Friday, September 9, 2011

EBHS Football, the First 50 Years: Part V, the 1990s

Thanksgiving Day, 1994, a great day for Da Bears

East Brunswick High School celebrates its 50th Anniversary of football this Autumn. To borrow a phrase from the legendary sportscaster Curt Gowdy, For EB football, the 1990s began as if they were jealous of the 1980s.

1990: 8-2, .800
September 14 H Cherokee Lost 6-23
September 21 H Piscataway Won 19-6
September 28 H Woodbridge Won 38-13
October 5 A Edison Won 10-8
October 19 H West Windsor Won 35-7
October 26 A J.P. Stevens Won 37-7
November 3 A Perth Amboy Won 35-22
November 9 A Madison Central Won 17-0
November 16 A Sayreville Won 20-8
November 24 H Trenton Central Lost 14-21

Another season-opening loss to South Jersey power Cherokee was followed by a convincing win over Piscataway. That was 21 years ago. We haven't beaten them since. The Edison game was a purist's delight, with 2 really good lines smacking each other until one team had enough left and the other didn't. This game decided the GMC Red Division title, EB's 4th Conference Championship in 7 years. It's never been so good again.

The next week was Homecoming, against a good opponent, West Windsor-Plainsboro H.S. (Now known as West Windsor-Plainsboro South, while a new school, the newest high school in Middlesex County and not playing in the GMC, is in Plainsboro and named West Windsor-Plainsboro North. Why didn't their district just call the new school Plainsboro and the original school West Windsor?) The game was no contest: West Windsor's only score was immediately followed by a kick returned all the way by R.J. Davis. What was remarkable about this game was a fight in the stands. Not only did it not involve EBHS students, but it didn't involve WWPHS students, either. Both South River and Madison Central ere playing the next day, and these 2 schools, the once and current arch-rivals of EB, who never play each other, fought each other. Apparently, somebody brought eggs, because I was hit with one. Hit me in the size of my baseball cap, and dripped right into my ear. Ewwww!

The Playoff rules were changed so that the Semifinals came Thanksgiving weekend, forcing teams that had Thanksgiving rivalries to move their traditional games. This would be discontinued after the next year due to said schools' protests. We played Trenton, which had a nasty habit: Every year, they would go 8-1 in the regular season, but miss the Playoffs because they lost to Notre Dame of Lawrenceville, and, like all the Mercer County schools (including West Windsor and, now, its little brother -- the exceptions being the prep schools like Lawrenceville and Peddie), they were in the Colonial Valley Conference, so they were a Group IV school getting their "power points" from Group III and even Group II schools, and not qualifying. This time, though, they beat Notre Dame, and made it... as the 4th and final seed.

They came into Doyle Field, and their line outweighed ours by an average of 100 pounds. These city brothers were huge. And their quarterback, Terrance Stokes, was fast as hell, and scored 2 touchdowns on the play that has hurt EB so many times: The left-hand end-around. Somehow, we stayed within a touchdown of them, and quarterback Mark Neary (no relation to former Mayor Bill Neary) threw a bomb at the end that was knocked away in the end zone. Not the worst way to end the season.

Linebacker Scott Kammerer, named County Defensive Player of the Year by the Home News, showed me his arm after the game. It was about 7 different colors. But he recovered enough to go 32-0 as a wrestler and win the 189-pound weight class State Championship -- the last EB wrestler to do so, and the best single-season record in school wrestling history.

1991: 3-6, .333
September 14 A Cherokee Lost 12-27
September 21 H Piscataway Lost 14-28
October 4 A Woodbridge Lost 7-26
October 11 H Edison Lost 18-32
October 19 A West Windsor Won 18-10
October 25 H J.P. Stevens Won 16-14
November 1 H Perth Amboy Won 26-6
November 8 H Madison Central Lost 14-34
November 29 A Sayreville Lost 0-17

We lost our first 4 games. We were threatening to have our first winless season ever. Then we won our next 3, despite having to play West Windsor (still a young school then but usually a Playoff contender) and Stevens (no longer the killers they'd been since the late Seventies). But defeat to Madison, and only our 2nd-ever loss to Sayreville on the day after Thanksgiving, doomed us to our worst season in 9 years. We were 27-1 against Sayreville from 1961 to 1990. Since 1991, with the rise of their program to traditional power, we are 6-15 against them.

1992: 4-5, .444
September 19 A Piscataway Lost 10-13
September 26 A Edison Lost 6-27
October 2 A Madison Central Lost 12-34
October 16 H Monroe Won 28-8
October 24 A Perth Amboy Lost 18- 31
October 30 A J.P. Stevens Won 13-12
November 6 H North Brunswick Won 10-7
November 13 A Woodbridge Lost 0-21
November 29 H Sayreville Won 38-19

Not an especially remarkable season, although it did present our first-ever games against neighboring schools Monroe and North Brunswick, both of which were experiencing remarkable growth in enrollment, as ours was shrinking: From a peak of 2,600 in 1973 and 2,000 when I graduated in 1987, it was down to about 1,800. The 11/6 game was played the week Bill Clinton was elected President. And the season finale, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, was the day Jimmy Varick ran wild and shot down the Bombers.

