SUMMIT-LINDEN, NJ — After losing first-round playoff games on the road two years ago, the Linden and Summit high school football teams took a step back last year and did not qualify. For Summit, it was the first time since 2008.
Both made up for not making the grade by participating in the first-ever Regional Invitational Tournaments for teams that did not make the playoffs.
Summit defeated Governor Livingston High School in overtime and Pascack Valley High School to capture the first North, Group 3 RIT.
Linden bested Barringer and Bergenfield high schools to win the first North, Group 4 RIT crown and finish an even .500 at 5-5.
This time, Summit is the top seed in North 2, Group 3 — a section the Hilltoppers have won five times in the playoff era — while Linden earned the fifth seed in North 1, Group 4.
Both benefited a great deal from having success after the regular season last year, which proved to be a springboard to the winning they experienced this fall.
“In a way, it was the next best thing,” Linden head coach Al Chiola said. “We came back to win the second game and it was exciting.”
“Anytime you get an opportunity to play more football, you take it,” Summit head coach Kevin Kostibos said. “Our kids were up for the challenge and they definitely took that momentum into this season.”
Summit went 6-2 in its eight-game regular season slate, which included a 6-0 mark against public school teams. One of them was a 30-20 home win against Linden on Saturday, Oct. 7. Summit’s only two losses were to parochial schools St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Edison and St. Joseph High School, Metuchen. St. Thomas Aquinas is 9-0 with five shutouts and St. Joseph is 6-2.
Linden went 6-2-1 in its nine-game schedule, including the shootout on Friday night, Oct. 20, at Linden’s Cooper Field. Against 8-0 Montgomery High School, Linden ended up tying the Cougars, 42-42. The game was tied at 29-29 through the first four quarters. Both teams scored seven points in the first overtime and then six more in the third and final OT session. Regular season games in New Jersey end in a tie, if the game is still a draw after three overtime periods.
Both also finished second in their Big Central Conference divisions. Summit went 3-1 in the United Gold behind 4-0 St. Thomas Aquinas, while Linden was 3-1 in the Liberty Gold behind 4-0 Woodbridge High School. Summit lost at home to St. Thomas Aquinas, 44-20, on Friday, Sept. 15, and scored the most points against STA, which has given up just 42 total. Linden lost at Woodbridge, 20-19, on Friday, Sept. 8.
So here we are, with Linden prepping for a game against Morris Knolls High School, 5-3, in Denville on Friday night, Oct. 27, while Summit will host much-improved Governor Livingston High School, 6-3, again, this time in a playoff setting at Summit’s Tatlock Field.
On Friday night, Oct. 27, it will be fifth-seeded Linden, 6-2-1, at fourth-seeded Morris Knolls High School, 5-3, in a first-round North 1, Group 4 encounter at Caruso Field in Denville.
On Saturday afternoon, Oct. 28, it will be eighth-seeded Governor Livingston, 6-3, at top-seeded Summit High School, 6-2, in a North 2, Group 3 clash at Summit’s Tatlock Field.
Linden has a tough road, to say the least. Should the Tigers get past the Golden Eagles in Morris County, they would most likely have to travel to Bergen County to face perennial power Ramapo High School in the semifinals.
Ramapo, 8-0, is the top seed and will host eighth-seeded Rahway High School, 3-6, on Friday night, Oct. 27. Ramapo has four shutouts, while Rahway has lost five straight, following its promising 3-1 start.
Linden has won two sectional state championships in the playoff era, including North 2, Group 3 in 1985 and North 2, Group 5 in 2014.
Summit has won nine sectional state titles in the playoff era, five of them in North 2, Group 3 and four in North 2, Group 2. Summit’s last championship came in 2018, when the Hilltoppers captured North 2, Group 3 by beating Rahway, 34-13, at home in the final. They then lost to Ramapo, 42-21, at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford in the first Group 3 Regional Championship Game involving the North 2 and North 1 winners.
Summit’s last playoff win was five years ago, in 2018, when it won its last championship.
Summit quarterback Chris Sabol has thrown for 975 yards, while running back Carter Shallcross has rushed for 1,331 yards. Jake Procaccini has 487 receiving yards. Tyler Kessel has 113 tackles, Charles Treger three sacks and Oscar Marx four interceptions.
Linden’s last playoff win was nine years ago, in 2014, when it won its last championship.
Linden quarterback Tequan Thomas has passed for 568 yards and thrown for 1,221 yards. Elijah Butler has 190 yards receiving. Myles Hamilton has 133 tackles, including 10 quarterback sacks.
North 1, Group 4
• 8-Rahway at 1-Ramapo, Friday, Oct. 27
• 5-Linden at 4-Morris Knolls, Friday, Oct. 27
• 6-Randolph at 3-Northern Highlands, Friday, Oct. 27
• 7-Woodbridge at 2-Ridge, Friday, Oct. 27
North 2, Group 3
• 8-Gov. Livingston at 1-Summit, Saturday, Oct. 28
• 5-Cranford at 4-West Essex, Friday, Oct. 27
• 6-Passaic Valley at 3-Vernon, Friday, Oct. 27
• 7-Montville at 2-Parsippany Hills, Friday, Oct. 27
Photos by JR Parachini