BCG Game Preview—#3 Sparta @ #1 Cranford—North Jersey Section 2 Group 3 Championship—November 19, 2021

Cranford Goes for 3rd Sectional Crown in 11 Years on Friday Night.

CRANFORD, NJ—While top seeded Hillsborough is taking on 3rd seeded North Brunswick in the Central Jersey Group 5 Championship at Noonan Field on Friday night, another top seeded Big Central team is hosting a 3rd seeded foe in a sectional championship.  On Friday night at Memorial Field in Cranford, the Cougars will be looking to win its third championship since 2011 and first 6 years.

Cranford will be hosting 3rd seeded Sparta in the 2021 North Jersey Section 2 Group 3 Championship.  The Cougars reached the sectional finals after defeating Pascack Valley (42-7) in the semifinals while the Spartans downed 2nd seeded River Dell (42-0).  Sparta opened tournament play with a 62-33 win over another Big Central Conference, Warren Hills two weeks ago.

The Cougars, meanwhile, rolled past eighth seeded Demarest (56-26) in its opening round contest.  Sparta, which enters the game at 8-3 overall, lost its first two games before reeling off 8 victories in their last 9 games.  One of the Spartans three losses came to West Morris Central (36-21) in Week 2 in Chester.   The Wolfpack defeated a common opponent of Cranford’s in their opening round game with a 56-31 win over Summit.  The Cougars rolled past the Hilltoppers in its Week 3 game, 45-8.

Besides Hillsborough, Cranford is the only other undefeated team left in the Big Central Conference.  The Cougars enter Friday night’s game at 10-0, and was very impressive in its semifinal round victory over Pascack Valley.  Both the offense and defense dominated as Colin Murray rushed 9 times for 212 yards and 2 TDs despite having another TD run called back due to penalty.

Senior QB Shane Van Dam rushed for a TD and threw for two more.  Van Dam completed 4 of 9 passes for 79 yards and 2 TDs while not throwing an interception.  Will Gallagher (2 receptions for 29 yards) and Jack Conley (one catch for 38 yards) both reeled in TD receptions.  Lucca Limeira also contributed to the ground game with 6 rushes for 61 yards and a TD.

Cranford’s defense was stellar with 5 tackles for loss including four sacks along with 3 interceptions.  Shane Kanterman led the effort with 6 total tackles including a solo while Ryan Lynskey chipped in with 5 tackles and an interception.  Liam Godwin did a little bit of everything in the win for the Cougars.  Not only did he make all 6 of his extra point attempts, he caught a pass for 12 yards, and collected 4 tackles including two solos.

Entering Friday night’s Championship Game, Cranford has outscored its opponents by a margin of 388-173, or an average of about 39 to 17 per game.  The average margin of victory went up a little bit after its win over Pascack Valley a week ago.  The Cougars rank fourth in the Big Central in terms of Point Differential while ranking first in scoring offense with 38.8 points per game, and 20th in scoring defense by allowing 17.3 points per contest.  Cranford has yet to record a shutout this season.

Meanwhile, Sparta has outscored their foes by a margin of 380-165, or by an average about of 35 to 15 per game.  The Spartans finished in first place in the Liberty White Division of the Super Football Conference with an unblemished 6-0 record in league play.  The three losses suffered by Sparta came against West Morris Central, arch rival Newton (21-20), and Mount Olive (13-0).  The three losses came by an average of 9.7 points per game.

The Spartans three losses came against teams that at least reached the sectional semifinals, and had a combined record of 27-7.  Cranford played 9 teams that made the playoffs, and two teams that reached the sectional semifinals.  The Cougars are also the only Group 3 school playing in the BCC’s Division 4, which is otherwise made up of Group 4 schools.  The Cougars won the division title with a 7-0 mark in league play.

Prior to Friday night’s scheduled contest, Cranford and Sparta have never played each other on the football field before.  The Cougars also never played Demarest and Pascack Valley before taking them on in each of their previous playoff round games.  Sparta also played Montville and River Dell, which played the likes of Pascack Valley and Demarest.  The Spartans won both contests by a combined score of 86-0.

Sparta comes into Friday night’s big game with a high powered offense that has compiled 2,148 yards passing and 1,811 yards rushing for 3,959 yards of total offense this season, or an average of just under 360 yards per game.  Cranford, on the other hand, has tallied 1,359 yards through the air, and 2,503 yards on the ground for 3,862 yards of total offense, or an average of just over 386 yards per game.

The Spartans are led on offense by junior QB Austen Frattura, who has completed 146 of 219 pass attempts for 2,087 yards with 16 TDs versus only two interceptions.  Frattura has also rushed 26 times for 146 yards and three more scores.  Senior RB Justin Smith accounts for about 55 percent of Sparta’s rushing yardage while tallying 19 TDs.  Smith has also caught 15 passes for 133 yards to average 6.5 yards per touch.

Frattura has three solid targets to throw the ball to as well.  With the likes of receiving yardage leader and senior wideout Luke Szabo (35 catches for 688 yards and 5 TDs), receptions leader Kevin Struble (48 catches for 496 yards and 3 TDs), and Brady Doyle (22 catches for 441 yards and 6 TDs).  The trio accounts for 76.6 percent of Sparta’s receiving yardage, 72.9 percent of the team’s total receptions, and 87.5 percent of the receiving TDs.  The three Spartan receivers combined also average about 15.5 yards per catch.

On defense, Sparta is led by by the threesome of Joe Byrnes, Paul Gennat, and Parker Williamson.  Byrnes leads the team in total tackles with 30 including 26 solos and two sacks.  Gennat ranks 2nd on the team with 29 total tackles including 25 solos, 10 for loss, and 3 sacks.  Williamson, who leads the team in sacks with 17, ranks 3rd with 26 total tackles.  Matt Silvey leads Sparta with 3 interceptions.

Braeden Kanceljak handles the plackicking chores, and has made his only field goal attempt of 31 yards while converting 28 of 36 extra point attempts.  The Cougars will rely heavily on the rushing of Murray, who has rushed 206 times for 1,718 yards and 29 TDs.  Limeira complements Murray well with 75 carries for 489 yards and 6 TDs.  The Cranford duo accounts for 88.2 percent of the team’s rushing yardage and 94.6 percent of the team’s rushing TDs.

Will Gallagher is the primary target in the passing game, but Conley, Godwin, Jake Carter, and Lukas Ruby are capable receivers as well.  Conley caught TD passes in both games covered by Big Central Gridiron against Colonia on October 8th and last week versus Pascack Valley.  Much of Cranford’s rushing success must be attributed to its offensive line led by the likes of Illinois bound Matt Fries.  Kanterman, Lynskey, Godwin, Limeira, Stephen Kisly and Angelo Fiorenza lead the defense.

Statistically, these two teams are very much mirror images of each other in terms of points per game scored and allowed, and total yardage gained on offense.  Forgot to mention earlier that Sparta soundly beat a Warren Hills team in the playoffs that had knocked off Summit earlier this season.  Expect this game to be close.  Look for the Cougars to make plays in the passing game if Murray and Limeira are held in check, and which team will control both sides of the line of scrimmage.  

NOTE: Cranford TV-35 and Central Jersey Sports Radio will be covering the game live.

Prediction:  Cranford wins, 27-26.