UNION — For the first time in three weeks, Union returned home to its home digs of Cooke Memorial Stadium Friday night, bringing with it an undefeated record. Knowing that they would be playing before a charged up atmosphere on homecoming night, the Farmers were anxious and hyped to deliver an entertaining show to their fans and “Farmer Fam” student body — and that is exactly what they did.
Union wasted no time unbundling that excitement, as the Farmers scored on their first drive of the game and never looked back, exploding for four touchdowns in the first half en route to a commanding 40-20 victory over Hunterdon Central on a chilly mid-October night. After seeing its lead cut to a single point, 7-6, in the first quarter, Union went on to score five straight times to take a 40-6 lead in the fourth before the Red Devils tacked on a pair of touchdowns in the game’s final 4:10.
Union is now a perfect 7-0 on the season, and has just two more games left — at Bridgewater-Raritan next week and Sayreville on Nov. 1 — to complete an undefeated regular season.
“We were thinking about this in school and everything all day,” Union star receiver Ahmirr Robinson told TAPinto.net. “We expected to come out and dominate. Hunterdon Central is always a good, physical team, but we knew we have a great passing game and just tried to do our best.”
Union’s “best” would certainly include Robinson taking over games with explosive plays, and the senior three-star Rutgers commit erupted for two of those four first half touchdowns Friday to help put this one away early. Robinson was one beneficiary of Andrew Sanborn’s stellar night, as the senior quarterback fired three touchdowns — two to Robinson and another to Kayir McBride — on 280 yards passing, 90 of which yards came through the soft hands of the 6-foot-4 Robinson. Christian Murrell and Desmond Igbinsoun each added rushing touchdowns, while Diante Wilson scored Union’s final points of the night on a monstrous 50-yard pick six in the fourth quarter.
This game was a perfect example of how explosive Union’s offense is both on the ground and in the air, a quality that makes Union a prime title contender come the state playoffs in three weeks.
“It’s a great thing to have both options,” Sanborn said. “If we’re not beating you with the run, we’re beating you with the pass, and vice versa. You can’t really pick one; you gotta find a way to stop both. I don’t think that really many teams can do that.”
So far this season, not many teams have been able to stop both, and you can now add a very solid, though 1-7 Hunterdon Central team to that list, as well.
The two teams exchanged touchdowns on their first drives — Murrell scored on a 19-yard run on the game’s first series (five plays, 59 yards) to give Union a 7-0 lead, then Hunterdon Central responded on an 11-yard TD pass to Chase Tate to make it 7-6 after a failed PAT with 2:44 left in the opening quarter. Union took over from that point on, however, feeding off explosive plays to put this game away quickly.
On the ensuing Farmer drive after Hunterdon Central’s score, Union was on its own 38 to start but moved into Red Devil territory quickly when Sanborn connected with Elijah White on a 30-yard pass on the second play of the drive. Two plays later, Sanborn found Robinson on a route up the middle, and Robinson made a Division-I level play to elude multiple defenders and break free down the right sideline for a 34-yard touchdown as time expired to make it 13-6.
After Igbinosun scored a 20-yard rushing touchdown with 4:48 left in the second quarter to make it 20-6, Sanborn and Robinson again hooked up once more before halftime. On the very next play after an Igbinosun touchdown was called back on a holding penalty, Sanborn connected with a wide-open Robinson for a 35 yard touchdown strike.
Robinson was out wide in the formation, ran a great slant and went untouched into the maroon end zone to make it 27-6 entering the half.
“So far this season, everyone tried to take away Ahmirr from the passing game,” Sanborn said. “Tonight, I just wanted to find ways to get him the ball because we have the chemistry.”
"[Hunterdon Central] was pressed a little bit on the corners and had one up top, but every time they were pressed, they ended up bailing when I snapped the ball; then the safety up top came down a little bit," Sanborn added. "There were openings — the middle was open because they were playing too high. That was big for us."
Robinson is without a question one of the state’s top receivers. But because of that, he is often double-teamed and taken out by most opponents, which significantly limits his amount of catches during a game. He had no more than three receptions in his prior three games before Friday (his season-high in catches was seven for only 64 yards in Week 3), and hadn’t scored more than one touchdown in a game yet this yaer.
Again, none of those numbers should be meant to downplay Robinson’s immense talent; if anything, they underscore his ability based on how much opponents are willing to sell out and eliminate him from the Farmers’ game plan. Friday, however, Union found a way to get the ball in Robinson’s hands, and that is a very scary sight for opposing teams.
“It’s a game-changer for us when we can get Ahmirr out in the open and get him loose,” said Union head coach Lou Grasso, Jr. “He’s a great player, great kid, and does his job well. We know we can count on him in a tough spot. It’s huge for us when we can get him going.”
Union didn't let up after halftime and scored again on its opening series of the second half. After Desmond Igbinosun delivered a vicious hit on a Hunterdon Central receiver on the first play of the half, the ball was jarred loose and Union recovered it at the Red Devil 29. Five plays later, McBride found himself in the endzone after catching a deflected pass to register a four yard score and extend Union's lead to 33-6.
A solid Farmer defensive performance was then given its signature moment early in the fourth quarter, when Wilson picked off a pass at midfield and took it all the way to the house down the left sideline for a pick-six. Ricardo Casas' booming PAT then brought the score to 40-6.
Despite allowing the two touchdowns at the end, this was yet another strong showing from the Union defense. Hunterdon Central was without Division-I Holy Cross-bound running back Will Ezema, but still packs a solid offense that is capable of scoring in a variety of ways.
"They’re a much better team than their record says," Grasso, Jr. said. "They’ve had a lot of tough games. We were really apprehensive early this game. We had a great week of practice and these kids really brought in more. It panned out tonight."