SUMMIT, NJ – The rain stopped just in time for the lights to be turned on at Investors Bank Field in Summit as the Hilltoppers played host to the Governor Livingston Highlanders for the 2011 edition of the Investors Bank Cup. The yearly rivalry game between Summit and Governor Livingston has seen the Hilltoppers emerge victorious the previous two games and Friday night was no different as head coach John Liberato’s team scored on its first nine possessions en route to a huge, 42-point victory.
“It was a great. G.L.’s a very good football team. The score was not indicative of how well they played,” Liberato said after accepting the Investors Cup Trophy for the third straight year. “Coach Hanratty is a great coach who does a great job and tonight was just unfortunate for them. Their four losses are to four undefeated teams and I think they play the toughest schedule in the state.”
Yet while Liberato praised his opponents as he almost always does after every game, no matter what the outcome, the fact remains that his Hilltoppers are once again rolling through an undefeated regular season for the third straight year. Liberato has turned Summit from an also-ran when he was hired in 2007 to one of the elite public high school football programs in all of New Jersey.
One might recall that in 2009, the Hilltoppers went undefeated and won a state championship. Last year, Summit put together an undefeated regular season and lost to Orange in the first round of the playoffs in overtime thanks to a controversial no-call on a blocked extra point attempt at the end of regulation that would have given Summit the win. This year, the Hilltoppers are 6-0. That means Liberato has coached Summit to 25 wins in its last 26 games and while he often deflects credit and praise for his team’s success, there is absolutely no doubt that Liberato is one of the best high school football coaches in New Jersey.
Witness the skill with which the Hilltoppers dispatched of the Highlanders on Friday night. Last year, Mike Badgley was making a name for himself as one of the best kickers in the state. This year, he is an all-around threat on both sides of the ball and in special teams. Sure, he’s a great kicker, yes he’s a threat in special teams in the kicking game, but would one expect him to take the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown? Well, Badgley did just that Friday night. He also made all eight of his extra point attempts and oh yeah, caught a 35-yard touchdown pass as well.
Last year, Ryan Bringewatt merely ran the offensive plays that were called. He did so with great efficiency, but this year – thanks not only to his physical maturity and his ability on the field – he has been coached into an all-around threat that can run, pass and direct Summit’s fast-paced offensive attack with not only the efficiency of last season, but a flair for the creative. Bringewatt was named the game’s MVP on the Summit side of the ball and received a $500 scholarship from Investors Bank and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would argue with the selection. Though Summit isn’t much of a passing team – why pass when you can run for 400 yards a game? – Bringewatt was lights-out against the Highlanders as he completed 7-of-11 passes for 241 yards and three touchdowns. It was most likely his best high school performance and he just keeps getting better.
“If they don’t line up correctly, we’re going to take advantage of it,” Liberato said after the game. “If teams are going to line up with eight or nine guys in the box, we’re going over the top on them and we’re going to pass the ball. Ryan does a great job of running the offense. It’s hurry-up, no-huddle and he gets people in position to make plays.”
On Alumni Weekend for the Summit Hilltoppers football team, the current edition gave one of its best performances. Bringewatt threw the ball all over the yard. Four different Hilltoppers ran for touchdowns including A.J. Iarussi who punched in two more this year, upping his total to 10 on the season. Even the back-ups contributed to the point total. Mike Watts cracked off a 31-yard run after Liberato lifted his starters with just about seven minutes to go in the third quarter. That was followed by Colm Dougherty’s electric 85-yard jaunt through the Highlanders’ defense for Summit’s final touchdown.
“These guys know how special [Alumni Weekend] is and they know they’re playing for all the Hilltoppers who played before them,” Liberato said. “Nobody has to tell them how special it is and how much pride we have here in Summit for not only football, but all athletics. It’s a really big deal to them.”
The win sets up a huge showdown with New Providence who played North Warren last night. It was unclear at press time if New Providence had won their game, but if they did, that would mean that the last two state champions would be facing off against one another with undefeated records, Summit at 6-0 and New Providence likely at 5-0. Liberato knows the Pioneer program very well. He not only played in it, he also coached in it and he knows what to expect next week when his old team makes the very short trip to Investors Bank Field to take on his current team.
“We expect a hard-fought game against them,” Liberato said of the Pioneers. “Hopefully we can keep improving and give them our best game.”
Will the Hilltoppers, fresh off two straight weeks of 63-point outputs, possibly have a letdown against such a strong opponent? Could Summit somehow not be able to get up for such a huge mid-season showdown, one with definite postseason implications? Liberato’s glare was enough of an answer, but his words drove the point home.
“I don’t think so,” he said, his voice slightly tensed and just a touch higher.
Nobody else who has seen your team play so far this season would think so either, Coach.