SUMMIT, NJ - For protracted segments of the Summit High School Varsity Football Team's season-opening tilt versus North Hunterdon, the game resembled one of those 1960s Tudor Electric Football games -- lots of buzzing about but not a whole bunch of action.
But, sprinkled into the grinding affair were a handful of big plays, long gainers and turning point producers that either resulted in or set up touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Maroon and White, the high majority of those plays went the way of the visitors, the scenario proving decisive as the Hilltoppers fell to the Golden Lions 21-17 at Investors Bank Field.
Most of the game-changing moments that North Hunterdon generated came from quarterback Matt Busher and wideout Jared McMahon, who connected five times for more than 120 yards and two touchdowns. Busher's 15-24-279 day generated more yards than the Hilltoppers 232-yard team total.
The game marked the first time Summit has lost a season opener since 2008, when they fell 31-7 to Parsippany Hills.
Against the Golden Lions, as inauspicious starts go, this one had to rank right up there in the Summit Hall of Infamy. First, North Hunterdon executed a successful onside kick on the very first play of the game. That was followed by an offsides penalty on the Hilltoppers defense and then, on the very first play from scrimmage of the new season, Busher hit McMahon all alone on the right sides and he waltzed into the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown.
The PAT was true and, after a total elapsed time in the season of 10 seconds, Summit trailed 7-0.
Neither side was able to do much for the next quarter and a-half, but then Summit began to mount a drive. Junior quarterback Skyler Schluter zipped a rainbow down the middle that was hauled in by senior wide receiver Stephen Sajer then, with starting signal-caller Jackson Tyler back in the game, the junior found classmate Max Jackson who took the ball inside the five-yard line. Two plays later, Tyler ran off left tackle for a touchdown from 1-yard out, and the game was tied at the 7:43 mark after Will Goldy's successful point-after.
Summit recovered a fumble on the next series, but then the offense appeared to stall just inside the Golden Lions' 25-yard line. In fourth-and-nine from the North Hunterdon 24, Tyler threw a short pass to senior DJ Jackson, who reeled it in and then dragged a would-be tackler the final 10 yards to the house.
Ahead 14-7 and now electrified by Jackson's dedication to reach paydirt, Summit seemed poised to seize the initiative. The momentum, however, lasted a grand total of two plays when, on the first play from scrimmage after the ensuring kick-off -- sound familiar? -- Busher hit McMahon on a deep post route and 65-yard score.
The teams went to the halftime break tied, 14-14.
In the third quarter, Summit's offense was still sputtering along -- unable to run the ball with much success and having a difficult time keeping the Golden Lions out of the backfield on pass plays -- until Tyler and DJ Jackson teamed-up again for a big first down that gave Summit the ball deep in North Hunterdon territory. On the play however, Jackson appeared to sustain a serious leg injury and received on-field medical attention.
After a significant delay to attend to Jackson, play resumed and the Hilltopper drive stalled. Goldy split the uprights from 26 yards out and, with 8:09 left in the quarter, Summit had the lead back at 17-14.
After an exchange of possessions, North Hunterdon got the ball back and -- in a drive the leaked into the early minutes of the fourth quarter -- used a mix of grinding, but effective runs and a few Busher completions to navigate their way into the Summit red zone. Busher did the honors, running to his right from three-yards out, and the Golden Lions were back in front 21-17 with 10:38 left in the game.
Needing a touchdown to win, Summit actually forced two turnovers -- a fumble recover by Sajer and and an interception by junior linebacker Hunter Timpson -- during the duration of the contest, and saw North Hunterdon commit a grabbing-the-facemask penalty with the Hilltoppers facing a third-and-forever situation, but the offense never really threatened the end zone.
On the game's final play, with Schluter rolling right to avoid serious heat as he was looking to heave a 'Hail Mary'-type throw from 30 yards out, his heels were clipped by a diving tackler and the game ended.
"You cannot give up big plays like we did today and make the mistakes we made today and expect to win against quality opponents," said Summit Head Coach Kevin Kostibos. "We did not execute and make the plays we needed to make. We have a lot of work to do."
Summit (0-1) next travels to Immaculata September 15 for a 7 p.m. kick-off.