SUMMIT, NJ -- When Somerville pulled out its bag of tricks and rallied from being shut out at halftime to taking the lead on elaborate gadget plays in the second half, it seemed as though the Pioneers were just destined to pull this one off.
But Summit had other ideas.
UMass-bound Joe Lusardi scored three touchdowns -- including the go-ahead run with two minutes left -- as a spirited Summit team mounted a spectacular late rally to reclaim the lead and stun previously-undefeated Somerville, 23-16, at Tatlock Field Saturday. Lusardi and classmate Matty Goldblatt combined for 210 yards, while also leading the way on a Summit defense that allowed just two touchdowns to a Somerville team that had averaged 46.75 points-per-game this season entering Saturday.
Ethan MacNair and Kyree Hinton each had gadget-play touchdowns while Cookie Desiderio accumulated 125 total yards for the Pioneers, who rallied from a 15-0 deficit midway through the third quarter to take a 16-15 lead with 5:40 left in the game. However, a costly Pioneer fumble gave Summit the ball back with under four minutes left, and Lusardi capitalized with an eight-yard TD, then scored a two-point conversion to give Summit the 23-16 lead.
It is Somerville’s first regular season loss since October 6, 2017, and first defeat against Summit since 2014.
“I thought we played really hard; we clearly did not play very well, and we definitely didn’t play well enough to win the game,” Somerville head coach Dallas Whitaker told TAPinto Somerville. “They deserve the credit for winning the game, because they came and took it and made the plays in the critical moments. We never thought for a moment at any moment in that game that we couldn’t win it — until the last play where they took a knee and won it.”
In what could go down as one of the best regular season games in the state this year, both teams -- who figure to play deep into the postseason this fall -- put on a tremendous display of football that defines their status as two of the premier programs in the Mid-State 38 Conference.
“[We] battled back, practiced well, and believed," said Summit head coach Kevin Kostibos. "With high school sports, on any given day in any high school sport, anything can happen — and today is just proof of that.”
True to Kostibos’ words, the final sequence Saturday indeed proved that anything is possible. Somerville was ahead, 16-15, and had just received the ball on a punt with under five minutes remaining, as the Pioneers hoped to just run out the clock and secure a come-from-behind victory.
But it would not be that simple.
On the Pioneers’ very first play from scrimmage on that drive, the Hilltopper defense forced a fumble and Beatty was there to scoop it up at the Summit 49. Now with all the momentum in the world, Summit put itself in the red zone two plays later, when Sam Roberts (135 passing yards) found Goldblatt up the middle for a monstrous 40-yard hookup.
Two plays later on third-and-two from the Somerville eight, Lusardi took a direct snap, swept to his left, bounced off a defender, and dove across the goal line to put Summit ahead, 21-16. He then scored a two-point conversion in identical fashion.
“It started out with the fumble — that was huge,” Lusardi said. “They were coming down to just put the game away, but one of my linebackers popped the ball out. The offense did what we had to do and get a touchdown.”
“We put trips to the right so that everyone shifts right,” he added of the touchdown run, “and then the left is wide open.”
Lusardi was no stranger to the end zone by that point, having scored twice already as part of the Hilltoppers’ scintillating opening to this game.
The scholarship player made a scholarship-level play to score the game’s first touchdown, turning a short screen pass into a 68-yard TD after breaking tackles at the line and streaking down the left sideline to make it 6-0 with 5:30 left in the first quarter. Then with 4:27 left in the second quarter, Brock Froschauer booted a 37-yard field goal to complete a 12-play, 54-yard series to give the Hilltoppers a 9-0 advantage entering the half.
That momentum carried into the second half, as Lusardi intercepted a pass and returned it to the Somerville 28 on the first drive of the third quarter, then scored on a four-yard plunge to extend the lead to 15-0 on the drive he created with the pick.
“The kid’s a warrior,” Kostibos said of his senior. “He’s a scholarship football player. He put us on his back. Him and Matty Goldblat made huge plays, causing the fumble and then coming up with the pick at the end. It’s a great team effort, and that’s what we have — we’ve got a great team. And that’s the way we’re going to continue to do things — playing team football.”
However, even a 15-0 lead couldn't have felt safe against such a dynamically-explosive Somerville team, which brought out its bag of tricks to rally back.
Having been completely stymied by Summit's "D" over the first two-and-a-half quarters, Somerville dug deep into its playbook after Lusardi's second touchdown. Operating out of strange muddle-like formations -- such as having receiver Hinton under center -- Somerville first got on the board when MacNair scored on a strange 60-yard pitch play with 4:25 left in the third, cutting the Summit lead to 15-8 after a successful two-point conversion.
Nearly 11 minutes of game time later, Somerville was pinned at the Summit 24 when Hinton -- a Division I prospect -- took a direct snap, busted up the middle, and scored on an 81-yard keeper. The Pioneers elected to go for two instead of attempt to tie with a PAT, and successfully executed a run to jump ahead, 16-15, with only 5:40 left.
“I thought we played really well on offense, but we had way too many penalties,” Whitaker said. “That put us behind the sticks, and there’s not a lot of great plays for Third-and-20. We’re fortunate we had some of those gadgets in the offense, and that’s what kept us in the game and gave us an opportunity to win this with three minutes left.”
Summit was determined to rally back, though, and less than three minutes later found itself ahead on the scoreboard again and for good.
“Summit played a great game,” Whitaker said. “They’re clearly a good team and we clearly have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to go.”