HILLSIDE, NJ — A season that had state championship aspirations, based on the wealth of senior talent the Comets had coming back, almost had Hillside High School’s football team reaching the place it wanted it to go.
Placed in Group 3 for the first time and moved to the north, Hillside reached a state championship game for the fourth time in the last five seasons there were playoffs.
The Comets went to top-seeded Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan on Saturday, Nov. 12, and scored points — Hillside reached the end zone once in the first half and once in the second — but ultimately came one win short of their No. 1 goal.
In the North 1, Group 3 sectional state championship game on Saturday, Nov. 12, second-seeded Hillside was defeated at No. 1 seed Old Tappan, 28-14, in a battle of 9-1 squads seeking a trophy.
Old Tappan improved to 10-1 and advanced to this weekend’s first-ever Group 3 semifinals and will face 12-0 West Morris Central High School, the North 2, Group 3 champion, at Franklin. The first Group 3 final will take place at Rutgers University the first weekend in December.
Hillside finished another fine season, at 9-2. It was the sixth straight winning campaign for the Comets and the fifth straight season they made the playoffs when there were playoffs.
Hillside won Central Jersey, Group 2 in 2017 and 2018 and then captured South Jersey, Group 2 in 2019. Last year, the Comets were downed in the Central Jersey, Group 2 semifinals.
With standout seniors such as quarterback Caleb Salters; Division 1–committed running backs Muwaffaq Parkman, Syracuse University, and Kyon Simonson, U.S. Military Academy West Point; burly lineman Zaimir Hawk; and placekicker Giovanni Lavoura in the fold, great things were predicted once again for one of the hottest programs in the state the past five years.
Parkman scored Hillside’s first touchdown vs. Old Tappan on a 55-yard run. Simonson was Hillside’s leading rusher in the comeback home playoff victories against seventh-seeded Parsippany Hills High School, 33-28, and third-seeded River Dell High School, 33-13.
Head coach Darnell Grant described Parkman and Simonson before the season began as “Thunder and Thunder” and went on to say that there was “nothing that either of them could not do.”
Simonson went on to rush for more than 1,000 yards again, gaining 1,100 this season. Parkman, hampered by injuries at times this season, gained 536 and scored seven touchdowns.
Simonson paced the Comets in touchdowns with 16.
Hillside outscored 11 opponents by more than 200 points total, 336-134, and produced three shutouts. Playing best at home with their backs against the wall after falling behind by double digits in the second half, the Comets came back from being down 28-14 to Parsippany Hills and 13-3 to River Dell.
A second-half comeback against Old Tappan was not to be.
Before playing Old Tappan, Hillside players and Grant discussed how the Comets were not totally prepared for their game against St. Thomas Aquinas High School, which was Hillside’s only regular-season defeat, 17-7, on Friday, Sept. 30.
“When you get to the playoffs, it’s a one-game Super Bowl,” Grant said. “You can’t leave anything behind. Sometimes you just find out that you end up going against someone better than you.”
Traveling to and playing Old Tappan for the first time is an experience the Comets can tuck away and feed off of as early as next year, if both teams remain in Group 3, where a possible rematch might take place.
Hillside posted shutouts at Metuchen High School, 45-0; at home against Abraham Clark High School, 28-0; and also at home vs. Carteret High School, 31-0.
The Comets, who were a perfect 6-0 at home, captured the Big Central Conference’s Patriot Silver Division championship, beating New Providence High School, Arthur L. Johnson High School, Abraham Clark and Metuchen.
Unfortunately for the Comets, they played only one Group 3 school on their schedule to prepare them for a Group 3 playoff section, and that was Carteret.
“That’s something they (the NJSIAA) will have to fix in the future,” Grant said. “If a team gets moved up last minute like that and plays all smaller schools, that doesn’t help.
“However, most of the schools we played this year had pretty good records when we played them.”
Hillside Comets (9-2)
A-Hillside 35, Bernards 20
A-Hillside 45, Metuchen 0
H-Hillside 28, Abraham Clark 0
H-Hillside 42, New Providence 7
A-St. Thomas Aquinas 17, Hillside 7
A-Hillside 33, Arthur L. Johnson 7
H-Hillside 35, Delaware Valley 14
H-Hillside 31, Carteret 0
H-Hillside 33, Parsippany Hills 28
H-Hillside 33, River Dell 13
A-Old Tappan 28, Hillside 14
Head coach: Barris Grant,
Section: North, Group 3
Conference: Big Central
Division: Patriot Silver (4-0, champs)
North 1, Group 3: (2-1, second)
Points for: 336
Points against: 134