SUMMIT, NJ - Everybody's got at least one.
A thing that frequently, no matter what one does or how much they prepare, seems to get ya.
It could be that squeak or rattle in the car dashboard, the one that -- no matter where a hand is placed -- seems to have the knack for tauntingly stopping for a second before resuming that annoying noise. Maybe it's a seam in the sidewalk or driveway. The one that always seems to cause you to stub your toe and stumble a bit. Or perhaps it's the grocery bag that has a knack of tearing apart, sending a container of liquid crashing to the ground.
In sports, the word that describes this dynamic is nemesis -- defined by no less than Merriam-Webster as "a formidable and usually victorious rival or opponent." Fittingly, the word originates from the Greek goddess of the same name -- the goddess of retributive justice.
The Summit High School Varsity Football Team's nemesis has a name -- C-R-A-N-F-O-R-D -- and, on a somewhat chilly afternoon at Tatlock Park, the Cougars once again lived up to their antagonistic reputation. Coming into the home of the Hilltoppers and doing their level-best to spoil Summit's season finale and 'Senior Day', Cranford scored the game's final 21 points to defeat the Maroon and White, 35-20.
The Hilltoppers committed three turnovers in their own half of the field -- all fumbles -- and Cranford punished them each and every time. Those miscues, along with some robust physical play in the trenches by the Cougars, were the differences on the day. Perhaps nowhere more than the rushing stats -- which showed Cougars gaining 246 yards on the ground compared to the Hiltoppers' 68 -- was the visitors' physical superiority more evident.
The loss ended Summit's four-game winning streak and dropped their season mark to 6-2. The damage done to the Hilltoppers' State play-off seeding -- and, subsequently, their ability to host one or more home games -- won't be known until late Sunday (November 3) afternoon, but suffice to say the effect will not be a positive.
Cranford took the lead at the 3:48 mark of the first quarter when quarterback Connor Katz found Michael Kalnins for a seven-yard touchdown, the score capping an impressive drive that included a fourth-down conversion. The extra point made it 7-0.
Summit answered right back with fine drive of their own. Passes from senior quarterback Sam Roberts to classmates Joe Lusardi and Andre Campbell, set up an 11-yard strike to senior John Fischetti. Lusardi got to the end zone on the two-point conversion, and Summit led 8-7 with 1:07 left in the opening quarter.
Less than two minutes into the second quarter Summit scored again, a short dive over the goal line by Lusardi set up by a Roberts to senior Matty Goldblatt long gainer down the left hashmark. Surrounded by three Cougar defenders, Goldblatt simply went up the ladder several rungs higher than anyone in a white jersey and snared the ball. The two-point conversion failed and the Hilltoppers led 14-7, which is how the half concluded.
Early in the third quarter, Summit coughed up the football in its own territory, and it didn't take long for the Cougars to accept the favor. Katz went over from the four-yard line at the 8:17 mark and, after the PAT, the game was tied at 14.
Again, however, The 'Top answered a Cougar score with one of their own and, again, it was Roberts to Fischetti on the business end of the transaction. A 33-yard pass and catch in the made it 20-14 for the home team and, even though the two point conversion failed for the second time, Summit looked to have shaken off the turnover and regained the lead with 6:55 remaining in the third frame.
Alas, for Hilltopper Nation, the turnover bug was not exterminated.
First, Cranford turned it over but the home fans' joy soon turned to sorrow as Summit gave it right back -- again in their own end of the field. Katz again did the honors, this time from two-yards out, and the Cougars were back in from 21-20 with 2:59 to go in the third.
The game's next score seemed likely to prove decisive and it was. On fourth-and-two from the Summit eight-yard line, the Cougars' Michael DeMarino got the two yards and six more and, with 5:33 left, Cranford led 28-20.
There was still time for Summit to get to paydirt and notch a two-point conversion to forge a tie, but it wasn't meant to be. What remained was a third fumble, and a second touchdown run from DeMarino, this time a 43-yard bolt. DeMarino's score capped a big day for him -- he gained 166 yards on 23 carries -- and for his Cougar teammates, who now led 35-20.
"They (Cranford) were the better football team today," said Summit Head Coach Kevin Kostibos. "They were more physical and played harder than we did. They made plays and we didn't."
Summit will open the state playoffs the on either November 8 or 9, depending on seeding, opponent and location.