UNION — What has become an annual midsummer tradition for the Union football program, the Autoland Classic senior all-star game (formerly called the Snapple Bowl) once again had a heavy Farmer twist to it Thursday night.
Not only was the game played at Kean University — just a stone’s throw down Morris Ave. from Union High — but Farmers head coach Lou Grasso, accompanied by some of his staff, led the Union County team which featured four recently-graduated Union players.
Justin Peterman, Ernesto Hernandez, Isaiah Martinez, and Sean Simmons all represented “The U” one final time before ultimately coming up on the short end of the scoreboard against their Middlesex County counterparts, 23-7.
“We had a good season and a good senior class, and we represented tonight,” said Grasso. “We usually get three or four guys, so it was good and they represented us well like our guys usually do. We want to represent the county and represent our school one last time.”
Hernandez and Simmons both saw significant time on the Union County defensive line, while Martinez also contributed defensively at linebacker. Peterman saw multiple carries at running back, primarily in the first half.
“Isaiah Martinez had a really good game on defense, made some really good plays,” Grasso said. “Ernesto and Sean Simmons did a good job, and Justin Peterman had a couple good carries early in the game. They all represented us really well. I was proud of all them — I was during the season and I’m proud of them now.”
Grasso has a long standing imprint in the game as well, having coached it many times in the past. He was also a standout player at Colonia High, which has one of the richest traditions of any school in Middlesex County.
“I’m a Colonia guy, my youngest brother once played for Middlesex in this game, and I’ve coached it a bunch of times,” Grasso said. “I know all the coaches in the county — we’re all friends — and it’s fun to get back together and just compete a little bit in the summertime.”
Torrential rain and thunder delayed the game by about 45 minutes in the first quarter, but Union responded after the delay to take a 7-6 halftime lead after a six-yard keeper touchdown from Rahway quarterback Ja’Kir Robinson. However, Middlesex would respond for 17 unanswered points in the second half to win. North Brunswick kicker Aaron Ahr, who booted three field goals of 28 yards or greater, was named the game’s MVP.