SUMMIT, NJ - The Summit varsity football team improved to 11-0, reaching the state championship game for the second consecutive year, by beating Cranford, 35-14, at Investors Bank Field on Saturday.
Summit used a steady, tough ground attack to wear down the Cougars, take control of the game, and got two massive defensive stops in the second half to seal the victory. They will face Parsippany Hills, who bested top-seeded West Essex, in a bid to win back-to-back state titles, with the exact date, time, and location of the game being announced this coming week.
The Hilltopper players and coaches knew they would be in for a much stiffer challenge from Cranford, a squad they defeated handily, 48-14, at Friday Night Lights on Sept. 27. The difference between the games, like their settings, was night and day, with Cranford going toe-to-toe with Summit in a see-saw first quarter that ended with the score 14-14. Summit won the coin toss, elected to receive, and scored on their first possession through a 6-yard run by quarterback Charlie Terry. Summit marched down the field using a run-pass mix that featured a long, sweeping run around left end by Colm Dougherty, and later included a key pass to Chris Zanelli that put the ball into the Red Zone.
Cranford tied the score on their first possession courtesy of a John Oblachinski run, aided by a controversial pass interference call that put the ball on the Summit 10-yard line. Summit answered right back with Terry hitting David Connolly on a 29-yard pass to the Cranford one yard line, where Terry scored his second touchdown of the game via a quarterback keeper. After the ensuing kickoff, the Cougars responded as Oblachinski threw a 36-yard scoring pass, the game was knotted at 14, but it would prove to be the last points Cranford would put on the scoreboard for the afternoon.
Summit scored the only points of the second quarter, as Colm Dougherty punched it in from a yard out, culminating a drive that featured hard running from Dougherty and a key pass from Terry to Zanelli. The PAT failed, and the Hilltoppers went into the locker room at halftime with a 20-14 lead.
Making adjustments at halftime, Summit seized control of the game in the third quarter, with a defining play delivered by their defense. Will Delaney shot the gap on a Cranford fourth-down conversion attempt, and Summit took over on the Cranford 42 yard line. What followed was a steady ground and pound diet led by Dougherty, with the Senior doing the honors from one yard out. A two-point conversion pass from Terry to Andrew Masterfano made it 28-14, and Summit had command of the game.
In the fourth quarter, another huge stop on fourth-down by Summit's defensive unit, this time pressuring Oblachinski to throw an incomplete pass on the Summit 12-yard line, gave the ball back to the offense. It looked like it would pay immediate dividends when Terry found Connolly down the right sideline for a 78-yard catch and run touchdown. Offsetting penalties, however, nullified the score, but Summit later found the end zone through another Dougherty one-yard run, and it was all but over. Down 21 points late, Cranford was forced to pass, and Andrew Masterfano picked off an Oblachinski pass and set off on a highlight reel return that he nearly took all the way. Despite a blocking-in-the-back penalty that occurred during the return, Summit maintained the ball, drained down the clock, and booked its place in the Championship game.
"I am sure some people had their doubts about us coming into the season," said Summit Head Coach Kevin Kostibos. "Eighteen starters to replace, new coach, new players, but we have found ways to get better and win, and we keep getting better. We are athletic, and our strength is our resilience." With a two week gap between the win and their date with Parsippany Hills, Kostibos says the team will use week one to focus on mental preparation, and the second week to physically prepare. Of their opponent, Kostibos said, "They are the hottest team around right now, the big dogs. They knocked off the number one seed, so now they are number-one seed. It is a great opportunity for us, and I am really proud of our kids."