SUMMIT, NJ — Summit and Linden high schools have both come a long way so far this season.
Both are also coming off seasons in which they did not make the playoffs, but then made the most of their opportunities in a new setting.
Both captured Regional Invitational Tournament championships last year, Linden winning North, Group 4 with two victories and Summit winning North, Group 3 with three triumphs. It was an opportunity for teams that didn’t make the playoffs to keep on playing and be rewarded with a trophy and the title of champion in a non-playoff landscape.
“Anytime you get an opportunity to play more games, it’s a good thing,” Summit head coach Kevin Kostibos said. “Our kids went out and made the most of it.”
“I liked the way it was presented,” Linden head coach Al Chiola said. “It was something tangible the players could look forward to and continue to compete for something.”
Not making the playoffs is not an option for either team this time around. Summit is presently seeded second with the power points out of North, Group 3 and Linden is seventh out of North, Group 4. The top 16 teams in each section qualify.
On Saturday, Oct. 7, at Summit’s Tatlock Field in an announced 2:30 p.m. kickoff, the Summit Hilltoppers, at 4-1, will host the Linden Tigers, at 5-1, in a Big Central Conference-crossover clash.
Both teams appear headed to the playoffs in their sections, but both will not be division champions.
St. Thomas Aquinas High School, 6-0 and with a 44-20 win at Summit on Friday, Sept. 15, has captured the BCCs United Gold Division championship once again. St. Thomas Aquinas has a record of 3-0 in the division and has its last division game at Rahway High School on Friday night, Oct. 6.
Woodbridge High School, 4-2 and with a 20-19 victory at home against Linden on Friday, Sept. 8, has won the BCC’s Liberty Gold Division title. Woodbridge has a record of 3-0 in the division and has its last division game at winless John F. Kennedy High School, Iselin, on Friday, Oct. 6.
The battle on Saturday, Oct. 7, at Summit’s Tatlock Field will most assuredly have a playoff atmosphere, as two of Union County’s best teams up to this point will go at it with all they can. The winner will gain a big, valuable chunk of power points toward its playoff positioning.
“They have a great quarterback and running back, but I think our defense will be ready for them,” Summit standout senior running back Carter Shallcross said.
Shallcross, who rushed for 176 yards and scored two touchdowns in the 42-6 home win against Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School on Saturday, Sept. 30, was referring to Linden senior quarterback Tequan Thomas and Linden senior running back Devon Chavis. Thomas has rushed for 877 yards and 12 touchdowns and Chavis for 414 and five TDs.
“No doubt, Linden has some explosive kids that have to be slowed down somehow,” Kostibos said.
Summit has provided some fireworks of its own so far. The Hilltoppers have scored at least 41 points in all four of their victories and are averaging 39 points.
There’s enough there to keep longtime Linden defensive coordinator Anthony Reinoso up late at night.
“We’re getting better every week I feel, which is the most important thing,” Kostibos said.
At quarterback for Summit is sophomore Cole Sabol, who has provided consistency at the position so far. Sabol has completed 23-of-45 passes for 651 yards, eight touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Last year was the first time since 2007 that Summit did not qualify for the state playoffs. So far, the Hilltoppers have been back in a big way, with a usually potent offense taking it up another gear.
“We’re doing the little things and that’s very important,” Kostibos said. “When you do the little things, the TDs will come.”
Little things include being disciplined and avoiding penalties in order to move the chains and extend time-consuming drives.
“Our offensive line does a great job,” Shallcross said. “We now have a goal of reaching 40 points. We have that expectation.”
Although Perth Amboy High School has just two wins and Iselin Kennedy none, on the scoreboard, Linden’s two most dominating victories have come against those teams the past two weekends. Two weeks ago, Linden won at Perth Amboy, 35-7, and then last weekend, the Tigers took care of Iselin Kennedy, 42-7, at home.
Linden’s leading tackler by a wide margin is senior linebacker Myles Hamilton with 77 tackles total. Hamilton has proven to be a true menace in the middle.
Summit senior Tyler Kessel is his team’s leading tackler and also by some several lengths. He leads the Hilltoppers with 70 total tackles so far.
Linden will wrap its regular season with games at Cranford High School on Friday, Oct. 13, and home against Montgomery High School on Friday, Oct. 20. At the present time, Cranford is 3-2 and Montgomery is 6-0.
Summit will wrap with its final regular season games at Colonia High School on Friday, Oct. 13, and then at St. Joseph High School, Metuchen, on Friday, Oct. 20. Colonia is 3-3 and St. Joe’s 3-2.
The first week of the sectional state playoffs are the weekend of Oct. 27 and 28.
Photos by JR Parachini