It took Cranford a time period of five years and a total of seven games before the Cougars finally found the formula for defeating Mid-State 38 Conference rival Summit two years ago.
A 33-14 decisive Cranford win at home over Summit in 2014 enabled the Cougars to win their first division title as a member of the Mid-State, while preventing Summit from winning a sixth straight one since conference competition commenced in 2009.
After six straight Summit victories, including a playoff triumph, Cranford finally got past Summit, handing the Hilltoppers their first Mid-State defeat.
Cranford defeated Summit again last year, the first time winning at Summit’s Tatlock Field, and for the second straight season captured the Mid-State’s Raritan Division crown ahead of the Hilltoppers.
The two will meet again at Tatlock Field in Summit’s annual one-time night game, set for this Friday, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m.
Cranford, now situated in the Mid-State’s Mountain Division where it presently stands in fourth place, comes in at 3-2 overall and on a two-game winning streak after high-scoring home wins over North Plainfield (59-35) and Scotch Plains (40-14).
“We’re trying to get better in all phases of the game,” said Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier, at the helm of the Cougars since 2005. “Offensively we’re still trying to find our identity and get the ball to our playmakers, but at the same time our line has to continue to develop.
“Defensively, we’ve been excellent against the run, but not so much vs. the pass. That’s still a work in progress.
“We’ve improved, but still not yet at the rate that I would like to see.”
Summit, in first place in the Mid-State’s Raritan Division, is 5-0 overall and coming off a late, come-from-behind 28-21 non-division win at 2-1 Governor Livingston.
“We’ve been finding ways to win and that’s all that matters,” said Summit head coach Kevin Kostibos, at the helm of the Hilltoppers since 2013. “We will correct the mistakes.”
Since 2011, Summit and Cranford are the two winningest Union County programs. Summit is 55-7 (.887) and Cranford 50-11 (.820).
Since the first year of the Mid-State 38 Conference, Summit sports a Union County-best 76-8 (.905) mark that includes three state championships and four state championship game appearances.
“They (Summit) don’t lose very often,” Rosenmeier said. “Now they’re playing in a bigger division and are undefeated again.”
Since 2011, both Cranford and Summit have been to three state championship games, each winning two. Also in that span, Summit has two 12-0 records and an 11-1 mark, while Cranford has one 12-0 mark, one 11-1 record and one 10-1 finish.
Situated in Central Jersey, Group 3 for the first time, Cranford is presently seventh in the power point standings as the Cougars seek a sixth straight season of playoff qualifying.
In North 2, Group 4 for the second straight season, Summit is presently second in the power point standings behind Monmouth County power Middletown South, also at 5-0. The Hilltoppers appear on their way to qualifying for the playoffs for the ninth straight year, beginning with their last season as a member of the Hills Division of the Iron Hills Conference in 2008.
Summit finished 6-4 last year after falling at Colonia 20-16 in its first-ever N2, G4 playoff game.
“Last year we were teaching new concepts,” Kostibos said. “Right now we have a bend-but-not-break mentality.”
What also adds – from an intangibles standpoint – to this weekend’s Cranford-Summit matchup is that for the ninth time out of nine (including a playoff game) Cranford is playing Summit when Summit is undefeated. Both teams were undefeated for the 2015, 2014, 2012 and 2011 clashes.
Cranford has scored 182 points for a 36.4 average, about a touchdown behind the 40-plus scoring averages the Cougars finished with the past two seasons.
Summit has put up 171 points for a 34.2 average.
“Both teams can score,” Rosenmeier said.
Both teams have scored more than 50 points once, while Summit’s defense has been a bit less yielding – 95 points against, vs. Cranford’s 130.
“The Scotch Plains game (Summit won 54-35) was an aberration,” Rosenmeier said. “That game got away from them a bit in the second half, but Summit has played excellent defense.
“They shut down North Hunterdon, Immaculate and Warren Hills and GL – with the scheme they run – is a much better offensive team than most people give them credit for.”
Since taking over as Summit’s quarterback when senior returning starter Jake Froschauer went down with an injury following his team’s first victory, sophomore Jackson Tyler has fared well for the Hilltoppers, completing five TD passes the past two games.
“What’s impressive is that Summit has guys coming in and out and they still continue to perform well,” Rosenmeier said.
With last Friday night’s game on the line and the Hilltoppers trailing by one, Tyler came through with a huge 41-yard pass completion over the middle to first-time starter, junior wide receiver DJ Jackson.
On fourth-and-16 from the GL 46 with just 1:38 to go and Summit trailing 21-20, Tyler’s first-down pass to the GL 5 set up an ensuing five-yard touchdown run by senior running back Sam Zanelli that won the game for the visiting Hilltoppers.
If Tyler does not complete the pass to Jackson and Summit does not get a first down there, GL would have pulled off the upset.
