SUMMIT, NJ - Halloween - a day of harmless, scary fun. For the Summit High School Boys Varsity Soccer Team, their match against neighboring Chatham was, in the end, without harm and, while winning is always fun, the 80 minutes were -- for those of the Maroon and White persuasion -- far from a treat and more than a bit too much on the scary side.
The Hilltoppers scored relative early and very, very late but, in between, the margin was razor thin, but good sides find a way to victory even when they are not at their best and, while Summit's play on the day was relatively flat, it was good enough to beat the Cougars, 2-0, and advance to the second round of the NJSIAA North 2, Group 3 Tournament.
Summit entered the match as the fourth seed, with Chatham seeded 13th. On the run of play, however, it was challenging to figure out which team was the seeded favorite, as the Cougars gave the Hilltoppers all they could handle.
In fact, if Chatham was more clinical or ingenious in the final third of the pitch, the result may have been really frightening for the home side. The only thing Chatham was not able to produce on the day was the vital final ball or finish necessary to produce one or more goals.
After a scrambly opening phase -- the match was about as 50-50 as 50-50 gets -- Summit, essentially out of nowhere, broke through.
In the seventh minute, senior Delmer Argeñal found junior Luc Curragh on the left side of the field in full stride. Curragh knifed into the middle of the pitch and darted across the top of the Cougar 18-yard box. As he drifted to his right Curragh clipped a shot that glided over the head of Chatham goalkeeper Peter De Maria, kissed the underside of the bar, and dropped down just across the goal line.
It was a bolt from the blue -- against The Blue -- and, based on pedigree, objective observers could not be faulted for thinking that the score was the start of a Summit goal flow.
Not the case.
While both teams created some opportunities, there was not a clear-cut scoring chance until the final two minutes prior to half-time when senior Edwin Navas spun and left footed a five-yard shot across the face of goal and just inches wide of the right post.
After Summit had a serious chat at the break, those same observers who expected the goal taps to be opened earlier likely thought that the Hilltoppers would come out and take control in the final forty minutes.
Chatham was actually the brighter side for the majority of the second half. While Hilltopper goalkeeper James Ford -- credited with six saves on the afternoon -- didn't have to display any acrobatics to keep the clean sheet, he did have to be on his toes.
Summit had a few solid forays into the Cougar area, but were always a notch off and couldn't make a connection. The best chance for either team was a tight angle try from the left side of the area from Curragh which struck the outside of the woodwork.
Inside the final 10 seconds, Curragh latched onto a long ball just ahead of De Maria. A collision ensued, the referee pointed to the spot, and Argeñal stepped up and slotted home low to the keeper's right.
With just four seconds to go, the goal only mattered for optics and numerics as the result was, at that point, done and dusted.
Summit, now 13-6 on the season, advances to take on number-five seed Cranford, a 3-2 winner over Rahway, in the NJSIAA second round November 3 at Tatlock Park. Kick-off is set for 2 p.m.
Prior to that, the Hilltoppers are scheduled to play at Linden November 2, a match that was originally slated to be contested October 24. The match at Linden-Wheeler Park kicks off at 4 p.m.