HILLSIDE, NJ — After thumping Overbrook at home, Hillside is now one win away from playing for a state championship once again.
The Comets, which won state titles in 2017, 2018 and 2019, scored once in the first quarter and twice more in the second and third to easily dispatch fifth-seeded Overbrook 34-0 in the afternoon first-round Central Jersey, Group 2, clash at Hillside’s John Zappulla Field on Saturday, Nov. 6.
Fourth-seeded Hillside (7-2) is now preparing for its sectional semifinal game at top-seeded Raritan (5-4). Kickoff is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m.
The Shore Conference school defeated eighth-seeded Barnegat 30-6 in its first-round game on Friday, Nov. 5, at Raritan.
“They have a big offensive line, they are physical, fast and, on defense, it looks like a lot of their kids may also wrestle,” Hillside head coach Barris Grant said, already looking ahead to the game against Raritan.
Hillside is no stranger to winning playoff games on the road recently. The Comets were 2-0 on the road in Central Jersey, Group 2, in 2017 and 2-0 on the road in 2019 in South Jersey, Group 2. Hillside went on to win both of those sections.
The Comets are attempting to win a state championship for the fourth straight season they have been in the playoffs. There were no playoffs last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hillside won Central Jersey, Group 2, in 2017 and 2018 and then won South Jersey, Group 2, in 2019 en route to a program-best 12-0 finish, after winning its Group 2 regional game.
Hillside knocked off top-seeded West Deptford 14-10 at West Deptford to capture the 2019 South Jersey, Group 2, state championship, so Hillside has won at a top seed before with a trophy on the line.
“We’re a South Jersey team now,” Grant said. “Our kids are getting a chance to go to places they have never been before.”
Raritan, under head coach Anthony Petruzzi, went 6-1 in last year’s shortened season, winning its final six. Petruzzi led the Shore Conference Rockets to the 2015 Central Jersey, Group 2, state championship with a 28-26 win over Lincoln of Jersey City in the title contest played at Kean University. Raritan won all three of its playoff games away from home that season to come out a state champ with a final record of 7-5.
“The Shore Conference has a pretty good reputation for playing a high level of football,” Grant said. “We’re going to go down there, play our way and see what happens.”
Hillside took advantage of turnovers to score its first two touchdowns against Overbrook.
An interception by junior Muwaffaq Parkman at the Overbrook 48 and a 4-yard return gave Hillside the ball to start its first possession at the Overbrook 44. It took just one play for the Comets to take the lead for good.
Junior running back Kyon Simonson took the first down handoff from junior quarterback Caleb Salters and found room on the left side to sprint down the sideline for a 44-yard touchdown run.
Hillside defensive standouts Zamir Hawk and Mathew Ihemesie combined for a sack that netted a 3-yard loss the next time Overbrook had the ball.
Then Hillside drove deep into Overbrook territory before turning the ball over on a fumble.
An interception of a tipped pass by Hillside junior defensive back Sakai Degannes prevented Overbrook from tying the game. Degannes caught the ball at the Hillside five and returned it 10 yards.
Hillside then marched 85 yards in nine plays to reach the end zone once again. Simonson scored from 3 yards out this time and then Giovanni Lavoura kicked his second extra point to make it 14-0.
On its following possession, Overbrook went for it on fourth-and-inches near midfield, but Hillside stopped a run up the middle just shy of the first down marker. Hillside then drove 46 yards to its third score.
This time, it was Parkman scoring on a 3-yard run and Lavoura kicking the third of his four extra points.
Ihemesie had a solo sack for a 2-yard loss during the final time the Rams had the ball in the first half.
Hillside drove deep into Overbrook territory again at the end of the first half but ran out of time in an attempt to produce a fourth score.
The Comets made up for that by reaching the end zone two more times in the third quarter. Salters scored both times, first from 14 yards out and second by sneaking in from the one.
“We only have four or five players from our last unbeaten team two years ago,” Grant said. “The playoffs are new for a lot of our kids.”
It was the second shutout for Hillside and the fourth time the Comets gave up 7 points or fewer. Hillside quickly turned the tables after falling at home the previous week to Rahway 40-21 on senior day.
“Two things were key,” Grant said. “We had no turnovers, compared to three against Rahway, and we made sure we tackled.”
Thanks to their performances against Overbrook, Simonson and Parkman both have more than 1,000 yards rushing for the season.
Hillside is now 43-8 since 2017, including 11-1 in the playoffs. The 11-1 playoff mark includes 5-0 at home, 4-0 on the road and 2-1 at neutral sites.
Photos by JR Parachini