SUMMIT, NJ - Yes, they are talented, but perhaps no word better describes the Summit Varsity Football team than "resilient", although a fair argument could be made for "tough", and maybe even "determined" would garner a few votes.
All of those attributes were on display at Investors Bank Field, as the Hilltoppers beat Governor Livingston (GL) 34-14, improving to a perfect 10-0, and advancing in the State playoffs. Summit is now one win away from a date at MetLife Stadium, with Cranford standing in their way, in a game that will again take place at Investors Bank Field, November 23 at 1 p.m.
"To win a state championship you've got to be battle tested," said Summit Head Coach Kevin Kostibos. "GL gave us their best shot, we knew we were in a football game. We created adversity today through turnovers and penalties, but we fought back. I could not be more proud of our kids."
Summit took the opening kick-off and, despite a couple of costly penalties, marched down the field and scored, with Charlie Terry finding Dan Childers for 5-yard touchdown. The extra-point failed, and the Hilltoppers led 6-0. After a three-and-out by GL, the lead was 13-0, as Summit used a big Andrew Masterfano run to drive the ball deep into Highlander territory. Charlie Terry got into the end zone, courtesy of a designed quarterback delay in which he rumbled 15 yards up the middle, flattening several GL defenders as he piled into the end zone.
The lead grew to 20-0 after a 9-yard touchdown run from Chris Zanelli, and it appeared the rout was on, but the first play after the ensuing kick-off changed the momentum and the flow of the game. Governor Livingston's PJ Jamolawicz, who was a handful all afternoon, took a bubble screen pass and broke free down the right sideline 75 yards for a touchdown. The play seemed to lift the Highlanders' intensity level and, when they got the ball back, they began to grind down the field deep into Summit territory. Halftime was fast approaching, however, and GL had the ball inside the Summit 20-yard line with less than 30 seconds to go. The Hilltopper defense rose to the occasion, making a series of big tackles, including a stop inside their own 15 with five seconds left in the second quarter. The Highlanders attempted to get off one final play, but time expired and the half ended with Summit ahead 20-7.
It was likely the first series of the second half would dictate the tone, if not the outcome, of the game, and Summit's defense stoned GL on their initial series, forcing a punt from deep in their own territory. The kick sailed to Drew Mulholland who ran up to catch the ball on the GL 45, ensuring great field position for the Hilltoppers. The normally ultra-sure handed Mulholland saw the ball fall through his hands, however, and the Highlanders recovered. An ominous hush came across the large crowd, and GL capitalized. Converting several key third downs on the drive, GL scored, it was 20-14 and, essentially, it was anybody's game.
As they have done all year, Summit responded and regained the momentum and control of the game. The defense allowed GL nothing, and the offense did the rest. Terry hit Mulholland over the middle, and the flanker took it from there, streaking into the end zone for a 32-yard score, and demonstrating in one single moment, every attribute that has made the 2013 team what it is. "Drew coming back and making that huge play after the turnover, it shows what type of kids we have on this team," said Kostibos. "He has been a rock on punt returns all year, and even after the touchdown, he stepped up and made another big play catching a punt in the fourth quarter even though he knew he was going to get hit."
The final Summit touchdown was Chris Zanelli snaking around right end for 20 yards, and making several Highlanders miss in the process. Zanelli also had set the score up, leaping high in the air for a circus-quality catch to reel in a 20 yard pass from Terry down the middle.
As for their next opponent, Kostibos said, "One of the toughest things in sports is to beat a team twice." Indeed, Summit defeated Cranford 48-14 in the Friday Night Lights game September 27. "They are not the same team they were in week three, they have gotten better." He added, "But we are not the same team we were in week three either. We just have to focus and play our game."