SUMMIT, NJ - Facing a team with superior speed and athleticism, the Summit High School Football Team played a tough, gritty game and, with less than five minutes to go, had the ball in their hands in a one-score margin contest.
Trailing 20-16, the Hilltoppers had all three of their timeouts, and 72 yards to reach pay dirt and what would be a certain victory. The Hilltoppers clawed their way down the field, converting two fourth downs in the process but, in the end, could only get 67 of the necessary 72 yards.
On fourth-and-five from the Colonia 6-yard line, Quarterback Jake Froschauer rolled to his left, was tackled on the Patriot 5-yard line with five seconds remaining, and Summit's season ended with a 20-16 defeat in the opening round of the NJSIAA North 2, Group 4 playoffs.
In a game in which they could not have competed any harder, Summit got a stellar effort from its defensive unit, a solid game from placekicker Jack Johnson, and a heroic football performance from running back Matt Newman -- who, despite suffering from leg cramps on several occasions, consistently gained tough yards -- but it was not enough to win.
"We gave it everything we had," said Head Coach Kevin Kostibos. "This one is going to stick with us for a while."
Although Johnson nailed three field goals, perhaps it was the inability of Summit to get touchdowns in the red zone that ultimately proved the difference. If that was, indeed, the case, it would be the only objective level of criticism one could offer of the Hilltoppers, who displayed a mental toughness that -- at times -- seemed to come and go in a season which the players faced -- and were forced to deal with -- real emotional adversity.
In a campaign of ups and downs, Summit ended on an up, and no neutral observer could have challenged whether this victory -- had they gotten it -- would have been deserved. Championships are what teams play for, but the 2015 Hilltoppers achieved things not readily seen on a score sheet or in the standings.
Against Colonia, they broke in front 3-0 at the 5:47 mark of the first quarter when Johnson connected from 24 yards out, the points set up by a big run off left tackle from Newman.
Colonia took the ensuing kick-off and marched down the field, with quarterback Chase Barneys faking a hand-off and bursting 32 yards up the middle for a touchdown.
Trailing 7-3 late in the second quarter, Summit put up three points on the final play of the half, Johnson nailing a 34-yarder as time expired. The Hilltoppers took the momentum into the locker room, then came out in the second half and virtually immediately took the lead.
After stoning the Patriots on the opening series of the third quarter, Summit forced a punt, and the snap went over the head of the Colonia punter, who could only down the ball on his own three yard-line.
Newman then tunneled though the right side and, after Johnson's PAT, the Hilltoppers led 13-7 at the 10:12 mark.
The lead lasted a scant three minutes, as Bryce Barneys capped off a Patriot drive with a 4-yard score, slicing through the left side and diving over to break the plane of the end zone. The successful PAT put Colonia back on top, 14-13.
Things looked to be slipping away from the Hilltoppers after Colonia executed a 95-yard touchdown drive later in the quarter with relative ease. Chase Barneys scoring from one yard out, but the PAT was blocked, making the score 20-13 with 1:29 left in the third.
Needing a touchdown to tie, Summit got another field goal from Johnson, this time from 36 yards, to bring the score to 20-16, the Hilltoppers quest for the end zone greatly inhibited by a holding penalty inside the Colonia 10 yard-line. Still there were more than eight minutes remaining and, if Summit could get a stop and get the ball back, a furious and fantastic finish looked to be in the offing.
Summit got the stop, got the football, and starting grinding their way down the field, gaining not big chunks of yards, but rather stringing together a hyper-tempo succession of three- and four-yard ground gains.
Inside Colonia's 10, Newman looked to have a lane to the end zone -- which would have been apropos -- but a shoe-string tackle brought him down. On fourth down, Kostibos gave Froschauer a "run-pass option," in which -- in the words of the Head Coach -- "I assume nothing was there, based on what happened."
The Hilltoppers conclude the season with a 6-4 mark.