SUMMIT, NJ - Perhaps nobody outside of Joe Lusardi, the rest of his Summit football team, and those faithful to the Hilltop believed in Summit to accomplish Saturday what no team has been able to against Somerville in the Pioneers’ past 17 regular season games — come away on top.
While Summit has continued to established itself as one of the premier programs in the state, the Hilltoppers were hit hard with graduation this summer and entered this highly-anticipated clash coming off a rough defeat against Rahway. Somerville, on the other hand, is ranked as high as 11th in the state according to some outlets, and had not lost a regular season game since October of 2017 entering Saturday’s contest in Summit.
“In the offseason and coming into the season, no one believed in us,” Lusardi told TAPinto Summit. “They were like, ‘Oh, you lost all of your seniors. This is just another season where you’ll go below .500’. No, we’re going to come and compete every single week.”
Well, Summit and Lusardi did a little more than just compete on Saturday afternoon — they sent a major statement to all of New Jersey. Lusardi had three touchdowns including the go-ahead score with two minutes left, as a spirited Summit team mounted a spectacular rally to reclaim the lead and stun Somerville, 23-16, at Tatlock Field. Lusardi and classmate Matty Goldblatt combined for 210 yards, with both coming up big for a defense that allowed just two touchdowns against a Somerville team that had scored an average of 46.75 points-per-game entering Saturday.
It is Somerville’s first regular season loss since October 6, 2017, and Summit's first victory over the Pioneers since 2014.
Summit once lead 15-0 in the third quarter, only to see Somerville come all the way back and take a 16-15 lead with 5:40 remaining in the game. However, a fumble recovery by Colin Beatty at the Summit 49 on what Somerville hoped would be the game’s final drive gave the Hilltoppers one final shot. They sure capitalized, needing just five plays before Lusardi scored on an eight-yard keeper touchdown, then added a two-point conversion keeper to complete the epic rally.
Goldblatt would then come up with an interception with under a minute left on Somerville's ensuing drive to seal the deal for Summit.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am for the kids — because it’s all about them,” said Summit head coach Kevin Kostibos. “We prepared all week; we had a tough one against Rahway last week. They battled back, practiced well, and believed. With high school sports, on any given day in any high school sport, anything can happen — and today is just proof of that.”
True to Kostibos’ words, the final sequence Saturday indeed proved that anything is possible. Somerville was ahead, 16-15, and had just received the ball on a punt with under five minutes remaining, as the Pioneers hoped to just run out the clock and secure a come-from-behind victory.
But not so fast.
On the Pioneers’ very first play from scrimmage on that drive, the Hilltopper defense jarred the ball loose from the hands of Cookie Desiderio and Beatty was there to scoop it up at the Summit 49. Now with all the momentum in the world, Summit put itself in the red zone two plays later, when Sam Roberts (135 passing yards) found Goldblatt up the middle for a monstrous 40-yard hookup.
Two plays later on third-and-two from the Somerville eight, Lusardi took a direct snap, swept to his left, bounced off a defender, and dove across the goal line to put Summit ahead, 21-16. He then scored a two-point conversion in identical fashion.
“It started out with the fumble — that was huge,” Lusardi said. “They were coming down to just put the game away, but one of my linebackers popped the ball out. The offense did what we had to do and get a touchdown.”
“We put trips to the right so that everyone shifts right,” he added of the touchdown run, “and then the left is wide open.”
Lusardi was no stranger to the end zone by that point, having scored twice already as part of the Hilltoppers’ scintillating opening to this game.
The University of Massachusetts commit made a Division I-level play to score the game’s first touchdown, turning a short screen pass into a 68-yard TD after breaking tackles at the line and streaking down the left sideline to make it 6-0 with 5:30 left in the first quarter. Then with 4:27 left in the second quarter, Brock Froschauer booted a 37-yard field goal to complete a 12-play, 54-yard series to give the Hilltoppers a 9-0 advantage entering the half.
That momentum carried into the second half, as Lusardi intercepted a pass and returned it to the Somerville 28 on the first drive of the third quarter, then scored on a four-yard plunge to extend the lead to 15-0 on the drive he created with the pick.
“The kid’s a warrior,” Kostibos said of his senior. “He’s a scholarship football player. He put us on his back. Him and Matty Goldblatt made huge plays, causing the fumble and then coming up with the pick at the end. It’s a great team effort, and that’s what we have — we’ve got a great team. And that’s the way we’re going to continue to do things — playing team football.”
However, even a 15-0 lead couldn't have felt safe against such a dynamically-explosive Somerville team, which brought out its bag of tricks to rally back.
Having been completely stymied by Summit's "D" over the first two-and-a-half quarters, Somerville dug deep into its playbook after Lusardi's second touchdown. Operating out of strange muddle-like formations -- such as having receiver Kyree Hinton under center -- Somerville first got on the board when Ethan MacNair scored on a strange 60-yard pitch play with 4:25 left in the third, cutting the Summit lead to 15-8 after a successful two-point conversion.
Nearly 11 minutes of game time later, Somerville was pinned at the Summit 24 when Hinton -- a Division I prospect -- took a direct snap, busted up the middle, and scored on an 81-yard keeper. The Pioneers elected to go for two instead of attempt to tie with a PAT, and successfully executed on a Desiderio run to jump ahead, 16-15, with only 5:40 left.
"To expect to continue to shut these guys out is a little much," Kostibos said. "To shut them out in the first half, I though it was great. We knew that they might have to change what they were doing because we were kind of getting to them. That’s what makes them so good — they can go to something incredibly non-descript, and the next thing you know, the kid is gone. Except for two plays, defensively, we held our own. I’ve gotta give all the credit to the kids — they’re the ones who have to make the plays.”
Summit was determined to rally back, though, and less than three minutes later found itself ahead on the scoreboard again and for good.
“We fought through a ton of adversity," Lusardi said. "We talked as a team, came together, and we just kept saying that we have to believe in ourselves. The game is not over until it’s over.”