Playoff game: The winner would almost certainly qualify, the loser would almost certainly not. We won, and the Bayonne players did not forget this. But making the Playoffs just meant another trip to Old Bridge, and another Spartan spanking, although it wasn't nearly as bad.

The 10/16 game was played the day after Kirk Gibson's home run won Game 1 of the World Series. The 11/11 game was played the week that George Herbert Walker Bush was elected President.

1989: 4-5, .444
September 16 A Cherokee Lost 7-12
September 22 H Sayreville Won 23-0
September 29 A Edison Lost 0-8
October 6 H Perth Amboy Lost 16-18
October 14 A Piscataway Won 31-21
October 20 H J.P. Stevens Won 14-0
October 27 H Madison Central Won 10-9
November 4 A Bayonne Lost 7-42
November 11 A Woodbridge Lost 7-8

The first half of the season was relatively quiet: Even the defeats were not particularly notable, except for the fact so many of the players who made the '86, '87 and '88 seasons near-great had graduated, leading to our first losing season in 6 years.

So we were heavy underdogs as we hosted Madison at Doyle Field, on the night that the World Series resumed 10 days after the earthquake that struck the San Francisco Bay Area and interrupted it. Madison came in with a 24-game winning streak, but a touchdown, and an extra point and a field goal by Ian Cairns -- who would later join the U.S. Army and do field reporting for the Home News Tribune from Afghanistan -- made the difference in an upset that felt about as good as any sporting event I've ever been to.

It didn't last. We went up to Bayonne to fulfill the home-and-home series, and not only did they pound us in their huge (by high school standards) stadium on the shore of a smelly Newark Bay, but they rubbed it in for the previous season's defeat, even starting a fight. They won that, too.

A week later, with the Berlin Wall having just fell, Woodbridge coach Mike Cilento left the field at Priscoe Stadium uncovered, so it was a sloppy mess, and we lost by 1 point, costing us a winning season.

EBHS football's best decade yet was over. But there was an empty feeling at the end.

1 comment:

Grover Garver said...

I just found the History of EB football blog and I love it. I'm not from EB but I'm an avid high school football fan and I was at some of the game you're talking about. Great Stuff.