Friday, September 9, 2011

EBHS Football, the First 50 Years: Part VI, the 2000s

East Brunswick High School begins its second half-century of varsity football tonight, at 7:00, at home, against Monroe. This concludes my look at the first half-century.

2000: 1-9, .100
September 8 H Sayreville Lost 0-25
September 15 H J.P. Stevens Lost 21-39
September 22 A South Brunswick Lost 0-27
September 28 A Bishop Ahr Won 14-12
October 6 A Woodbridge Lost 0-34
October 21 H Edison Lost 6-25
October 27 A Piscataway Lost 3-28
November 3 H Perth Amboy Lost 10-25
November 11 H Bridgewater Lost 13-21
November 23 A Old Bridge Lost 0-21

EB's worst football season yet. In fact, aside from a win over a Bishop Ahr team that, I think, won only 1 game that season themselves, none of the regularly-scheduled games were even close. Only the consolation game against Bridgewater was, and that came on the heels of a Presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush that was, at that point, still up for grabs. And it was grabbed. At least the annual loss to Piscataway came the day after the Yankees beat the Mets in the World Series, the only Subway Series since EBHS opened (unless you count San Francisco vs. Oakland in 1989).

EB football was now bad. Very bad. Like a lot of things in this world, it would get a lot worse before it got better.

2001: 0-10, .000
September 7 A Sayreville Lost 12-40
September 15 A J.P. Stevens Lost 7-49
September 21 H South Brunswick Lost 32-39
September 28 H Bishop Ahr Lost 14-20
October 6 H Woodbridge Lost 14-35
October 19 A Edison Lost 20-56
October 26 H Piscataway Lost 12-14
November 3 A Perth Amboy Lost 17-34
November 9 A Marlboro Lost 20-26
November 22 H Old Bridge Lost 0-48

The season began with an awful loss to Sayreville. Four days later, the World Trade Center was destroyed. Incredibly, unlike every other sports league in North America, the NJSIAA demanded that high school football games be played the following weekend. I don't know how Stevens found it within themselves to score 7 touchdowns. The next 2 losses were close. The rest, except for the consolation game at Marlboro, were not.

The Perth Amboy game was played the same night as Game 6 of that epic Yankees-Arizona Diamondbacks World Series; incredibly, EB was not as bad that night as the Yankees, who lost 15-0, before blowing a 9th-inning lead in Game 7 the next night. Once the consolation game was lost, the first-ever winless season in EB history was ordained; the only question was how badly were the Purple Bastards going to beat us on Thanksgiving. The answer: By 7 touchdowns.

2002: 6-4, .600
September 13 H Piscataway Lost 0-35
September 19 H Edison Won 34-12
September 27 A J.P. Stevens Lost 14-21
October 4 H Sayreville Lost 8-38
October 11 A Woodbridge Won 25-6
October 18 H Bishop Ahr Won 20-14
November 1 A South Brunswick Won 12-8
November 8 H Perth Amboy Won 23-7
November 15 H Union Won 21-12
November 28 A Old Bridge Lost 12-35

With a season-opening blowout loss to Piscataway, it looked like we would never win again. We'd lost 17 straight and 21 out of our last 22. But then we beat an Edison team which would go on to their own winless season. After 2 more losses, we nearly ran the table, including finally beating Union after 7 tries (spread out over 42 years). But we still lost on Thanksgiving. Still, it was our first season in 8 years with at least 6 wins.

2003: 4-6, .400
September 12 A Piscataway Lost 14-21
September 19 A Edison Won 28-12
September 25 H J.P. Stevens Lost 6-7
October 3 A Sayreville Lost 0-26
October 10 H Woodbridge Lost 21-25
October 17 A Bishop Ahr Won 7-2
October 31 H South Brunswick Won 28-0
November 7 A Perth Amboy Won 49-25
November 14 A Hunterdon Central Lost 14-27
November 27 H Old Bridge Lost 14-23

Just hours before we beat Bishop Ahr, the Yankees and Red Sox had that unbelievable Game 7 of the American League Championship Series that ended with Aaron Boone's Pennant-winning home run. But aside from a Halloween win in the next game, this season was rather uneventful. That was not to be the case with the next season.

2004: 10-2, .833
September 10 H Perth Amboy Won 41-14
September 19 H Edison Won 55-2
September 23 A Piscataway Lost 13-19
October 1 H North Brunswick Won 28-7
October 8 A Sayreville Won 16-7
October 22 H J.P. Stevens Won 35-0
October 29 A South Brunswick Won 23-21
November 5 H Woodbridge Won 14-13
November 13 H Brick Township Won 13-12
November 20 H Hillsborough Won 28-21
November 25 A Old Bridge Lost 0-20
December 5 A Jackson Memorial Won 17-14

The NJSIAA rejiggered its sectional boundaries for this season. Good thing, too, as it moved Piscataway from Central Jersey into North Jersey Section II, meaning that if we both made the Playoffs, we wouldn't have to face each other. Yeah, right...

