SUMMIT, NJ — Anything short of at least capturing a sectional state championship when you are a top seed, are playing at home, have not lost to a public school team and average 40 points is going to be disappointing.
Summit High School got out to a two-touchdown lead on Saturday, Nov. 4, at home against West Essex High School. The Hilltoppers then took the lead again in the third quarter on a perfectly kicked 39-yard field goal.
It was not meant to be for Summit, however, as turnovers turned the game into West Essex’s favor. There were nine turnovers in all, six committed by Summit.
Fourth-seeded West Essex took advantage and scored the game’s final 13 points, all in the decisive fourth quarter, to come away with a 27-17 triumph in the North 2, Group 3 semifinal played at Tatlock Field.
Summit sophomore quarterback Cole Sabol completed 11-of-20 passes for 121 yards and one touchdown, but was intercepted three times.
Standout senior running back Carter Shallcross carried the ball 28 times for 148 yards and one touchdown.
Summit’s Jake Procaccini caught five passes for 58 yards and one score.
Summit junior Shane Walsh had an interception in the first quarter and a fumble recovery in the second quarter, following a punishing hit by West Essex’s Chase Ewing.
Those were just some of the highlights for Summit by players who have been performing that way all season long for the Hilltoppers, who closed a solid campaign at 7-3.
Here’s an account of how a game, filled with big plays, unfolded.
In order to win playoff games on the road as an underdog, you have to make big plays, usually at times when no one expects them to be made.
West Essex junior Max Garcia made making big plays an art form against favored Summit. As a result, it will be the Knights moving on, instead of the host Hilltoppers.
Garcia’s first of two interceptions, which came late in the first half in the Summit end zone, kept West Essex down by only one touchdown heading into the break.
His second interception, a pick-6 that covered 50 yards and came in the third quarter, tied the game.
Garcia’s third and final big play came on special teams when he not only knocked the ball loose from the Summit returner, but picked it up at the Summit 35 and ran it into the end zone for an insurance touchdown, right after his Knights took the lead for the first time earlier in the fourth quarter.
On both of his touchdowns, Garcia ran into the end zone untouched.
Summit scored the game’s first two touchdowns to take a two touchdown lead in the second quarter and then went ahead again by a field goal late in the third quarter, after capitalizing on a bad snap turnover by West Essex, just when the Knights had huge momentum in their favor.
West Essex was able to overcome the bad snap by scoring the game’s go-ahead touchdown on its next possession.
Things did not look good for the Knights early on, but they were able to overcome, led by an incredible performance by Garcia.
A little more than two hours from the opening kickoff, West Essex began to enjoy a hard-fought 27-17 come-from-behind triumph against top-seeded Summit in the second North 2, Group 3 semifinal.
As a result, fourth-seeded West Essex (8-3) will now host sixth-seeded Passaic Valley Regional High School (7-2) in the final on Friday night, Nov. 10.
Summit sought its first North 2, Group 3 crown since 2018.
Garcia, who said it was the best game he ever played, knew his team was not out of it down 14-0.
“We had to make some big plays and I think the biggest was our first touchdown,” Garcia said.
After Summit scored on a one-yard touchdown pass from Sabol to Procaccini in the first quarter and then again on a two-yard touchdown run by Shallcross in the second, West Essex finally reached the scoreboard on its fifth possession. On second and seven from the Summit 27, West Essex quarterback Sam Long rolled right and hit Jorden Simeone against single coverage in the right corner of the end zone.
On Summit’s next drive, Garcia went up and came down with a huge interception in the right corner of the end zone to keep the score 14-7 in favor of Summit going into halftime.
“It was a jump ball and I just ripped it from him (the receiver),” Garcia said.
“That play was enormous,” West Essex head coach Christopher Benacquista said. “To keep the game at 14-7 there was just so huge.”
For both of Garcia’s touchdowns, he ran into the endzone untouched.
“Max had the game of his life when we needed it the most,” Benacquista said.
Following the bad snap turnover, Summit was able to get a 39-yard field goal by kicker Seamus Browne that split the uprights and had plenty of distance to take a 17-14 lead with 41 seconds left in the third quarter. Browne missed a 39-yard attempt wide left in the first half.
“That turnover was demoralizing but our kids proved to be resilient once again,” Benacquista said.
West Essex came right back and on a drive that started from its own 20, reached the end zone seven plays later. The biggest play of the drive was a 59-yard run up the middle by No. 3 that got West Essex to the Summit 3-yardline because of a fine tackle made by Summit’s No. 3.
For West Essex, No. 3 is senior Ryan Lasher, who produced a 59-yard run. For Summit, No. 3 is Jack Bronikowski, who on that play was the definition of never giving up.
On second-and-goal from the Summit four, Long rolled right again and once more hit Simeone for a four-yard TD pass, giving the Knights the lead for good at 20-17.
Earlier in the game, West Essex fullback Riley Ruane had a long run up the middle that surprised the Summit defense.
“On the punt return, I was just looking to make a tackle and didn’t, at first, realize that the ball was on the ground,” Garcia said. “On the pick six, I was on my man, but I was able to read the quarterback’s eyes. We talked about that at halftime.”
“The first quarter was not us,” Benacquista said. “The second, third and fourth were.”
North 2, Group 3 semifinal
at Summit’s Tatlock Field
4-West Essex (8-3) 00 07 07 13 – 27
1-Summit (7-3) 07 07 03 00 – 17
Summit – Jake Procaccini 1 pass from Cole Sabol, Seamus Browne kick
Summit – Carter Shallcross 2 run, Seamus Brown kick (S 14-0)
West Essex – Jorden Simeone 25 pass from Sam Long, John Moss kick
West Essex – Max Garcia 50 interception return, John Moss kick (14-14)
Summit – FG Seamus Brown 39 (S 17-14)
West Essex – Jorden Simeone 4 pass from Sam Long, John Moss kick
West Essex – Max Garcia 35 fumble recovery, kick failed (WE 27-17)
Photos by JR Parachini