SUMMIT, NJ — Pinned deep in its own territory late in the first half of its battle against Elizabeth on Saturday, Sept. 4, Summit football’s offense was stopped on three consecutive possessions, after the Hilltoppers began their 2021 season by marching down the field and scoring a touchdown.
With a little more than three minutes to go before intermission, Summit began its fifth drive at its own 3-yard line, following a 37-yard punt boomed by Elizabeth senior Wendell Cadet that rolled to its conclusion.
First down netted 3 yards on the ground, second down 2 more. On third-and-5 from their own 8, the Hilltoppers, clinging to a 1-point lead, sought to get the ball to senior tight end Jay Paasonen.
“It’s a Power I that starts with the running back faking up the hole,” Summit senior quarterback Charlie Schaffer said. “My first read was our tight end and he was covered.”
To say that Schaffer had time to maneuver and completely ponder about not only option No. 1, but option No. 2, would be a gross understatement.
“Next, it goes to our line,” Schaffer said. “Our line gave me all day back there.”
After looking left and finding nothing there, Schaffer rolled right a bit and, after taking a long view of the field in front of him, saw Gavin Odell wide open not too far away.
“It’s a perfect play our coaches drew up,” Schaffer said. “It’s designed to have one of their players cover one of our guys and they chose our tight end. That left Gavin wide open.”
Odell caught the ball at the 30-yard line and then outraced the closest Elizabeth defender by sprinting down the right sideline and reaching the end zone untouched, to extend Summit’s lead to 7 points.
It was a 92-yard touchdown reception from Schaffer to Odell, which began scoreboard separation for the Hilltoppers, as Summit went on to down visiting Elizabeth 39-12 in the season-opening Big Central Conference crossover clash at Summit’s Tatlock Field.
It was the first time Summit and Elizabeth had battled in more than 30 years.
“Catch, turn, burst and score,” Odell said of his game-changing touchdown. “The cornerback covering me stopped and started to stay on Jay. That left me wide open. Once I caught the ball, I just started running as fast as I could. I had no idea who was chasing me.”
The same as Schaffer, Odell gave all the credit to his offensive line.
That solid unit, which kept Elizabeth defensive linemen away from Schaffer so that he could properly execute Summit’s Wing-T, included senior captain Jonathan Lehrich at center, senior Michael Sajer at left tackle, junior Jake Rainero at left guard, senior Dymir Williams at right guard and senior Andrew Sirabian at right tackle.
“Charlie with his feet gets the job done,” Summit head coach Kevin Kostibos said. “Gavin snuck behind the kid, made it happen.
“You could say both of our touchdowns in the first half came on broken plays.”
The first was a 36-yard pass Schaffer completed to senior wide receiver Conor St. Amant for Summit’s first points of the season.
“We proved that we can be resilient and go toe-to-toe with people,” Kostibos said. “Early on, both teams made mistakes. You just find your legs and go from there.”
Schaffer completed nine of 20 passes for 245 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Matthew Loeloff scored on a 2-yard run in the third quarter, and Colin Beatty, also a Summit captain, scored on a 22-yard sprint up the middle in the fourth.
Junior left-footed place-kicker Will Johnson made both extra-point attempts and, in between, kicked a 42-yard field goal that hit the crossbar and bounced forward.
Elizabeth, sparked by the running of senior backs Javonte Bailey and Gregory McQueen and the overall play of Cadet, who excelled at wide receiver, defensive back, punter and even quarterback late in the game, moved forward, despite not being at 100 percent.
The Minutemen were without sixth-year head coach Jamil Jackson, offensive coordinator Asad Abdul-Khaliq and five starters, who all had tested positive for COVID-19. Elizabeth also had some players out with injuries.
“We decided as a team that we were still going to play this game, and we came here prepared to do so,” said acting head coach Joe Misura, who, in addition to Elizabeth’s other coaches on the field, was aided upstairs in the booth by assistant coach Pat Dowling.
Misura, a 2001 Iselin Kennedy grad who in 1999 played as a junior on Kennedy’s last eight-win (8-2) team, is Elizabeth’s offensive line coach. The last four years, he was quality control.
“Summit did a great job and deserves credit for making the plays they did,” Misura said. “We were right there at the half and then made some unfortunate plays in the second half that Summit took advantage of.”
Two Elizabeth turnovers in the third quarter, fumble recoveries by Rainero and Summit’s other captain, Taylor Christ, resulted in 10 Hilltopper points.
A 7-yard touchdown run up the middle by Bailey brought Elizabeth to 7-6 one minute into the second quarter.
Elizabeth senior wide receiver/defensive back Esthervin Almanzar had an interception in the second quarter and caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Cadet with 23 seconds left in the game.
“We weren’t really clicking and missed some opportunities in the first half,” Misura said. “It was hot, it was our first game, but I’m really, really proud of our guys.”