SUMMIT, NJ - The Summit High School Varsity Football Team had won its first two games by a combined total of 97-8, using a mix of consistent ground and pound with a skosh of flash and dash to overwhelm its opponents.
While, as the saying goes, looks can be deceiving, one glance at North Hunterdon -- Summit's most recent foe -- and it was clear that their match-up against the physically-imposing Lions was going to be a much tougher tussle than the Hilltoppers' previous pair of contests.
And, in fact, that visual perception turned out to spot on as, after taking the lead with a first-quarter touchdown, the Maroon and White found itself embroiled in a low-scoring grinder, a tilt in which Summit trailed in the fourth quarter.
This, however, seems a tough group of 'Toppers -- both physically and mentally -- and in what amounted to the quintessential 'find a way' challenge, the home team passed -- and ran -- with flying colors, using the game's final 10 minutes to score a go-ahead touchdown, deliver a stout defensive stand, and then add a clinching drive for a another TD to pull away and win, 22-9 at Investors Bank Field.
Senior quarterback Skyler Schluter ran for two short touchdown runs and threw for another, while the Hilltopper defense defined a 'bend but don't break' mentality and delivered three more takeaways on the afternoon.
Summit took the lead at the 3:47 mark of the first quarter when Schluter punched over from just outside the goal line. The key play in the drive was a 30-yard connection from Schluter to classmate Tyrone Hines down the left sideline that took the ball into the red zone. Max Jackson carried the rock for the two-point conversion, and the Hilltoppers led, 8-0.
Both teams had multiple possessions that yielded some yardage, but it was not until the last three seconds of the second quarter that either team was able to put points on the board. A North Hunterdon drive took the ball deep into Hilltopper territory but stalled on the three-yard-line. A chip shot field goal by Ben Pawlowski made it 8-3 at the half.
The Lions grabbed some momentum when they pooched the second-half's opening kick-off and beat Summit to the ball and recovered what turned out to be a 20-yard onside kick. Summit's defense held the fort, however, but North Hunterdon would score a go-ahead touchdown with 1:07 to go in the quarter when Anthony Hale found Griffin Honthy on shallow slant over the middle. Honthy broke containment and outraced his pursuers 26 yards to the end zone. The two-point PAT attempt failed and the Lions led, 9-8.
In a mirror reflection of their first quarter scoring drive, Summit reached paydirt two minutes into the final stanza. Schulter hit Hines on a quick slant, good for a big-gainer and putting the ball deep in Lions territory. From there it was a series runs culminating in another Schluter short, scrum-inducing push into the end zone. The two-point conversion was stopped short of the goal line and the Hilltoppers led 14-9 with 9:55 remaining.
The five-point margin and the amount of time left on the clock meant the outcome was in the balance, and North Hunterdon drove methodically down the field, converting three times on fourth and short yardage. With the ball on the Summit 30, the Hilltoppers forced a fourth-and-10 situation, and the Lions ensuing pass play fell incomplete.
Still there were more than five minutes to go, meaning Summit would need a few first downs to see out the contest. They did way better than that.
After a series of punishing runs by seniors Jackson and Jackson Tyler, Summit surprised everyone but the 11 boys in Maroon on the field and the Hilltopper coaching staff when Schluter took the snap and a two-step drop, looked left and found Hines on a quick-hitter. Hines had a step on his defender and wouldn't be caught, going 30 yards to 'The House'. Jackson punched in the two-point PAT and Summit had the cushion it needed at 22-9.
A final defensive stop and two offensive snaps later and the game was over, with Summit improving to 3-0 and proving that it knew more than one way to grab a 'W',
"That was a much of a team win as you're gonna get," said Summit Head Coach Kevin Kostibos. "They are an enormous team, and they were going to keep leaning on us until we broke, but we never broke."
The Hilltoppers will now head back on the road, taking on Scotch Plains-Fanwood September 29. Kick-off is set for 1 p.m.