SUMMIT, NJ - Observers referred to last season's Summit defense as being of the "bend, but don't break" variety. Those looking to attach a label to the 2014 Hilltopper defensive unit may be well-served to consider a moniker such as "no bend, no break".
Although the season is still young in terms of games played - three to be exact -- it is now abundantly clear that this defensive unit is more than up for any challenge, and is becoming a linchpin to team's success.
Chock full of senior talent and leadership, the defense has allowed just two scores - a touchdown and field goal -- in the season's first three games, and effectively neutralized Warren Hills heretofore prolific running back Justin Iaione, who came into the contest having gained nearly 400 yards on the ground, a total which earned him the sixth highest ranking in the state.
Iaione was held to 97 yards on 20 carries, the Hilltopper offense came to life after a slow first quarter, and the Summit High School Varsity Football Team upped their record to 3-0 on the season, winning their 29th straight, 22-3 over the Blue Streaks.
Summit began the game sluggishly and again committed key penalties, both of which gave Warren Hills several short field opportunities. Despite the edge in field position for virtually the entire quarter, the Blue Streaks could only manage a 22-yard field goal from Oscar Vago. It would be the only points Summit would allow on the afternoon.
The Hilltopper offense finally got its footing late in the second quarter, the spark coming from the familiar source that is Chris Zanelli. The senior captain, who gained 143 yards on the ground via his 27 carries, ripped off a long-gainer to get Summit out of bad field position.
Several Zanelli runs later, sophomore quarterback Jake Froschauer -- again starting in place of the injured Ryan Richson -- found Andrew Helmer in a seam down the middle, Helmer hauling in the perfectly lofted throw at the two yard line. From there, it was Zanelli into the end zone, with Paulo Umana tacking on the extra point to make it 7-3 with 4:02 on the clock.
The teams traded turnovers, and Summit got the ball back late in the second quarter. The Hilltoppers used a run-pass mix to get the ball down to the Blue Streaks' 10 yard line, but faced a fourth-and-two. Opting against the field goal, Summit ran Zanelli off left tackle, and he barreled into the end zone. An offs ides penalty on the PAT allowed Summit to go for two, which was successful and the Hilltoppers led 15-3 at the half.
Summit capitalized on a Warren Hills miscue in the third quarter to increase their lead. After a Hilltopper drive stalled in Blue Streaks territory, Froschauer's sent a "pooch punt" inside the Warren Hills five yard line, where one of the Blue Streaks' punt return blockers inexplicably attempted to catch the ball. Muffing the catch, the ball was recovered by Summit at the three yard line.
Two plays later, Froschauer found Sean Andrews in the end zone, and Umana's extra point made it 22-3.
The fourth quarter saw both teams pace slow, the warm, cloudless day appearing to drain the energy level of both teams.
"We have a senior dominated defense, one that is starting to form an identity," said Summit Head Coach Kevin Kostibos. Noting that teams are changing their defensive looks and directing their efforts on stopping Zanelli and Hilltoppers ground game, Kostibos said, "Our offense is still evolving, but Jake is doing a great job managing the offense, and everyone is contributing."
Next up for Summit are two big challenges, a short week and a tough opponent in Cranford. Summit will travel to face the Cougars in a rare Thursday Night game, with the October 2 kick-off set for 7 p.m.
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