UNION, NJ - It might go down as a co-championship in the books, but it sure doesn't feel like it for the Summit High School Boys Varsity Soccer Team.
In fact, with just over 12 minutes remaining in regulation during the Union County Tournament (UCT) final Thursday night, the odds of the Maroon and White being able to claim any type of championship appeared slim to none. But within 36 seconds, that all changed.
The 'Top put forth an almost unfathomable rally to erase a 2-0 deficit in a 36-second span with just 12:08 remaining in regulation, then drew even with Elizabeth during two 10-minute overtime periods to claim a UCT co-championship.
Union County does not play to PKs in the final round of the tournament.
Ethan Harris started the rally on a PK with 12:44 left, then took a shot seconds later that Nate Todorov cleaned up to equalize at two, which is where the scoring stopped between these two teams.
Though the No. 2 seed in the tournament, Summit certainly shocked many with a Cinderella run through the tournament that included knocking off three-time defending champ Westfield in the semis.
“No one really thought that we were going to be here,” Harris said. “If you asked people in the beginning of the year who they thought would be here, we were not in that conversation."
“We’re here, and we want to show that we can compete with the top teams in the state.”
So, while it’s not an outright championship, this might as well be one for Summit, which certainly sent a statement to the County then some with a storybook run through the UCT under first-year head coach Ben Stuart.
First there was the tough first round advancement against Plainfield. Then there was the penalty kick victory against three-time defending champion Westfield in the semifinals on Saturday. And now, that run has been topped off with a spectacular rally against Elizabeth, which is ranked as high as No. 2 in the state by some outlets.
“The run has been something else,” Stuart said. “The one thing my team has is resilience, and they’ve never stopped. You just dig deep to find something. Technically, tactically, [Elizabeth is] exceptional — one of the best teams in the state. But at the end of the day, it’s just 11 vs. 11.”
Elizabeth backed up Stuart’s praise in the first half, jumping ahead, 2-0, on goals from Mathew Giraldo (17’) and Juan Montoya (32’). Down by a brace of goals, Summit needed some sort of spark, and Stuart made an adjustment, bringing Harris up from central midfield to forward early in the second half.
The rookie head coach’s move paid dividends about 15 minutes later. Harris was making a play happen in the box when he got clipped, drew the foul, and was awarded a penalty kick. The sophomore converted to cut his team’s deficit in half and give Summit and its large contingent of fans a shot of momentum.
“Time was running down and I knew we had to get something towards goal,” Harris said. “I got the ball, beat my man, got clipped, and knew that I had to put it in. If I don’t, we’re not going to win this game. Once the PK went in, the momentum shifted a ton.”
With Summit’s crowd still going bonkers on the expansive visitor-side bleacher at Kean’s Alumni Stadium, Harris again made magic happen. On the Hilltoppers’ first possession after the PK, Harris took a rip from about 35 yards out that was dead on target, but saw his piledriver of a shot tipped by Elizabeth keeper Dylan Valencia. The ball ricocheted off Valencia’s glove, smacked the crossbar, and landed just in front of the box.
Todorov was there to clean it up when it came down, quickly finishing the rebound into the right side of the goal to equalize the game at two just 36 seconds removed from his team being in a 2-0 deficit.
“I just tried to settle it down, take a deep breath, and put it in the goal,” Todorov said. “The only thing going through my head was getting that goal.”
One could call Stuart a genius for changing the entire complexion of the game with his decision to move Harris up, but the Hilltoppers’ skipper swiftly deflected all credit to those on the field who made it happen.
“I’d like to take credit for that, but I’m taking absolutely none of it,” Stuart said. “The players that played that game today have absolutely everything. Down 2-nil at half against Elizabeth, and to come back — and not only come back, but score two goals in 36 seconds — just turned the game completely on its head.”
“The kid’s insane,” Stuart said of Harris. “His ability is why I made that little switch and put him up top, to get his speed and quality on the ball. He just changed the game.”
Summit keeper Jake Maslin turned in a another tremendous effort between the sticks, coming up with 17 saves while helping his team preserve the tie throughout the final 25 minutes. As a team, Summit had overall exceptional run of play against an Elizabeth team that had beaten the Hilltoppers twice earlier in the season, and appeared headed towards doing the same Thursday.
But Summit never gave in, and instead came together as a unit to produce a rally that none of these young men will soon forget.
“It’s amazing, but it doesn’t come from me or Harris — it comes as a unit,” Todorov said. “It comes from every single one of them — people on the bench, people on the field. It just comes from everybody. We work hard. We’re moving the ball. We’re trying to play our game.”