Yeah. Right. Despite yet another loss to Piscataway keeping us from the Conference title, we had some big, big wins. And yet, a close win over Sayreville felt better than dropping a double nickel on a hopeless Edison. After a shutout over Stevens, the Bears became Kardiac Kids, winning an overtime game against South Brunswick and a tough one against Woodbridge, to qualify for the Playoffs as the 2nd seed. Which meant home-field advantage in the Quarterfinal and the Semifinal.

Good thing, too, as a pair of tough, far-away opponents came calling at Doyle Field. We toughed it out against Brick, the Michigan of New Jersey football (right down to the winged helmets), for our first Playoff win in 19 years,and then survived an overtime battle with Hillsborough. We had advanced to the State Championship. And then we went to Old Bridge and laid an egg.

No matter, we still had a title to win. But it would be at Rutgers Stadium, the first time we'd ever played on artificial turf (most area high schools would soon get it, including us), and against Jackson Memorial, defending champions of South Jersey Group IV, now in Central Jersey Group IV. There were 12,000 people on hand, possibly the biggest crowd in EB history (and bigger than a lot of crowds were for Rutgers games at the old Stadium).

Somehow, quarterback Matt Mariano kept us in the game, and it was 17-14 in the final seconds. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. After all, this was East Brunswick football we were talking about. Something bad always happens, and we always lose the big ones. Except, when the last-second field goal by Jackson was tried, it seemed to hang in the air forever. It didn't, and the other shoe did. The attempt fell a few yards short, and, on December 5, 2004, at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey, East Brunswick was the State Champion. Well, the Central Jersey Group IV Champion, anyway.

I'd waited 20 years for that moment, and some EB fans had waited 32 years. The wait was over. Marcus Borden's Green-White Army had conquered. We had overcome.

2005: 2-8, .200
September 9 A Perth Amboy Won 19-13
September 16 A Edison Won 48-19
September 23 H Piscataway Lost 6-41
September 30 A North Brunswick Lost 14-28
October 7 H Sayreville Lost 0-21
October 21 A J.P. Stevens Lost 0-14
October 28 H South Brunswick Lost 14-34
November 4 A Woodbridge Lost 0-14
November 11 A Brick Township Lost 14-35
November 24 H Old Bridge Lost 21-40

And then the other shoe dropped. Not just in the form of a bad season, but in the form of the prayer controversy involving Coach Borden. I won't comment on it here, other than to say that I am against government-sanctioned religion, but that I see the point of the other side, too.

2006: 5-5, .500
September 8 H Perth Amboy Won 57-12
September 21 A Woodbridge Won 13-6
September 29 H Piscataway Lost 14-28
October 6 H J.P. Stevens Lost 19-20
October 13 A South Brunswick Lost 7-21
October 20 H Sayreville Lost 6-8
October 27 A Edison Won 42-28
November 3 H North Brunswick Won 19-8
November 11 H Trenton Central Won 42-6
November 24 A Old Bridge Lost 9-13

Three tough losses, none tougher than the one on Thanksgiving against Old Bridge.

2007: 5-5, .500
September 7 A Perth Amboy Won 33-6
September 20 A Woodbridge Won 13-7
September 28 A Piscataway Lost 20-32
October 5 A J.P. Stevens Won 23-14
October 12 A South Brunswick Lost 10-20
October 19 A Sayreville Lost 0-34
October 26 A Edison Lost 6-7
November 2 A North Brunswick Won 21-12
November 9 A Manalapan Lost 14-24
November 22 H Old Bridge Won 35-14

This was the year we almost had no home games. Doyle Field was renovated, with a new FieldTurf surface and a new track named after longtime track & field coach Dud Tighe. We actually played back-to-back games at Perth Amboy, because Woodbridge was also renovating their field. Their field was ready to host our consolation game against... Manalapan? Why were we playing them at Woodbridge? Couldn't we play them at their place?

My father, by this point having been turned into a football fan by the revival of Rutgers under coach Greg Schiano, and I left home on Thanksgiving morning still not sure whether the Old Bridge game would be home or away; the Home News Tribune said it would be at one place, The Star-Ledger at the other. We left early enough to make a mistake and go on further, and, sure enough, Doyle Field was ready. And in the first game on the new field, the Big Green beat the Purple Bastards. First such win in 13 years. All was sweetness and light, and we had a happy holiday.

2008: 4-6, .400
September 12 A Sayreville Lost 7-28
September 19 A North Bergen Won 28-14
October 3 A South Brunswick Lost 17-27
October 10 H Piscataway Lost 21-27
October 17 H J.P. Stevens Won 35-0
October 24 H Woodbridge Lost 14-20
October 31 A New Brunswick Won 26-21
November 7 H Perth Amboy Won 35-12
November 14 H Howell Lost 22-25
November 27 A Old Bridge Lost 21-24

The most interesting thing about this season was that, for the first time in 34 years, we played New Brunswick -- and on Halloween night, no less. Since 2002, they'd been a perennial Playoff team, and had won 2 Central Jersey Group II Championships and nearly a 3rd. And here we were, playing them on Halloween at Memorial Stadium. It was the first time I'd ever gone to a sporting event that required metal detectors -- apparently, there had been some gang activity recently. A few fans showed up in Halloween costumes, but I didn't even bother to break out my varsity jacket and 1980s "BEAT THE (OPPONENT NAME)" pins. I did wear a green shirt and an EB cap, though. We managed to beat the Zebras, although they didn't go down without a fight. Let me rephrase that: There was no violence, but the game was tough.

