For the second straight season – with, perhaps, the playoffs on the line – the Cranford Cougars came through big-time in the second half at home against an undefeated team.
Trailing 5-0 Summit by five points at intermission, Cranford fought hard in quarters three and four to top the visiting Hilltoppers 25-12 Friday night at Memorial Field.
That put Cranford, which had lost two of three including a 50-7 decision at Somerville the week before, back in the race for a playoff berth in North, Group 4.
After an 0-2 start last year, Cranford came back in the second half to top Rahway 24-14 at home, outscoring the 2-0 Indians 24-0 in the second half. That win propelled the Cougars to win six of seven and qualify once again in North 2, Group 3.
It is still not guaranteed that Cranford, now 4-2, will make the playoffs for the eighth straight season, but the Cougars put themselves in a much better position with their win over Summit.
It was the second time in three years a 3-2 Cranford team defeated a 5-0 Summit squad. In 2016 the Cougars won at Summit 37-7.
Cranford has now defeated Summit (5-1) four of the past five seasons.
“We needed the win,” Cranford head coach Erik Rosenmeier said. “We were embarrassed the week before, giving up 50. We really had to take a look in the mirror. We had to win this game.”
Summit, which entered the game having outscored its first five foes by an impressive 209-48 margin, led 12-7 at intermission after lead senior running backs Jackson Tyler and Max Jackson rushed for scores in the second quarter.
“There were no halftime adjustments,” Rosenmeier said. “Our offense was struggling and our defense was going to have to hold the line and wait for the offense to make a play. Our special teams played well.”
After getting good field position inside Summit territory in the third quarter Cranford was unable to reach the end zone to take the lead. However, first-year placekicker Jack McAleavey nailed a 39-yard field goal to pull the Cougars to within 12-10.
McAleavey, a senior, also produced a punt inside the Summit five-yard line and had one kickoff go through the end zone for a touchback.
“The field goal he made was a momentum changer,” Rosenmeier said. “It was only three points, but at least we got something out of the drive. The game started to change at that point.”
Cranford’s defense came up with a turnover and the Cougars were able to reach the end zone two more times in the fourth quarter. Junior quarterback Connor Katz rushed for his second score and then senior running back Jimmy Shriner scored on a 13-yard run. Shriner rushed for 80 yards.
“We played excellent on defense and special teams, McAleavey especially,” Rosenmeier said. “It was a fist fight. Both teams were trying hard to win.
“Shriner and the offensive line did a good job on the touchdown at the end. There was not a lot of flash to this game, not a lot of offense on either side. It was a defensive struggle.”
Summit remains one of the top teams in North, Group 3. The Hilltoppers play at Immaculata on Oct. 26 for the Mid-State Conference’s Raritan Division championship.
“This might not have been a must win game for Summit, but it was for us, we had to have it,” Rosenmeier said. “We used the term ‘death struggle,’ that last moment in life where you hang on. We still don’t know if we’re going to make the playoffs, but without this win it might not have been likely.
“It was literally a do-or-die situation. Defense and special teams responded. Summit wanted it a lot. We just needed it a little bit more.”
Cranford limited a team that was averaging nearly 42 points to scoring in just one of the four quarters.
“We played good defense against the run,” Rosenmeier said. “We have been playing good run defense consistently. Coach (Joe) Hubert did a great job again with our game plan on defense.
“We focused on being physical and being disciplined as far as stopping them. Summit’s kids in the backfield are very good.
“Our pride was hurt the week before. Our kids hung in there. It was a good measure of what our character on defense is. Sometimes you get blown out and then what do you do the next week? We responded with a really good defensive effort.”
Cranford’s final two regular season games are at Immaculata (4-2) this Friday night and then at Hillside (6-0) next week. The Hillside game might be played at Cranford if Hillside’s field turf is not ready by next weekend.
Immaculata, like Cranford, is 4-2. After a 4-0 start, Immaculata has lost at St. Joseph’s, Metuchen 43-0 and at Rahway 21-0 the last two weekends. The Spartans are now guided by first-year head coach Mike Columbo, who was previously a head coach at Summit and Delaware Valley.
“I think it’s probably a dead-even matchup,” Rosenmeier said. “They lost to Rahway by almost the same score we did. We both also have convincing losses, them to St. Joseph’s and us to Somerville.
“I know Coach Columbo a long time and I think what we gave Summit is what Immaculata is looking to give us, they have to win.”
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Oct. 19: Phillipsburg (4-0) at Ridge (4-0) for the title.
Somerville (5-0) won the title for the 3rd year in a row.
Oct. 26: Summit (4-0) at Immaculata (4-0) for the title.
New Providence (5-0, one game to go) won the title.
Hillside (4-0) won the title for the first time.
Linden is 4-1 and done.
Oct. 19: Watchung Hills (0-4) at Union (3-1)
Oct. 20: Elizabeth (3-1) at Westfield (1-2)