Jackson also caught a TD pass from Tyler earlier in the fourth quarter that brought the Hilltoppers to within 21-20. That Summit TD came after the Hilltoppers recovered a GL fumble earlier in the fourth.
“In tight games they find ways to respond,” Rosenmeier said. “That’s pretty much been their MO for quite some time now. That’s why they’ve had a tremendous amount of success. They’re also a tough team, physically.”
Cranford was also sparked by a fine effort from a first-time starter in its win two weeks ago vs. North Plainfield. Senior cornerback Aaron Cancio produced an interception that led to Cranford’s second touchdown and also broke up five additional passes thrown his way, excelling against a high-profile passing attack.
With both teams averaging more than 30 points, there’s a good chance the scoreboard will get a workout Friday night.
Cranford is lifted offensively by senior quarterback Brian Oblachinski, senior running backs Brian McGovern and Sean Bryson and senior back-receiver Ryan Bakie.
Senior middle linebacker Patrick Hoey produced two sacks in the North Plainfield triumph.
Summit has a running game led by senior Matt Murdock, a speedy threat to burst through a hole or take a screen pass down either sideline.
Free safety Luca Curran came up with two big interceptions for Summit vs. GL, including the first one leading to Summit’s first touchdown and the second ending the game at the Summit 10.
“Compared to us, Summit has certainly established itself as a strong defensive team,” Rosenmeier said. “We’ve given up too many points. We have to get better at defending the pass.”
NOTES: When Cranford finally defeated Summit in 2014, the Cougars snapped several impressive Hilltopper winning streaks, including:
State-best (at the time) 27-game winning streak
48-game regular season winning streak
33-game winning streak against Union County opponents
30-game regular season winning streak against Union County opponents
“Summit has a great program, one of the best, but it’s a relief to have finally beaten them,” Rosenmeier said following his team’s groundbreaking triumph over the Hilltoppers in 2014.
CRANFORD VS. SUMMIT SINCE 2009,
Summit undefeated in every matchup:
2016: Cranford (3-2) at Summit (5-0)
2015: Cranford (3-0) at Summit (3-0) – Cranford 42-0
2014: Summit (3-0) at Cranford (3-0) – Cranford 33-14
2013: Cranford (7-3) at Summit (10-0) – Summit 35-14, N2, G3 semis
2013: Cranford (1-1) at Summit (2-0) – Summit 48-14
2012: Summit (2-0) at Cranford (2-0) – Summit 30-27
2011: Summit (7-0) at Cranford (7-0) – Summit 52-21
2010: Cranford (5-2) at Summit (7-0) – Summit 17-13
2009: Summit (5-0) at Cranford (1-4) – Summit 49-7
Both teams were undefeated in 2015, 2014, 2012 and 2011.
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE
MOUNTAIN DIVISION STANDINGS:
1-Somerville (4-0, 5-0)
2-Rahway (3-1, 4-1)
3-Gov. Livingston (2-1, 2-2)
4-Cranford (2-2, 3-2)
5-Voorhees (1-4, 1-4)
6-North Plainfield (0-4, 1-4)
RARITAN DIVISION STANDINGS:
1-Summit (4-0, 5-0)
2-North Hunterdon (2-1, 3-2)
3-Immaculata (2-2, 3-2)
4-Warren Hills (1-3, 1-4)
5-Scotch Plains (0-3, 0-5)
CRANFORD’S SPREAD OFFENSE:
LG Owen McDermott, senior, (6-2, 240)
LT Jack Carroll, junior, (6-2, 215)
C Tommy DeMartino, senior, (5-9, 190)
RG Anthony Ramirez, senior, (6-0, 235)
RT Johnny Weston, senior, (6-0, 225)
QB Brian Oblachinski, senior, (5-9, 165)
TB Brian McGovern, senior, (5-9, 180)
SB Ryan Bakie, senior, (6-3, 200)
SB Connor Fitzsimmons, senior, (5-9, 165)
SB Joshua Cadet, junior, (5-10, 165)
WR Chris Curry, senior, (6-2, 215)
WR Louis Recupero, senior, (6-2, 170)
WR James Wozniak, senior, (5-9, 170)
WR Jake Bradford, junior, (5-8, 155)
PK Valentino Ambrosio, junior, (5-8, 150)
Returning starters (3): Ramirez, McGovern,
CRANFORD’s 3-3 DEFENSE:
NG Alex Esposito, senior, (6-3, 250)
LE Andy Joseph, senior, (5-11, 185)
RE Thomas Armstrong, senior, (6-2, 195)
E John Markase, junior, (5-9, 185)
E Rob Schork, sophomore, (6-2, 215)
LLB Sean Bryson, senior, (5-11, 190)
MLB Pat Hoey, senior, (5-8, 170)
LB Matt Doran, sophomore, (5-10, 175)
RLB Dylan Budnik, junior, (6-2, 205)
CB Joshua Cadet, junior, (5-10, 165)
CB Josiah Cadet, junior, (5-8, 165)
CB Brian Oblachinski, senior, (5-9, 165)
CB Jake Bradford, junior, (5-8, 155)
FS Ryan Bakie, senior, (6-3, 200)
FS Elijah Arroyo, junior, (5-10, 165)
SS Brian McGovern, senior, (5-9, 180)
SS Josh DeChillo, senior, (5-10, 180)
SS Eric Shapiro, senior, (6-3, 195)
P Brian Oblachinski, senior, (5-9, 165)
Returning starters (5): Armstrong, Bryson,
Oblachinski, Bakie, McGovern.
