SUMMIT, NJ - Like a prize fight between boxers of contrasting styles, the Summit High School Varsity Football Team floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, landing numerous haymakers to the metaphorical jaw of Voorhees, knocking the Vikings to the canvas several times, causing a few standing eight counts, but never truly knocking out their opponents.
As a result, the Hilltoppers won a game that the result of which -- as early as midway through the second quarter -- wasn't really in doubt. Also with question, however, was Voorhees fighting spirit, a coursing current of competitiveness that saw the visitors play hard to the literally the final play of the game -- a snap in which they scored a touchdown.
Of course, in the second-season, it is win or go home or -- in the case of the Maroon and White -- win and stay home. Winning, indeed is the bottom line, and the bottom line on this day was that the top-seeded Hilltoppers got up big early and then made their way through a grinding final half en route to a 57-39 victory over the eighth-seeded Vikings in the NJSIAA North 2, Group 3 playoff opener at Investors Bank Field.
On a gusty, textbook version of a fall day, this was not a textbook performance from Summit, but it was more than good enough to prove that they were the better team by a good margin, while also justifying their lofty seed and the fact they will move on to round two.
The win was even more impressive considering the Hilltoppers played the high-majority of the game without two of their most dynamic playmakers as senior captain Jackson Tyler left after the game's fourth play, and classmate Tyrone Hines followed not long after that, both with injuries.
It was on that afore-mentioned fourth play of the game that the Hilltoppers opened the scoring. After a robust kick-off return from Hines began the contest, running back senior Ryan Reigle ripped off a big gainer down the right sideline. Senior captain Max Jackson then got the ball to the goal line where Tyler, on the next play, ran over off left tackle. Junior Joe Lusardi ran for the two-point conversion, and Summit led 8-0 just 58 seconds into the game.
The Hilltoppers contributed to Voorhees scoring on the ensuing possession, as the defense stopped the Vikings but the home team had one-too-many players on the field during the subsequent Voorhees punt, the infraction's yards giving the visitor's a first down gift that they exchanged for six points at the 7:33 mark. The PAT failed, and Summit remained in front, 8-6.
It was 16-6 when Reigle reprised his first-series blast, but this time he took the rock all the way to The House, The 64-yard rumble, and Jackson two-point PAT run that followed it, coming with 6:09 remaining in an already lively first quarter.
Things got even livelier from a Summit perspective with 1:30 to go in the opening frame when sophomore Austin Groce -- who had a stellar day on both side of the ball that included two interceptions while playing defense -- took a hand-off and burst through the left side of the line and went 56-yards for a touchdown. The two-point PAT was unsuccessful and Hilltoppers had increased their lead to 22-6.
Summit was a 90-plus point pace just 25 seconds into the second quarter when Jackson went 53-yards -- like Groce's gallop again over the left side -- and senior quarterback Skyler Schluter tossed a two-point PAT to senior captain Jack Kelly. The Hilltoppers now led 30-6 and looked to have opened the icebox and seemed poised to place the game inside of it.
The rest of the contest however, poised an existential sports question: When is a Blowout Not Really a Blowout?
That's because Voorhees stuck their collective foot in the icebox door jam and would not go gently into the night, although it looked like that might be the case when, after a 76-yard run on the next series by Voorhees made it 30-12, Summit answered with two scores of its own -- Jackson from in close and a Schluter to senior Eddie Kaes slant toss and catch -- to make it 45-12 at the half.
At the 9:26 mark of the third quarter -- on fourth-and-10 from the Hlltopper 20 -- Voorhees quarterback George Eberle scrambled around like Fran Tarkenton, circa 1975, and found Warren Orlando in the right corner of the end zone. The PAT was good, and Summit's advantage was now 45-19.
It must be said that Eberle had a game to be proud of, often using his legs to finds yards or buy a bit of time to make a throw that was generally right on the money.
Two plays after the Vikings score, Lusardi rocketed for the Hilltoppers' fourth 50 plus-yard or longer touchdown run of the game when he went 62-yards to paydirt. The PAT failed, but the home team had upped its advantage to 51-19, which is how the third quarter ended. Summit was stopped on fourth-and-goal from the two-yard-line late in the quarter -- a score that would have triggered a running clock.
In the fourth quarter, the clock wasn't running and Voorhees definitely wasn't going away, scoring three touchdowns to one Summit end zone visit -- a Jackson short-yardage cruncher -- to yield the final scoreboard totals. The 39 points, while not threatening the result, were the most allowed by Summit this season.
After the game, Summit Head Coach Kevin Kostibos was full of praise for his opponent. "Give them (Voorhees) credit. They kept coming, kept making plays and we couldn't completely put them away." The coach also noted that, despite losing key players during the game, that his "kids continue to step up and take care of business, find ways to get the job done."
Summit, now 8-1 on the season, will face the winner of tonight's game pitting fourth-seeded Montville against fifth-seeded Warren Hills. The second-round tilt will be played November 10 at Investors Bank Field, with kick-off time tentatively set for 1 p.m.