SECAUCUS, NJ - The Summit Hilltopper varsity football team saved perhaps their best performance of the season for their last game as they dismantled the Palisades Park Tigers on Saturday evening, Dec. 8, at MetLife Stadium, in the North II Group 3 state sectional finals, 30-0.
Summit took a 7-0 lead into halftime and came out in the second half and just destroyed the Tigers for the final 24 minutes of the game, putting up 23 points during that stretch, to run away with a state championship. It was the first for the Hilltoppers since 2009, and seventh championship overall.
"Our kids were on a mission, and they weren't going to stop until that mission was complete," said Summit head coach John Liberato.
The story of the game was the outstanding play of Summit's defense, which forced three turnovers, allowed just 34 rushing yards, and only 135 total yards. It was one of the Hilltoppers' most dominant defensive performances of the season, led by Nick Liberato's two quarterback sacks.
"It's the best feeling in the world right now," Liberato said. "Last year, it motivated everybody. Right after that game, everybody was like, this will not happen again. We are going to come together as a team and work as hard as we possibly can, to make sure that we win next year."
Both Mike "Mr. Everything" Badgley and A.J. Iarussi scored a pair of touchdowns in the win, with Badgley adding on a 29 yard field goal. Iarussi ran like a man possessed, picking up 157 yards on 25 carries, most of which came between the touchdowns. All game long it took more than one tackler to bring the senior running back to the turf, with Iarussi heading off what was a dominant rushing performance by Summit.
"We did it as a team, from the offense to the defense. The defense did a phenomenal job, we got a shutout in the state championship, that's almost unheard of. The offense, we started clicking, we played Hilltopper football the whole time. They couldn't stop us once we started rolling," Iarussi said. "We knew that all our training, all of our preparation came down to this moment, we had to leave it all on the field."
The Hilltoppers didn't do anything fancy, they just lined up and ran the football right at the Tigers. Early on in the first half, Palisades Park appeared up to the challenge, but as has been the case for most of Summit's opponents this season, the Hilltoppers' hurry up style offense eventually wore down the Tigers, leading to 197 second half rushing yards, and 383 total.
"Our offensive line did a great job, and again, with our check system going, we just took advantage of their alignment," Coach Liberato said. "They did some nice things in the first half, with sliding their line and we have to give them credit. Our kids did a great job, I'm very proud of them and they were very determined."
Despite gaining a lot of yardage in the opening half, Summit was still only able to put seven points on the board through the opening two quarters. After reaching the Palisades Park 13 on the opening drive, the Summit drive stalled and the Hilltoppers wound up turning it over on downs. Iarussi capped a nine play, 81-yard drive with a five yard touchdown sweep, coming with 3:21 left in the opening quarter, but those were the only points Summit would score early on.
Palisades Park had some scoring opportunities, but Summit's defense came up with big plays every time. On the ensuing drive after Summit's first score, the Tigers had driven 51 yards to Summit's 28. An Austin Carbone interception ended that threat. Following a Palisades Park second quarter interception, setting them up with great field position at the 50, Summit's defense allowed just one first down and stopped the drive at the 32.
"We hit today, we rallied to the football today, we group tackled. It was an outstanding game, one of the best games I've ever played in my entire life," "Iarussi said.
On Summit's next possession, a blocked punt by Malik St. Hilaire, which was recovered and returned to Summit's 18 by Robert Then, gave Palisades Park its best scoring chance of the game, still down by just seven points. The Hilltopper defense responded again, forcing Palisades Park to lose six yards on the possession and miss a 41-yard field goal attempt.
Summit took its first possession of the second half straight to the end zone, using nine plays to drive 58 yards, capping it with a one yard Badgley touchdown run with 7:07 left in the third. After the defense forced a three and out, Badgley found Kyre Negron on a short slant, which Negron took 38 yards to the two-yard line. Iarussi punched in the score on the next play, putting Summit up 21-0.
Badgley put Summit up 24-0, following a 29-yard field goal, and iced the game on the next Palisade's Park play, intercepting the first play of the ensuing drive, and returning it 40 yards to the house, officially beginning the Summit celebration, with 8:26 left on the clock.
The win seals up a perfect 12-0 season for the Hilltoppers, who have been perfect since last year's loss at MetLife Stadium, something they will never have to talk about again, after Saturday's win. Palisades Park finished up at 9-3.