MAPLEWOOD, NJ – Even though it had just one win, Columbia qualified for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group 5 state playoffs last season.
That’s correct: just one win. The victory came on the road in Week 2 against East Orange Campus, which also qualified for the Section 2, Group 5 playoffs.
By playing Seton Hall Prep, a non-public team, the Cougars gained a lot of power points
that helped clinch the eighth and final berth in the postseason,
even though they suffered a defeat to the West Orange school in
that Week 6 game.
Columbia lost decisively in the first round of the section playoffs to Bridgewater-Raritan, which went on to lose to Westfield in the championship game for the second year in a row.
But the Cougars hope to springboard that playoff experience into this season as they strive to make more progress under second-year head coach Gary Mobley.
“I feel really comfortable with this team, because we got a lot of experience and a lot of guys that returned,” said Mobley, a Union HS graduate who brought over a proven track record when he was the head coach at Rahway. “We feel that with some of those guys being forced into action last year, and getting experience, it’s going to help us.
“We feel really good about the team. We’re more comfortable with them; they are more comfortable with us after having a year and an offseason under our belt. We feel good.”
One of the players who was thrust into a starting role last year is junior quarterback Luke Hayes, who took over for an injured Brandon Robinson, who has since transferred to Irvington.
Mobley and the coaching staff have been impressed with Hayes’ progression.
“We really love Luke’s work ethic and leadership skills,” Mobley said. “We feel he has all the qualities to make a good quarterback: smart, tough and driven. We feel that with him being forced into action last year, and gaining some valuable experience, and with a good offseason under his belt, he is going to show some major strides.”
As for the running game, there are several candidates who are looking to be in the mix. Senior Krys Ward, who had a part-time role last year, had been getting the bulk of the carries during preseason.
Defensively, the Cougars are experienced, led by junior free safety Trey Harris, cornerback Shamar Haughton, junior lineman Ebuka Egwuonwu, senior lineman Galileo Hetherton and senior linebacker Cordel Provilon.
Harris (receiver), Provilon (tight end) and Hetherton (line) will also contribute offensively.
On special teams, Mobley feels the team has a strong weapon in junior kicker Isaac Schiftus.
With a taste of the playoffs last season, the Cougars want to build off that experience.
“We made the playoffs last year; we want to go back,” Mobley said. “We want to finish .500 or better; we want to try to make the playoffs. We just have to go out there and take the experience that we gained, and use it to our advantage by executing and playing together as a team. I think last year we were fundamentally poor and we lost too many drives that were halted by penalties and bad snaps, and those are the things that we control. If we don’t put ourselves in a hole offensively, and don’t give up the big play too often defensively, we feel like we will make teams beat (us) and we should be okay.”
NOTE – Mobley will be among the inductees of this year’s Union High School Athletic Hall of Fame induction class in November. Mobley, Union HS Class of 1986, was a star football player for the Union Farmers, under late legendary head coach Lou Rettino.
Sept. 8, at Bloomfield, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16, East Orange Campus, 1 p.m.
Sept. 23, West Orange, 1 p.m.
Sept. 29, at Morristown, 2 p.m.
Oct. 6, Livingston, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14, at Seton Hall Prep, 2 p.m.
Oct. 20, Randolph, 7 p.m.
Oct. 27, Morris Knolls, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4, at Montclair, 1 p.m.
Records for the past three years:
2016: 1-9 (Section 2, Group 5 state playoffs, lost to Bridgewater-Raritan, first round)
2015: 5-5 (Section 2, Group 5 state playoffs, lost to Westfield, first round)