Photo Credit: Sunil Sunder Raj

West Essex rallies to stun top seeded Summit in the North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 Semifinals

The West Essex Knights(8-3) and Summit Hilltoppers(7-3) clashed in the North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 Semifinals at Investors Bank Field in Summit, New Jersey.

West Essex, the fourth seed shutout Cranford in the Quarterfinals 13-0. On the flipside, the number one seed Summit crushed Governor Livingston 42-14.

In the first quarter, the teams both came up with interceptions on defense. With four and half minutes remaining, Summit had the ball at their 48-yard line when running back Carter Shallcross broke free for a 50-yard run down to the Knight's two-yard line.

On first and goal, quarterback Cole Sabol lofted a touchdown pass to wide receiver Jake Procaccini in the right corner of the end zone.

Once the second quarter got underway, the Hilltoppers' defense recovered a fumble on a West Essex running play deep inside Knights' territory.

Summit took full advantage of the short field. Utilizing a pound-and-ground strategy, Carter Shallcross ran the ball all three times and eventually plowed his way into the end zone for the four-yard score with less than seven minutes left.

West Essex's offense, looking to right the ship, needed just one play to gain some momentum, with quarterback Sam Long unleashing a 45-yard pass down the middle of the seam to running back Jorden Simeone that pushed the ball down to the Hilltoppers' 37-yard line.

After four consecutive running plays moved the ball to the 25-yard, the Knights faced a third down and nine. Long took the snap, then rolled out of the pocket to his right and, just before stepping out of bounds, lofted a pass with Simeone skying into the air to reel in the touchdown in the end zone with two and half minutes remaining.

Summit returned to its bread and butter on offense with a hurry-up style that worked perfectly by driving into the West Essex end of the field. With time winding down in the first half, Sabol took a shot with a pass into the end zone, but Knights' defensive back Max Garcia wrestled the ball away from the wide receiver to snag the interception.

In the third quarter, the Hilltoppers' offense neared midfield. Sabol attempted to complete a pass in the middle to a wide receiver. Still, Garcia, positioned in the perfect spot, stepped in front, made the pick, and rumbled 50 yards to the house that tied the game up at 14-14 with less than seven minutes remaining.

West Essex appeared to be on the verge of taking the lead with less than five minutes, with running back Riley Ruane busting loose for a 48-yard run that enabled the Knights' offense to drive down to the Hilltoppers 18-yard line. However, a high snap on third and five at the 13-yard line resulted in a fumble recovery by Summit defensive lineman Charles Treger.

The Hilltoppers' offense kicked into full gear, with running back Carter Shallcross gaining massive chunks of yardage that pushed the ball into West Essex territory.

Despite the Summit drive stalling out at the Knight's 22-yard line, Hilltoppers' kicker Seamus Browne booted home a 32-yard field goal that put the Summit back in front 17-14 with 41 seconds left on the clock.

On the ensuing West Essex offensive possession that carried into the fourth quarter, running back Ryan Lasher took a handoff, exploded through a gaping hole, and darted 59 yards to the Hilltoppers three-yard line.

Facing a second and goal, Long took the snap, then rolled out and lobbed a pass towards the right side of the end zone as Simeone made a sensational catch for the touchdown as the Knights went ahead for the first time in the game 21-17.

Summit's high-octane offense displayed no wear and tear on their next possession as they cranked up the running game with five straight plays on the ground, including a fourth down play.

The Hilltoppers reached the West Essex 27-yard line, but the Knights' defense dug a line in the sand as they stopped a passing play short of the first down marker that ended up with a turnover on downs with six minutes left.

Summit's defense managed to force the West Essex offense into a quick three-and-out. However, on the Hilltoppers' punt return, a fumble enabled the star defensive player of the game for the Knights, Garcia, to scoop the ball up and sprint to the end zone for the score that extended the Knight's advantage to 27-17 with four and a half minute's remaining.

The Hilltoppers had one last opportunity to trim the deficit as Sabol heaved a deep pass. Still, West Essex defensive back Anthony Drago recorded his second interception of the game spectacularly while backpedaling and reaching out to grab the ball.

West Essex ran out the clock as they knocked off the top-seeded Summit 27-17. The Knights host the sixth-seed Passaic Valley Hornets (7-2) in the North Jersey 2, Group 3 Sectional Final at West Essex High School on Friday, November 10 at 6:30 p.m. Back on September 8, West Essex defeated the Hornets 21-3.


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