BERNARDSVILLE, NJ -- This is a momentous weekend for two boys sports programs at Bernards High School, but one of those events will be a lot more difficult for local families and fans to attend than the other one.
While the Bernards boys soccer team will be playing for a Group 2 state championship Sunday evening at Kean University, about a 40-minute drive from the Somerset Hills, the Bernards football team's playoff game Saturday will require more extensive travel plans.
The Mountaineers will be playing Cedar Creek in the semifinal round of the Central Jersey, Group 2 playoffs Saturday at noon in Egg Harbor City. Door to door, it's a 122-mile trip, which surely has some questioning how the NJSIAA considers either of these football combatants to be part of "Central Jersey."
"We'll go down in charter buses instead of school buses," Bernards head coach Jon Simoneau said of Saturday's travel itinerary. "Instead of the kind of team meal we usually have, it will be more of a grab-and-go. And we'll probably hold our pre-game meetings, most of them, on the bus instead of in the classroom."
Bernards (8-1) won its eighth game in a row in the opening round of the playoffs, 24-0, last week over Delaware Valley, a two-time victim of the Mountaineers during this streak, which began after a 20-7 opening day loss to Hillside. This will be the first meeting ever between Bernards and Cedar Creek (8-2), which has scored more than 40 points in each of its last four games with a quarterback, Louie Barrios, who has thrown for 2,340 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Although he may not have the gaudy statistics of his Cedar Creek counterpart, Bernards junior QB Teddy Gouldin is a Division 1 recruit sought after by Wake Forest, Rutgers and schools from the Ivy League and Patriot League. Gouldin's game becomes more refined by the week, and he's passed for 1,805 yards and 20 TDs with a 67 percent completion rate.
"Teddy is just a rare football player," Simoneau said. "His combination of brains and brawn is unique. He is a difference-maker."
Gouldin's touchdown passes have gone to five different receivers, led by senior Joey Billotti, who has caught six TD passes among his team-high 40 receptions for an 18.4-yard average. Billotti, the fastest of a fleet group of Mountaineer skill players, is also dangerous as a return man and on jet sweeps in the running game.
Defensively, Bernards will need a pass rush from Gavin Chieff, Luke Burns, Jack Chisholm, Lucas Ritchie and John Perling, as well as great pass coverage from defensive backs Jackson Tantleff--who has seven interceptions--Evan Farlow and A.J. Mino, among others. Burns, an inside linebacker in the 3/4 defense, is a ubiquitous presence with 132 total tackles.
Burns' productivity on defense is all the more remarkable considering that he suffered a severe thigh injury, compartment syndrome, in Spring 2018 while playing lacrosse.
"It was a very serious injury with internal bleeding. It's something you could die from," Simoneau said of Burns' injury as a freshman. "Because Luke's recovery impacted his sophomore season last year, I think he's just scratching the surface of how good a football player he can be. The best is yet to come with him.
"Luke is a gritty throwback," Simoneau said. "Just his toughness and his knowledge of the game. The fact that he is playing football less than 18 months after this injury is remarkable."