1993: 4-5, .444
September 18 H Piscataway Lost 0-20
September 24 H Edison Lost 6-28
October 2 H Madison Central Lost 9-17
October 10 A Monroe Won 34-10
October 16 H Perth Amboy Won 19-6
October 23 H J.P. Stevens Won 35-0
November 6 A North Brunswick Won 24-0
November 13 H Woodbridge Lost 23-29
November 20 A Sayreville Lost 7-28

Despite back-to-back shutouts, the less said about this season, the better. This would be the last time we would face Madison Central under that name. The declining enrollment of both Old Bridge schools made their Board of Ed decide to reconsolidate them after 25 years. Goodbye, Madison Central Spartans, navy blue and sky blue. Goodbye, Cedar Ridge Cougars, green and gold. Starting in the fall of 1994, hello, Old Bridge Knights, purple and black, mascot and colors chosen by a student poll.

1994: 8-2, .800
September 17 H North Brunswick Won 42-0
September 23 A Perth Amboy Won 41-20
October 1 A Bishop Ahr Won 13-7
October 8 A J.P. Stevens Won 59-7
October 15 H Piscataway Lost 21-26
October 22 A Edison Won 42-7
October 29 A Sayreville Won 14-7
November 5 H Woodbridge Won 17-0
November 19 A Piscataway Lost 7-12
November 24 A Old Bridge Won 33-18

We won our first 4 games. This included a demolition of Stevens that I, a veteran of the mid-1980s battles with those guys, simply could not believe: How does J.P. Stevens get beat 59-7 in football? Actually, it was almost worse: We'd gotten to their 1-yard line at the end, but Marcus Borden had quarterback Greg Kohlheim fall on the ball for the last 2 plays, or else we would have gotten to 65 points and a new school record (though not for margin of victory).

Things were looking up. But against Piss... cataway, what should have been our winning touchdown was broken up due to pass interference, and the referee refused to call it. For that reason, we did not win the GMC Red, and did not get home-field advantage in the Playoffs. (Under the current system, 8 teams to a section, the 3rd seed would get home-field in the first round.) Still, a big goal-line stand at the end of the first half against Sayreville kept us in the Playoff hunt. So we went to Piscataway, and again got hosed by the refs, losing by less than a full touchdown.

But all the hosing was forgotten as we went into Old Bridge for the first-ever Thanksgiving game against our old/new rivals, and beat them. The turkey tasted real good in Green Town that night. How it tasted in Purple Town, I don't care. The game also saw Kohlheim, despite being a quarterback (but a wishbone quarterback), become the first (and, I think, still the only) EB player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

There was a weird postscript to this season: Piscataway was determined to have used an ineligible player in 2 conference games, and they had to forfeit them. Our game with them wasn't one in which this player appeared. But it still threw the Conference Championship to us. It remains the last time we finished 1st in our Conference/Division... even if we finished their after the season finished. Yogi Berra and then some: It wasn't over even after it was over!

1995: 5-4, .556
September 15 A North Brunswick Won 45-3
September 22 H Perth Amboy Won 35-6
September 29 H Bishop Ahr Lost 0-7
October 6 H J.P. Stevens Won 16-12
October 20 A Piscataway Lost 18-21
October 27 A Edison Won 56-7
November 4 H Sayreville Won 36-29
November 10 A Woodbridge Lost 8-22
November 23 H Old Bridge Lost 27-40

It was that kind of year: Win your first 2 games by 6 and 4 touchdowns, lose your next by 1; win a close one, lose a close one, win one by 7 touchdowns; go to overtime (for the first time ever, with the new rule taking effect and eliminating ties forever), and winning it; then close with 2 losses. Had we won either the Bishop Ahr or the Piscataway game, we would have made the Playoffs.

The 10/6 game with Stevens came during that epic American League Division Series that the Yankees lost to the Seattle Mariners. While the 11/4 game was being played, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was assassinated. I came home from the game just in time to see an ABC News Special Report about it break into coverage of a college football game.

This was also the year when the County's 2 main newspapers, the New Brunswick-based Home News, and the paper formerly known as the Perth Amboy Evening News but by the time I knew it based in Woodbridge and renamed The News Tribune, merged to form the Home News Tribune, and moved into a new headquarters off Route 18 in East Brunswick.

