Summit was coming off a home loss to undefeated Rahway and was then faced with the prospect of hosting defending Mid-State Conference Mountain Division champion Somerville, another team without a setback.
The visiting Pioneers arrived at Summit’s Tatlock Field Saturday with a 4-0 record that included 187 points for, only 26 against, and two shutouts. Since 2016 Somerville had lost only one regular season game, which was two years ago, and sported an overall record of 37-3 since.
Although the host Hilltoppers were 2-1 and had only lost to a 2-0 Rahway team, they were considered heavy underdogs. Most picked Somerville to come out on top once again.
Who believed in Summit? The Hilltoppers, that’s who.
“The big thing at this point is football is a game of highs and lows,” seventh-year head coach Kevin Kostibos said. “You can’t put too much stock into when you win and also when you lose.
“Coming back from the Rahway game we needed to come out and play well. We had showed signs of an inexperienced team.
“The only thing we can control is how we do. We needed to come out and play well and fix those mistakes.”
Summit’s eventual, come-from-behind 23-16 win over Somerville Saturday caught the eyes of many high school football followers around the state.
“When we play well we feel that we’re good enough to beat anybody, that’s true, and that happened Saturday,” Kostibos said.
Summit not only stepped up defensively against a team averaging 47 points, but held the Pioneers to zero points, yes zero, at intermission. The Hilltoppers led 9-0 at the half.
”To be up 9-0 at halftime felt great, the kids were all pumped up,” Kostibos said. “We told them that shutting out a team for one half is lucky and for the whole game would be good.”
Kostibos cited his entire defense for the success it had in the first half.
“We played great team defense, all 11 guys,” Kostibos said. “There was great communication, they were all on the same page and you need to have that vs. a team like Somerville. Our guys took it one play at a time.”
Summit extended its advantage to 15-0 in the third quarter when senior running back Joe Lusardi scored his second touchdown. His first touchdown came on a 68-yard pass from senior quarterback Sam Roberts.
To Somerville’s credit the Pioneers found a way to come back and take the lead at 16-15 in the fourth quarter after they produced a second, long touchdown run that was followed by a second two-point conversion.
“Somerville changed some things up,” Kostibos said. “They went to a midfield muddle package and then single-wing. They have such a vast array of athletes and weapons.”
After the Hilltoppers had to punt the ball with three minutes to go, Summit’s defense was able to force a fumble that led to the game-winning score.
“The turnover we caused was a huge play and the culmination of the entire day,” Kostibos said. “It was smash-mouth football the entire game. They tried to rush a ton.”
Senior defensive back Matty Goldblatt made the initial hit.
“On that play it was face-mask football, a great form tackle by Matt,” Kostibos said of the Goldblatt hit on the Somerville running back.
Sophomore linebacker Colin Beatty was there to recovery the fumble near midfield.
A big pass play from Roberts to Goldblatt put the ball on the Somerville 15. Lusardi took it in from eight yards out, his third touchdown of the game, with two minutes to go. Lusardi then ran in for two points to give Summit a seven-point lead at 23-16.
Then Summit had to kick off. First-year kicker Brock Froschauer, a 5-11, 165-pound junior, more than did the job by kicking the ball to the end zone for a touchback, which put Somerville to start at its own 20.
“Our kicker is phenomenal,” Kostibos said. “He already has nine or 10 touchbacks.
“We told him to stay away from kicking it to Hinton and that he also couldn’t put the ball on the ground, which would have given them great field position at around the 40 or 45. He had to kick it to the end zone and he did.”
Then Summit needed one more stop. The Hilltoppers kept Somerville out of their territory and ended the game when Goldblatt hauled in an interception.
“We had a very good pass rush on the play and then Matty came through with the interception,” Kostibos said.
Summit improved to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the Mountain Division, while Somerville slipped to 4-1 overall and 2-1 in the division. Rahway, 4-0 overall, leads the division at 4-0, while Warren Hills, 3-2 overall, is second at 3-0.
Somerville’s only other regular season loss since 2016 came at home to Rahway 27-6 on Oct. 6, 2017. The Pioneers had a 17-game regular season winning streak snapped.
Somerville entered the game ranked 11th in the state.
For there to be a three-way tie for the Mountain Division championship between Rahway, Summit and Somerville, Somerville must beat Rahway and also Somerville, Rahway and Summit must all beat Warren Hills.