CRANFORD COUGARS (3-2)
(H) Somerville 41, Cranford 17
(H) Cranford 35, Voorhees 0
(A) Rahway 40, Cranford 34
(H) Cranford 56, North Plainfield 35
(H) Cranford 40, Scotch Plains 14
Oct. 14 at Summit, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 Gov. Livingston, 7 p.m.
Oct. 29 at Hillside, 1 p.m.
Nov. 4 at Delaware Valley, 7 p.m.
Head coach: Erik Rosenmeier,
12th season: 80-41 (.661)
Section: Central Jersey, Group 3
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Mountain 2-2, fourth
Points for: 182
Points against: 130
SUMMIT’S WING-T OFFENSE:
LT Tyler Tomlin, senior, (6-1, 205)
LG Michael Mahecha, senior, (6-1, 235)
C Kevin Cahill, junior, (6-1, 190)
RG Justin Hong, senior, (5-9, 190)
RT Matt Grange, senior, (6-3, 230)
G Spencer Frey, senior, (5-9, 215)
T Joe Shepard, junior, (6-0, 175)
C Liam Dougherty, senior, (6-1, 215)
WR Stephen Sajer, junior, (5-10, 155)
WR Jackson Tyler, sophomore, (6-3, 190)
WR Andrew Miller, junior, (6-0, 160)
WR DJ Jackson, junior, (6-2, 150)
WR Thomas Tarashuk, senior, (5-7, 125)
RB Matt Murdock, senior, (5-5, 150)
RB Jack Washburn, senior, (5-10, 160)
RB Max Hayford, junior, (5-7, 115)
RB Ryan Mayhew, junior, (5-10, 160)
QB Jake Froschauer, senior, (6-3, 175)
QB Skyler Schluter, sophomore, (5-10, 155)
FB Sam Zanelli, senior, (5-9, 165)
FB Max Jackson, sophomore, (6-0, 195)
PK Jack Johnson, senior, (5-10, 210)
Returning starters (8): Mahecha, Hong,
Grange, Sajer, Murdock, Froschauer,
SUMMIT’S 3-4 DEFENSE:
NG Danny Petrella, senior, (5-10, 300)
NG Miles Dewald, junior, (5-11, 215)
T Michael Mahecha, senior, (6-1,235)
T Kevin Cahill, junior, (6-1, 190)
T Matt Grange, senior (6-3, 230)
T Joe Shepard, junior, (6-0, 175)
ILB Liam Dougherty, senior, (6-1, 215)
ILB Spencer Frey, senior, (5-9, 215)
OLB Craig Ackerly, senior, (5-8, 155)
OLB Justin Hong, senior, (5-9, 190)
LB Peter Maldonado, junior, (6-0, 165)
LB Andrew Miller, junior, (6-0, 160)
LB Sam Zanelli, senior, (5-9, 165)
CB Christian Fusco, senior, (5-9, 160)
CB Rhajon Venable, senior, (5-6, 140)
FS Luca Curran, junior, (5-11, 150)
SS David Medina, senior, (5-8, 155)
CB Brendan McGinn, senior, (5-8, 155)
CB Chris Giangiulio, senior, (5-9 ,125)
CB Christian Greer, senior, (5-9, 155)
CB Oleg Yasekyo, junior, (5-9, 165)
P Jake Froschauer, senior, (6-3, 175)
Returning starters (9): Petrella, Mahecha,
Dougherty, Ackerly, Hong, Fusco, Venable,
SUMMIT HILLTOPPERS (5-0)
(A) Summit 24, North Hunterdon 13
(H) Summit 30, Immaculata 6
(H) Summit 35, Warren Hills 20
(A) Summit 54, Scotch Plains 35
(A) Summit 28, Gov. Livingston 21
Oct. 14 Cranford, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 at North Plainfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 29 Rahway, 1 p.m.
Nov. 4 at Somerville, 7 p.m.
Head coach: Kevin Kostibos,
fourth season: 32-6 (.842)
Section: North 2, Group 4
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Raritan 4-0, first
Points for: 171
Points against: 95