1996: 3-6, .333
September 20 A Bridgewater Lost 8-36
September 26 H J.P. Stevens Won 30-20
October 3 A Edison Won 26-13
October 10 H Sayreville Lost 12-13
October 17 A Piscataway Lost 14-20
October 24 H Woodbridge Lost 7-27
November 8 A Perth Amboy Won 14-13
November 15 A South Brunswick Lost 14-20
November 28 A Old Bridge Lost 6-7

Not much worth talking about with this season, other than that we played neighboring school South Brunswick for the first time, the week that President Clinton was re-elected. It was a really cold night, and we lost. But the South Brunswick cheerleaders came over and gave our cheerleaders brownies. I was a little suspicious of this: Just a few miles away, the cheerleaders at Hightstown H.S. (whose district includes that town and East Windsor) had made cupcakes for an opposing school's cheerleaders (I think it was Nottingham, a.k.a. Hamilton North), laced with laxatives. The story actually made Sports Illustrated.

The 10/24 game was played on the same night as Game 5 of the World Series between the Yankees and Atlanta Braves, Andy Pettitte's shutout. Thanksgiving? Oy, better you shouldn't ask. Trailing by 1 point with 1:58 to play (don't bet me on the time), we had a 4th and 6 on our own 40. If you can't make 6 yards at that point, you don't deserve to win. What play did Borden call? A punt. A total capitulation. I was furious with him over this. Did I ever forgive him? Yeah, on December 5, 2004.

1997: 1-8, .111
September 19 H Bridgewater Lost 13-32
September 26 A J.P. Stevens Lost 14-62
October 4 H Edison Won 28-13
October 9 A Sayreville Lost 17-29
October 18 H Piscataway Lost 21-28
October 24 A Woodbridge Lost 8-35
November 8 H Perth Amboy Lost 7-27
November 14 H South Brunswick Lost 0-24
November 27 H Old Bridge Lost 12-48

Worst EB season ever to that point, with only a win over Edison, which ended up winless, preventing us from staying the same. The 62 scored by Stevens not only wiped out the 59 we hung on them in '94, but set a new school record for points allowed in a game.

In spite of this awful season, Marcus Borden remained head coach. This was the season in which I began to wonder why he kept running the ball on 3rd and 18. It was also the season in which I began to wonder if he had incriminating pictures of someone who could recommend his firing. If you had told me in 1997 that 2004, or 2009, or even 1998, was coming, I would not have believed you. Deep in my heart, I had ceased to believe that we would overcome someday.

1998: 5-5, .500
September 12 A Bridgewater Lost 7-23
September 18 H Edison Won 44-31
September 25 H J.P. Stevens Won 7-6
October 2 A Piscataway Lost 17-30
October 10 H Woodbridge Won 27-13
October 23 H Sayreville Won 28-7
October 30 A South Brunswick Won 36-10
November 6 H Colonia Lost 6-24
November 14 A Manalapan Lost 14-21
November 26 A Old Bridge Lost 16-33

An oh-so-brief revival in what was otherwise a dark period for EB football, played out against the saga of the insane pursuit of an impeachment against President Clinton, and the steroid-boosted home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. The Edison game remains the one with the most points we've ever allowed and still won. The next week, we played the other Edison team, and scored only 7, but it was enough. Then came our annual loss to Piscataway.

Still, while the Yankees were putting the finishing touches on the greatest baseball season any team (and maybe the entire game) has ever had, we were headed for the Playoffs. This was the year the 10th game was added: The Playoffs were expanded to the top 8 teams in each section, and every team that did not make it would get a "consolation game" against a team with a similar power-point total. All we had to do was beat Colonia (How'd they get back on our schedule?) at home, and we'd have home-field advantage in the first round. Instead, we played like garbage, and got an away game at Manalapan. We fell behind 21-0, but came back, but a late interception doomed us. Still, we made the Playoffs. A successful season, right? Well, we lost to Old Bridge on Thanksgiving again, and finished at exactly .500.

1999: 4-6, .400
September 9 H Bridgewater Lost 17-21
September 17 A Edison Won 10-7
September 24 A J.P. Stevens Lost 11-14
October 1 H Piscataway Lost 7-27
October 8 A Woodbridge Lost 7-14
October 23 H Sayreville Lost 3-27
October 29 H South Brunswick Won 22-13
November 6 A Colonia Won 14-3
November 12 H Perth Amboy Won 28-0
November 25 H Old Bridge Lost 0-14

Not much to think about here, a weak season built around another Yankee World Championship and an exciting postseason run for the Mets as well -- the first time both New York baseball teams had made the postseason in the same year. At least our first-ever consolation game was against a familiar team, Perth Amboy (not otherwise on our schedule this season), and it was at home so we didn't have a roadtrip, long or otherwise, for an essentially meaningless game. Except it wasn't meaningless: Win that,and beat Old Bridge on Thanksgiving, and we would have been at .500. We beat Amboy solidly, but in the last EB football game of the 20th Century, we walked out of Doyle Field in pathetic fashion yet again.

The next decade would get off to a hideous start. But it would turn out to be our most successful one.

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