CRANFORD – Sparked by a balanced offense led by an all-state performance from senior back Luke Christiano, a defense – lifted by the likes of lineman Will Fries, linebacker Niko Cappello and defensive back Eric Donahue – that shut out its opponent in the second half for the second straight week and the ability to score touchdowns twice after coming up with interceptions, the host Cranford Cougars finally overcame their division nemesis, the Summit Hilltoppers.
Cranford took the lead for good in the second quarter and then rolled to a convincing 33-14 Mid-State 38 Conference-Raritan Division victory Thursday night at Memorial Field, ending numerous Hilltopper winning streaks, including a state-leading overall 27-game winning streak.
Cranford was 0-6 against Summit since the Mid-State Conference began in 2009, losing to the Hilltoppers the last five regular seasons and in the last year’s North 2, Group 3 semifinals.
“Summit has a great program, one of the best, but it’s a relief to have finally beaten them,” Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier said.
Summit lost for the first time in three years, for the first time in the regular season in six years, for the first time to a Union County opponent in six years and for the first time to a Union County opponent in a regular season game in 13 years.
Here’s a closer look:
*Summit had a state-leading 27-game winning streak snapped, losing for the first time since Dec. 2, 2011 when the Hilltoppers were downed by Madison 47-7 in the North 2, Group 2 championship game at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium in Union.
*Summit also had a 48-game regular season winning streak snapped, losing for the first time in the regular season since it was downed by West Essex 37-12 in North Caldwell on Nov. 7, 2008, which was its last game as a member of the Hills Division of the Iron Hills Conference. Summit suffered its first regular season loss since it joined the Mid-State Conference in 2009.
*Summit also had a 33-game winning streak against Union County opponents halted. The last time the Hilltoppers lost to a Union County opponent was on Nov. 22, 2008 when they were upended at Governor Livingston 32-28 in a North 2, Group 2 semifinal.
*Summit also had a 30-game winning streak snapped against Union County opponents in regular season games. The last time the Hilltoppers lost to a Union County opponent in the regular season was on Nov. 22, 2001 when they fell at New Providence 21-14 on Thanksgiving.
Cranford improved to 4-0 overall and 3-0 in the Raritan Division. Defending Raritan Division and North 2, Group 3 champion Summit fell to 3-1 overall and 3-1 in the Raritan.
Cranford played in a 2-0 vs. 2-0 game last week and came back in the second half to win at Roselle 35-27. The Cougars played in a 3-0 vs. 3-0 game Thursday night and downed Summit 33-14 at home.
Next week the Cougars will be playing in a 4-0 vs. 4-0 game when they host Raritan Division rival Voorhees, which improved to 4-0 overall and 3-0 in the Raritan Division after winning at home over Warren Hills 35-6 Thursday night.
Voorhees, like Summit, is situated in Cranford’s section – North 2, Group 3.
Here’s what Rosenmeier thought were the keys against Summit: “we had to stick to our game plan, which was our offense vs. their defense. We had to get out on the perimeter, because there was no room to run up the middle, they made that very clear.
“Our game plan was not unlike the one we had for Warren Hills. We had to get our wide receivers out on the edges. They made a number of plays.”
Christiano provided Cranford with a lift immediately by scoring on the game’s third play, catching a third-down pass 12 yards down field thrown by junior quarterback Jack Schetelich. Christiano saw a huge hole on the right side and sprinted down field untouched and into the end zone for the game’s first six points.
The 62-yard touchdown pass was the first throw of a 7-for-7 start by Schetelich. The first-year signal-caller was outstanding in the first half, completing 12-of-15 passes for two touchdowns, no interceptions and 174 yards.
He ran in for Cranford’s final touchdown from one yard out and, including a 58-yard touchdown pass thrown to Christiano early in the third quarter, Schetelich finished 14-of-18 for 232 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Following field goals by Cranford’s Joe Norton in the first and second quarters – the first one came after a touchdown run by Cranford’s Dan Delayo was called back because of a holding penalty – Summit erased Cranford’s lead with a short touchdown drive and extra point for a 14-13 advantage.
