Last week, in writing about the upcoming NJSIAA state football playoffs, it was mentioned that Emerson would need nothing short of a miracle to get into the North Jersey Section 1, Group IV bracket.
The Bulldogs needed a lot of help, especially coming in the form of lowly Paterson Eastside knocking off preseason state playoff favorite Bloomfield last Saturday. It was an event that didn't seem likely.
Well, call it the Miracle on 23rd Street, because the Bulldogs are heading to the state playoffs for the fourth straight time under head coach Eddie Marinez.
Paterson Eastside defeated Bloomfield in shocking fashion, winning 10-7, enabling the Bulldogs to collect the eighth seed in the bracket and prepare for this weekend's playoff showdown against Randolph.
So now, the Bulldogs of Union City will take the hour journey out on Route 80 West to take on one of New Jersey's storied grid programs in a first-ever meeting.
The state playoffs offer some interesting local stories. The showdown between Secaucus and Hoboken has already been addressed in the Scoreboard section.
In fact, there are seven local teams that will play this weekend in the state playoffs. All three who sat on the bubble last weekend were able to take that bubble over the hump and get into the playoff picture.
St. Peter's Prep will be the only host team, outside of Hoboken. The undefeated Marauders, the No. 2 team in the entire state, will play host to Paramus Catholic in Parochial Group 4.
In that same bracket, Hudson Catholic will make only the second playoff appearance in the school's history, when the Hawks travel into Bergen County to take on perennial state powerhouse Bergen Catholic. It won't be easy for coach Rob Stern's surprising Hawks to go to Oradell and knock off the mighty Crusaders.
North Bergen heads back to the state playoffs for the 15th straight year and incredibly, the 26th time in the 28-year history of the football playoffs. The Bruins, who rebounded from 1-3 to win five straight games to get into the playoff mix, will travel to Hackensack and face a familiar foe. The two schools used to face each other every year in the playoffs. In fact, Hackensack defeated North Bergen in three straight state title games in the early 1990s.
Now, Vince Ascolese takes his young team to Hackensack, once again as a heavy underdog. The fact that the Bruins are even in the state playoff picture is unbelievable, considering how many people figured they were finished five weeks ago.
"I think losing that game to Hudson Catholic woke this team up," Ascolese said.
Sure enough, ever since they lost 7-0 to the Hawks, the Bruins have not lost. But they have their work cut out for them this weekend against Hackensack, which was ranked as high as No. 2 in the state earlier in the season.
The last team in the playoff mix is Weehawken, which will also make its second appearance ever in the state playoffs in North Jersey Section 2, Group I, the same bracket that includes Secaucus and Hoboken.
It's a remarkable turnaround by Weehawken head coach Anthony Stratton.
"Who would have ever thought we could go from being 0-10 two years ago to the state playoffs?" said Stratton, whose team travels to Ridgefield Park this weekend. "To be in the state playoffs is an honor. We were 0-10, then 5-5 and now this. We set our goals to be in the states. Just to be a part of it means a lot to these kids, especially the seniors."
So there are seven local teams playing for state playoff glory. Who has the best shot to play for another week? Well, it's time to turn to that gargantuan donut of prognostication, the round mound of renown, the chubby soothsayer known in these parts as The Great Hagueini.
The Great Hagueini, the old wide one, hasn't brought out the magic wand, crystal ball and turban in quite sometime, but he's ready to gaze into the future and see what will transpire in this weekend's action.
So here goes:
Paramus Catholic at St. Peter's Prep: Paramus Catholic likes to throw the ball and features a running back in Willie Maldonado who is about the size of the Prep water boy. The undefeated Marauders have the most diversified backfield in New Jersey. Watch the scoreboard explode. St. Peter's Prep 56, Paramus Catholic 0.
Hudson Catholic at Bergen Catholic: If this game was played about six weeks ago, I would have given the Hawks a chance, but Bergen Catholic is on a complete roll, with running back Wolfver Jean-Pierre who is hungry like the wolf. Although Hudson Catholic quarterback Tom Bender has the ability to make big plays and Jonathan Calderon is a big-time running back, the Hawks are in a different league altogether facing mighty BC. Bergen Catholic 42, Hudson Catholic 7.
North Bergen at Hackensack: Coach Ascolese has a nice young team with a good nucleus for next year. The Bruins get some playoff experience. Whether it's a good experience remains to be seen, with Hackensack's workhorse backfield of Jean Beljour and Davon Smart running wild. Hackensack 35, North Bergen 7.
Emerson at Randolph: Marinez surprised me last week by even making the state playoffs - and he called me to remind me soon after the gun sounded Saturday afternoon. As much as Jeffrey Pena is one of the most talented players to ever put on a uniform in Union City, can he lift the Bulldogs past top-seeded Randolph? Unlikely. Randolph 21, Emerson 12.
Secaucus at Hoboken: Charlie Voorhees calls this "the biggest game in the history of Secaucus football." Ed Stinson said his team just needs a win - desperately. Now, considering the history of the two programs, which way would you go? Exactly. Hoboken 21, Secaucus 14.
Weehawken at Ridgefield Park: Stratton should thank his lucky stars that the Indians didn't end up with Becton in the first round, because that would have been no contest. But the talented Indians can hang here, considering that RP's best performer, Cesar Fernandez, is banged up and hasn't played in two weeks. Will the wide one pick against his boys from the Shades? Yup. Ridgefield Park 28, Weehawken 12.
Now, remember, don't use the pigskin prognostications for any gambling purposes, unless it's for a lunch date at Biggie's Clam Bar with your Uncle Louie...-- Jim Hague