BERKELEY HEIGHTS – In a game that was chock full of critical plays that had a major impact on the final decision, Friday night’s non-division clash between neighboring rivals Summit and Governor Livingston – in its simplest form – really came down to just one.
Either host GL – ahead by one point – was going to stop Summit on fourth-and-16 from the GL 46 with 1:38 to go to improve to 3-1 for the first time since the last season GL defeated Summit, 2008, or the visiting Hilltoppers were going to pull off a miracle of sorts and advance down field with just one timeout remaining.
Summit sophomore quarterback Jackson Tyler dropped back and threw the ball down the middle of the field as far as he could, seeking to get it to 6-3 junior wide receiver DJ Jackson, who after catching two touchdown passes against Scotch Plains last week, earned his first start.
Jackson, who earlier in the fourth quarter hauled in an 18-yard TD pass among the four receptions he already had – Jackson also dropped three passes in the second half with the third one being called pass interference against GL – used his height to his advantage against the two smaller GL defenders, Pat DeAngelis and Jon Wong, who were covering him.
Jackson jumped up and hauled in Tyler’s pass before falling on his back with the ball at the GL 5, the do-or-die play covering 41 yards.
On the very next play Summit senior running back Sam Zanelli ran the ball in from the five to give Summit its third lead and the advantage for good.
GL, out of timeouts, reached its own 47 before Luca Curran’s second interception at the Summit 10 ended the game in favor of the Hilltoppers.
Summit came back to produce a 28-21 win over GL in an entertaining back-and-forth battle which GL head coach Dan Guyton put in the hands of his defense after calling GL’s final timeouts on Summit’s last possession. It almost worked.
As a result, Summit improved to 5-0 for the first time since 2013. That year the Hilltoppers trailed a solid 4-0 Rahway team on the road before outscoring the Indians 20-0 in the fourth quarter to pull out a 26-20 win at Veterans Field.
Summit outscored GL 14-0 in Friday night’s fourth quarter to improve to 6-0 over the Highlanders since the first year of the Mid-State 38 Conference in 2009. Summit also defeated GL in the 2013 North 2, Group 3 playoffs after not playing the Highlanders in the regular season in 2013 and 2012.
GL’s last win over Summit came at home in a 2008 North 2, Group 2 semifinal.
It was a stunning loss for GL, which was one play away from beating Summit for the first time in eight years. The Highlanders – sparked by a magnificent running night from senior back Will Nicholson and a fine defensive effort led from the likes of junior lineman Mike Magliacano – played their hearts out before just falling short.
GL can definitely learn from the defeat and still has four playoff qualifying games remaining to continue in the right direction.
GL, which is 2-1 in the Mid-State’s Mountain Division, is now 2-2 overall.
Summit, which next week will have its lone Friday night home game against 3-2 Cranford, remains the leader of the Raritan Division with a 4-0 league mark.
Tyler completed 12 of 22 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Here’s his take on the fourth down pass to Jackson that went for 41 yards and a first down at the GL 5: “I just threw it up to him (Jackson). It was a duck.
“I had faith in him. I just knew he would come down with it.”
Jackson caught five passes for 91 yards and one touchdown, four of his receptions coming in the second half.
“DJ, a junior, had a fantastic game,” Summit fourth-year head coach Kevin Kostibos said. “We put him in last week and tonight he just made a great play.”
“I went straight up for the ball and they (DeAngelis and Wong) sort of pushed me back after I caught it,” Jackson said. “It felt amazing.”
Kostibos echoed those sentiments while talking to his team after the game.
“This was amazing,” Kostibos said. “You did everything you could.
“I’m going to have to call you guys ‘the cardiac kids.’ You’re going to give me a heart attack.
“You find a way and that’s all that matters. We will correct the mistakes, but you found a way to win.”
Tyler also rushed for 71 yards on 15 carries in the first half and scored on a five-yard run to conclude Summit’s first possession.
Nicholson rushed for 169 yards on 22 attempts and scored in each half. He produced GL’s first touchdown on a five-yard run in the first quarter. After Nicholson got hit once he dove over the goal line, the ball came loose and then rolled out of the end zone. The referee quickly signaled that Nicholson broke the plane for the touchdown before the contact was made.
When Nicholson broke free and scored on a 52-yard run in the third quarter GL went ahead for the first time at 21-14. Nicholson rushed for 77 yards in the first half and 92 in the second.
GL prevented Summit from gaining a first down on its first two possessions of the second half and then halted the Hilltoppers again at the GL 33 on the second play of the fourth quarter. Magliacano made the tackle of Tyler on fourth down, giving GL the ball back and the Highlanders a chance to expand on their lead and the momentum they now had.
Unfortunately for GL, the Highlanders lost a fumble on the very next play, with Summit senior linebacker Liam Dougherty there to recover.
Five plays later Summit was back in the end zone when Tyler found Jackson open on the right side for an 18-yard touchdown pass.
“That fumble recovery we had changed the game,” Tyler said.
“Once we got the ball back there we got our mojo back,” Kostibos said. “In a season of obstacles we were given a second chance there and then found success again.”
After Summit scored its first touchdown the Hilltoppers were successful in recovering an onsides kick. However, on the ensuing drive Summit missed a 32-yard field goal.
Summit also got all the way to the GL one-yard line before running out of time in the second quarter.
Summit scored 13 of its points off GL turnovers. Curran’s first interception led to Summit’s first touchdown.
Summit senior running back Matt Murdock rushed for 46 yards on four carries in the first half, including one for 36. He caught Tyler’s first touchdown pass in the second quarter and also hauled in a two-point pass from Skyler Schluter for the game’s final points.
On a fine second effort on fourth-and-goal from the one, DeAngelis scored GL’s second touchdown, which capped an impressive 12 play, 70-yard drive that took more than six minutes.
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-NON DIVISION GAME
SUMMIT (5-0) 7 7 0 14 – 28
GOV. LIVINGSTON (2-2) 7 0 14 0 – 21
SUMMIT – Jackson Tyler 5 run, Jack Johnson kick (S 7-0)
8 plays, 46 yards, 2:49 used
Summit capitalized on a turnover – an interception by Luca Curran.
GL – Will Nicholson 5 run, Doug Anderson kick (7-7)
10 plays, 80 yards, 4:55 used
SUMMIT – Matt Murdock 30 pass from Jackson Tyler, Will Goldy kick (S 14-7)
7 plays, 82 yards, 2:39 used
GL – Pat DeAngelis 1 run, Doug Anderson kick (14-14)
12 plays, 70 yards, 6:28 used
GL – Will Nicholson 52 run, Doug Anderson kick (GL 21-14)
2 plays, 52 yards, :50 used
SUMMIT – DJ Jackson 18 pass from Jackson Tyler, kick failed (GL 21-20)
5 plays, 33 yards, 1:55 used
Summit capitalized on a turnover – a fumble recovery by Liam Dougherty.
SUMMIT – Sam Zanelli 5 run, Matt Murdock pass from Skyler Schluter
9 plays, 82 yards, 2:42 used