Union players and coaches were informed just after noon on Friday afternoon – seven hours before kick-off against Paterson Eastside – that the team’s quest to repeat themselves as North 2, Group 5 section champions had ended before a single play was called off. because of COVID-19.
According to a letter delivered across the district on Thursday by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Scott Taylor, two players from the team had felt ill on Wednesday and subsequently tested positive for the corona virus. That led to team-wide testing for players and coaches late Thursday, and results released Friday morning by the Union County Board of Health revealed additional cases. That number has not been disclosed.
Union athletic director Linda Ionta informed NJ.com of the cancellation.
Union (9-1), with a nine-game winning streak and 17th in the Top 20, had earned first place in North 2, Group 5 and would take on fifth-seeded Paterson Eastside (6-3) in Union on Friday-evening. The Farmers had won the North 2, Group 5 title in 2019 (the last time the NJSIAA playoffs were held), so technically they were the reigning champions in that section.
They entered the postseason as the favorites with stars including four-star DB/receiver Davison Igbinosun, running back Ashan Harris, defending Ahron McReynolds, lineman Chris Ejekwu and surprise senior QB Jaden Stewart.
That sends Paterson Eastside into the final next week between the winner of Friday’s semi-final between third-seeded Phillipsburg (7-3) and second-seeded Clifton (8-2) in Clifton. Eastside will be looking for the program’s first sectional crown.
This is not the way Eastside wanted to earn that opportunity.
“This is very discouraging. I know all the hard work that goes into a season. My heart goes out to the Union football program,” said Eastside head coach James Magazine. “Coach (Lou) Grasso is a stand-up individual. I wish them nothing but the best. We all understand that safety is paramount.”
Magazine’s Ghosts are only appearing for the second time since the playoffs began in 1974. They lost in the North 1, Group 4 final to Clifton, 26-0, finishing 8-4 that year. Eastside lost to Clifton, 17-14, a month ago in a Super Football Conference-Patriot Red Division clash.
Union lost its only game on August 18 to fourth-seeded Millville, 31-28, in the Battle on the Beach at Ocean City High Schoo. The Farmers defeated Millville, 21-14, in that second half and have been playing some excellent football ever since.
The 2019 12-1 Union team, which ultimately lost to Ridgewood in the North Group 5 Regional Championship, was exceptionally talented, though driven in large part by the orchestration of All-State quarterback Andrew Sanborn, a senior that year. This 2021 club may be a bit more balanced.
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