Hilltoppers Looking to Rebound After Cranford Loss; Tigers Trying to Snap 3 Game Skid
SUMMIT, NJ—On Saturday, Big Central Gridiron will be traveling up I-78 to Investor’s Bank Field at Tatlock Park in Summit to take in another Big Central Conference Division 3 contest between the hometown Hilltoppers and the Tigers of South Plainfield. Both teams are looking to rebound as Summit will be trying to bounce back after a Week 3 loss to Cranford (45-8) while South Plainfield will try to snap a 3 game losing streak.
South Plainfield won its season opener (35-14) at South River in Week 0 with its highest scoring output of the season. Since then, the Tigers have scored a total of just 38 points with only 12 coming in the last two games. Summit began the season strong with convincing victories over Elizabeth (39-12) and Rahway (34-13), and despite the loss to Cranford a week ago, still look improved after going 2-3 in a COVID-19 shortened season in 2020.
Competing in the North Group 3 playoff super section, Summit is a contender to qualify for the post-season while South Plainfield, 18th in the South Group 3 super section prior to last week’s loss to Colonia (33-6), has a difficult climb now with a 1-3 record, having to play Summit this weekend, and Somerville on the road next week.
The Tigers are led by Patrick Smith, who has rushed 47 times for 465 yards and 3 TDs. The bulk of that production came in South Plainfield’s season opening win over South River. In the victory over the Rams, Smith rushed 15 times for 210 yards and 2 TDs. Hoops standout, Jalen Russell, one of the team’s captains, has pitched in with 31 carries for 234 yards and a touchdown. The duo has combined to compile 68 percent of the Tigers’ rushing yardage.
South Plainfield’s QB duo of senior Tyler Balent and Joe Maroney have combined to complete 29 of 46 passes for 422 yards and 3 TDs while they’ve yet to throw an interception. Balent has also rushed 7 times for another 20 yards. Senior wide receiver Damian Mbellee leads the team in receptions and yards with 8 catches for 170. Smith is 2nd on the team with 6 receptions for 82 yards, and Russell has 6 catches for 63 yards.
Junior Jaden Anderson leads the team in tackles with 38 including 18 solo tackles and 2 tackles for loss while another Tiger co-captain, Michael Kurilew has 32 total tackles including 3 for loss. Anderson is also the team’s placekicker, who has made all 5 of his extra point attempts. Another player to watch on the Tigers is Jacob DelVecchio, who has 26 total tackles on defense and 10 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown on offense.
Jason Greer is another key player for South Plainfield with 16 carries for 138 yards rushing, 6 receptions for 57 yards, and 21 tackles including 4 for loss on defense. Michael Green and Mark Molinaro has the team’s two interceptions while Gregorio Zambrana has the Tigers’ only sack. South Plainfield is averaging just over 18 points per game while giving up a little over 26 points per contest.
For Summit, which comes into this contest averaging 27 points per game while giving up 23 per game, veteran QB Charlie Schaffer, has completed 20 passes in 56 attempts for 3 TDs while rushing 21 times for 165 yards and another 4 scores. Senior RB Matt Loeloff leads the team in rushing with 25 carries for 186 yards and two TDs while fellow senior Colin Beatty has 18 carries for 137 yards and another two scores.
The receiving tandem of seniors Conor St. Amant (9 catches for 181 yards, and 2 TDs) and Gavin Odell (6 receptions for 181 yards, and a TD) have combined for 15 catches for 362 yards and 3 TDs. The senior duo have combined for 75 percent of Summit’s receptions, 97 percent of the team’s receiving yardage, and all of the Hilltoppers’ receiving touchdowns.
Will Johnson, Summit’s placekicker, has tallied 7 points this season with a 42 yard field goal in his only attempt, and a perfect 4 of 4 in extra points. Meanwhile, the Hilltoppers have also converted 7 two point conversions including two each from Loeloff, St. Amant, and Ellis Sorensen. The defense has been opportunistic with 3 fumble recoveries and 3 interceptions in Summit’s first three games. Loeloff has one of the team’s three interceptions.
Summit is currently averaging 6.8 yards per pass attempt, 19.2 yards per catch, 6.6 yards per carry, and 18.8 yards per reception. Both teams lost a key player from a year ago. South Plainfield is without Kyon Simonson, who transferred to Hillside after he led the Tigers in rushing with 382 yards in 66 carries, and one touchdown. Meanwhile, Summit lost running back, Austin Groce to graduation after he rushed for 482 yards on 63 carries and 7 TDs while leading the team in total tackles with 18.
The two team’s met last year at Investor’s Bank Field at Tatlock Park with Summit posting a 35-0 shutout en route to a 2-3 season. South Plainfield was only 1-4 a year ago, and have a new coach at the helm in Bill Hamilton, who served previously as an assistant at his alma mater under Philip McGuane, and was on the staff in 2007 when the Tigers reached the North 2 Group 3 championship game as the section’s 8th seed.
Prior to last season, the two team’s have actually never played each other before in both the regular season and the playoffs. Summit had often played North Plainfield as a part of its Mid-State 38 regular season schedule, but never South Plainfield. The two teams are likely to play each other more often now that they are competing in the BCC’s Division 3.
Prediction: Summit wins 30-13.