Four days later, Barack Obama was elected President. But the joy of early November was wiped out at the end with another hard loss to Old Bridge on Thanksgiving. This year, Halloween was much better than Thanksgiving.

2009: 8-4, .667
September 11 A Woodbridge Won 38-0
September 17 A Freehold Township Won 34-6
September 25 H Monroe Won 23-21
October 2 H Piscataway Lost 10-13
October 9 A South Brunswick Won 23-13
October 16 A Sayreville Lost 13-34
October 23 H Jackson Memorial Won 19-13
November 6 H Brick Memorial Lost 34-37
November 13 H West Windsor Won 27-0
November 20 A Sayreville Won 13-8
November 26 H Old Bridge Lost 17-23
December 5 A Brick Memorial Won 9-0

This was the year the GMC and Shore Conference began crossover games, sending us down to Freehold Township H.S. (not to be confused with the far older Freehold H.S., alma mater of Bruce Springsteen), and sending Jackson Memorial (their district now split with Jackson Liberty) and Brick Memorial (younger brother school of Brick Township, and defending CJ Group IV Champions) up to EB to play us. We beat FT, and in circumstances far less significant than our 2004 meeting, we beat JM. But BM shocked us: It is the most points EB has ever scored and still lost. However, in the middle of all this, was the game of the year: Our come-from-behind win against Monroe, which won the GMC White Division and the Central Jersey Group III title. It was their only loss of the season, and they couldn't believe it.

Try as we might, we couldn't beat Piscataway, this time falling a field goal short. An injury-plagued EB got smacked at Sayreville again, and the Brick Memorial loss seemed to mean we wouldn't make the Playoffs. But other teams lost, and we ended up getting the 4th seed and home-field advantage in the first round. There was a misty rain that night, and I thought the game would be postponed. But West Windsor had already gotten there, so we played, and we beat them. The Semifinal was back at Sayreville, and this time we were healthy and ready for them. We pulled out one of the toughest wins in our history, and, for the first time ever, beat a team that we had lost to earlier in the season. And then lost another heartbreaker at Old Bridge.

That led to our 4th Central Jersey Group IV Final, our 2nd in 6 seasons. This time, instead of Rutgers, it was at Trenton State College -- excuse me, The College of New Jersey -- in Ewing. As in the 2004 Final, we would have to play the defending champions, Brick Memorial. And something happened that had never happened before, in the 49-season history of EBHS football. Snow. It ended up being only a couple of inches, but it covered the field, making running the ball difficult, passing the ball nearly impossible, and slipping on the alumnium steps and walkways of the stadium all too common. EB kicked a field goal in the first half to make it 3-0, then added a touchdown (but missed the extra point) to make in 9-0 in the 3rd quarter. After that, Memorial tried, but couldn't get anything going. For the 2nd time in the Playoffs, we avenged a regular-season defeat. For the 2nd time in the Playoff era, for the 4th time in our history, we were Central Jersey Group IV Champions.

This one was more enjoyable than 2004, for the simple reason that we'd already done it once before. The tension simply wasn't there: If we'd lost this one, I wouldn't have liked it, but I could have lived with it, even with the miserable weather and the long trip home. But the pressure wasn't nearly as much -- maybe on the individual players, who were in junior high or even elementary school in 2004, but not on the program and the community as a whole. The 2009 victory was nicer. But the 2004 win was sweeter, because we'd waited so long.

2010: 6-4, .600
September 11 A Monroe Lost 18-21
September 16 H Edison Won 20-12
September 24 A J.P. Stevens Won 35-0
October 1 H Woodbridge Won 7-0
October 15 A Howell Won 21-13
October 22 H Sayreville Lost 6-41
October 29 A Piscataway Lost 0-28
November 5 H South Brunswick Won 24-12
November 12 A Brick Memorial Lost 7-35
November 25 A Old Bridge Won 34-6

Monroe got their revenge for the preceding season, but we still had some good wins, enough to get into the Playoffs, the first time we'd done so in back-to-back seasons in 22 years. Unfortunately, we had to go to Brick to play Memorial, and, eager for revenge for the Snow Bowl, they pounded us.

So we went to Old Bridge, and, this time, we managed to stuff those turkeys. Best regular-season win for EB since... well, I would know, wouldn't I? Actually, it was probably the most satisfying regular-season win since we beat Old Bridge (then still known as Madison Central) in 1989. As they say in English soccer, "We beat The Scum!" (They also say a lot of other things about their rivals, most of which aren't printable in an article about high school sports.)

*

That brings us up to the present day. The first 50 years of East Brunswick High School football.

I hope some of you who've read this will be going. Let's go Bears!

Marcus Borden's Green-White Army! We hate Old Bridge!

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