Cranford, which had to overcome 10 first-half penalties – including one for pass interference that aided Summit on its first scoring drive – then lost a fumble for the game’s first turnover. Recovering for the Hilltoppers was Spencer Sink, who also recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter.
Summit began its fourth possession on its own 30, seeking to build on its one-point lead. Two plays later Cappello sacked Summit sophomore quarterback Jake Froschauer for a three-yard loss. Two plays after that Cappello intercepted a Froschauer pass, returning it to the Summit 15 with 2:42 to go before intermission.
“That was big,” Rosenmeier said. “Summit was gaining momentum and we stopped it there.”
Christiano gained five yards on first down and then two plays later Schetelich completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Donovan Walker, giving Cranford back the lead for good at 19-14.
Summit was also called for its share of penalties in the first half, including pass interference twice on Cranford’s drive that made the game 13-7 with Norton’s second field goal.
Froschauer completed six-of-13 passes for 79 yards and one touchdown and one interception in the first half.
Zanelli carried the ball 13 times for 39 yards in the first 24 minutes.
Cranford scored touchdowns the first two times it had the ball in the second half, the second one coming after the Donohue interception, which was his first of two, both of them produced in the third quarter.
Not bad for a senior, with good size at 6-5, 215 pounds, who came out for football for the first time.
“Our defense has been doing a very good job, with Luke in the back and our linebackers and linemen getting good pressure,” Donohue said.
Christiano caught five passes – Walker led Cranford with six receptions in the first half – and carried the ball six times for 41 yards in the the first two quarters. His final carry of the game was for 23 yards.
“This was satisfying to reverse the score against Summit,” Christiano said. “However, this is just one win, not a state title.
“Being 4-0 now comes down to the summer. Our coaches preach preparation and this begins with what we do during the summer.”
Providing running room for Christiano, Walker, Delayo and Schetelich and pressuring Summit quarterbacks all night long was 6-6, 265-pound junior lineman Will Fries, who the Hilltoppers were guilty of holding at times.
“We tried to stay low and drive, stay as a unit,” Fries said. “We tried to drive them out.”
When Cranford fell behind for the brief time it did, there was no panic.
“We stayed calm,” Fries said. “We couldn’t let them get any kind of push.”
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-RARITAN DIVISION GAME
SUMMIT (3-1, 3-1) 7 7 0 0 – 14
CRANFORD (4-0, 3-0) 10 9 14 0 – 33
Cranford – Luke Christiano 62 pass from Jack Schetelich, Joe Norton kick
3 plays, 68 yards, 1:28 used
Summit – Andrew Helmer 14 pass from Jake Froschauer, Paulo Umana kick (7-7)
11 plays, 59 yards, 2:54 used
Cranford – FG Joe Norton 26 (C 10-7)
9 plays, from own 42 to Summit 10, 3:55 used
Cranford – FG Joe Norton 32 (C 13-7)
15 plays, from own 27 to Summit 15, 4:11 used
Sparked by punter Joe Norton running for a first down to the Summit 31 instead of punting the ball on fourth-and nine from the Cranford 35.
Summit – Chris Zanelli 2 run, Paulo Umana kick (S 14-13)
3 plays, 39 yards, :45 used
Cranford – Donovan Walker 10 pass from Jack Schetelich, kick failed
3 plays, 15 yards, :59 used
Cranford capitalized on a turnover – an interception by Niko Cappello.
Cranford – Luke Christiano 58 pass from Jack Schetelich, Joe Norton kick
4 plays, 56 yards, 1:46 used
Cranford – Jack Schetelich 1 run, Joe Norton kick (C 33-14)
6 plays, 31 yards, 2:00 used
Cranford capitalized on a turnover – an interception by Eric Donohue.
UNION COUNTY SCOREBOARD
THURSDAY NIGHT, OCT. 2
Cranford 33, Summit 14 – at Cranford
Belvidere 45, Dayton 13 – at Belvidere
Elizabeth 34, Union 6 – at Union
Hillside 27, Pingry 10 – at Pingry
Linden 15, Westfield 14 – at Linden
New Providence 35, Manville 0 – at New Providence
North Hunterdon 45, Scotch Plains 14 – at North Hunterdon