NEWARK, NJ - In the iconic musical 'West Side Story', a series of tragic events leads to a final tragedy at the end of the epic tale. In the fifth-seeded Summit High School's Varsity Football Team's NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group 3 state playoff opener at fourth-seeded West Side High School, the first tragic event to befall the Hilltoppers occurred on the game's first play from scrimmage, and the football carnage continued literally up to the last second of a really-hard-to-watch first half.
During those 24 minutes of pigskin play, the Hilltoppers were dominated by the Roughriders and would up trailing 30-0 at the break, From there, a more spirited second-half effort from the visitors was not nearly enough to overcome the damage that preceded it, and the Maroon and White were soundly defeated 42-6, a loss which eliminates Summit from the playoffs at the race's first hurdle.
From the moment it began until the moment it ended, the first-half was a gridiron nightmare for Summit. After receiving the opening kick-off, things went pretty much all downhill for the Hilltoppers, who fumbled the ball on the first play from scrimmage and gained just three first downs the entire half.
West Side took the uber-early turnover and turned it into six points on a four-yard touchdown run at the 10:29 mark from Jahmir Dooley, the first of what would be four opening-half end zone visits by the Roughriders -- all of which came from Dooley.
Down 6-0 after the PAT missed wide right, Summit's inability to move the football led to numerous three-and-outs and the dangerous pattern of giving the ball back to a team with equally dangerous players at the skill positions. That trend didn't catch up to Summit in the first quarter, which ended with the score unchanged, but it sure did in the second stanza, when West Side racked up 24 points and -- on an afternoon that began unseasonably cool but began to get colder as the contest was simultaneously getting out of hand -- put the game in the icebox.
A trio of Dooley doozies -- a one-yard run along with two pass plays from quarterback Devion Sheppard -- combined to make the score 30-0. Dooley's third score was a 48-yard pass play that was three yards of Sheppard and 45-yards of Dooley, and the fourth score came with more than an extra skosh of insult added to the injury, coming as it did on the half's final play, the 10-yard pass and catch made possible because the game clock stopped at one second after the previous incompletion, despite protestations from the Hilltopper sideline which claimed that the clock operator pushed that button a bit too quickly.
The digital reality -- after all three West Side second-quarter scores each came with a two-point PAT chaser -- was that Summit was down big and it would take a Herculean comeback in the second half by The 'Top just to make a game of it.
The window for that phenomenon was opened a bit when the Roughriders turned the ball over on two possessions early in the third quarter. Summit stalled and then missed a field goal on the first one but -- after an interception by senior Matty Goldblatt gave Summit a short field -- junior Austin Groce bulled over from four yards out and the Hilltoppers were on the board. The two-point PAT failed, and with 6:01 left in the third frame, it was 30-6.
The momentum that the visitors were conjuring up didn't expand or even hold, and the game's final two scores -- both of which came in the fourth quarter -- were courtesy of the team in green.
Sometimes the final numbers on a scoreboard can provide a false narrative -- making a game look closer or more lopsided that the actual competition. On this day, the scoreboard at Untermann Field captured the complete essence of this West Side story.
"In a playoff game, you have to make playoff-caliber plays and, today, we didn't make any," said Summit Head Coach Kevin Kostibos. "The first play of the day was indicative of the entire game. The playoffs are a series of one-game seasons and you can't have a bad days. The better team won today."
Summit ends its 2019 season with a record of 6-3.