By: Alex Melillo
SUMMIT, NJ – The Somerville Pioneers (8-1) closed the season off with a bang as they overcame a steep fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Summit Hilltoppers (6-3) in overtime 42-36.
The early signs were positive for the Pioneers as they scored on their first drive of the game. Ryan Kovacs found Joseph Ciempola who scampered in for the 62-yard touchdown giving the Pioneers the lead just over a minute into the game.
The Hilltoppers responded, however, riding their workhorse running backs, knotting the score up at 8 early in the first quarter.
The Pioneer offense struggled the rest of the first half, throwing up a goose egg in the second quarter while the defense conceded just one more score from the Hilltoppers.
The score at halftime saw Summit holding on to a 15-8 lead over the Pioneers.
The home team looked to put the game out of reach in the third quarter putting up 21 points, 14 of which went unanswered, to end the quarter. The lone Pioneer score came from Ciempola again, who reeled in the pass from Jalahn Dabney.
At the end of three-quarters of play, Summit led Somerville 36-15.
The Pioneers offense, which had been effective all season long, was awoken like a sleeping giant in the fourth quarter. The unit erupted for 21 unanswered points to eventually force the overtime period.
In the final frame, Ciempola caught his third touchdown pass in the game, eclipsing the 100-yard total for the first time this season.
Dabney's 3-yard, leaping touchdown, cut the Summit lead to a decisive six points with only a few precious minutes on the clock.
The Somerville defense had a tough assignment all game long. Trying to contain the Summit rushing attack at times seemed like a tall task but with momentum in their favor and the game on the line, Coach Damaschke's unit forced a key three and out deep in Summit territory.
With 1:39 left in the game, Duke McDuffie stood back at midfield, waiting to make an impact on the punt return, and what an impact he made!
McDuffie received the punt five yards into his own end of the field and proceeded to weave his way all the way to the five-yard line where he was seemingly stood up.
But the determination of McDuffie proved too much as he kept his feet churning and dragged defenders into the end zone for the game-tying score.
A blocked extra point by the visitors meant the game would head to overtime with both teams deadlocked at 36.
Somerville started on offense to open up the extra period. The Pioneers capitalized on it with a 6-yard touchdown run from McDuffie. The two-point try was no good, meaning that a Summit touchdown and subsequent extra point could send the Pioneers home on the short end of the scoreboard.
The Hilltoppers worked the ball down to the three-yard line of the Pioneers, but the defense stood tall, and Summit was faced with a fourth down and two yards to go to extend the game. The Pioneer defenders, however, would not be denied.
For all his plays made on offense, Ciempola made his biggest contribution on the defense side of the ball, swatting the Hilltopper 4th down pass attempt down at the line of scrimmage and preserving the victory.
Ciempola finished the game with four catches for 124 yards and three touchdowns. Dabney followed up his strong running game against Scotch-Plains Fanwood, leading the Pioneers in rushing with 197-yards on 25 carries with one touchdown. Robert Fiorentino also continued his workmanlike season grinding out 97-yards on 19 carries.
Ciempola and Dabney also combined for 15 tackles on the defensive end. Hamza Akel also contributed 7 tackles with a sack. Marcus Burnside forced the only turnover for the Pioneers intercepting a pass in the third quarter.
Somerville celebrated the hard-fought victory with the excited fans that made the trip to Summit and concluded the regular season with a nail-biting overtime thriller beating Summit 42-36.
This was the Pioneers third straight victory over Summit after losing seven straight prior contests.
In addition, the game represented the last regular season game for ten seniors including, Thomas Malakio, Michael DeSarno, Jake Pidgeon, Owen Booker, Marcus Burnside, Ryan Hrabinski, Ryan Kovacs, Hamza Akel, Ryan Pedrani, and Raghava Sampath Kumar.
Entering as the #2 seed, Somerville will host Ewing this Friday in the first round of the Central Jersey Group 3 playoffs. Kick off at Brooks Field will be at 7 p.m. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@VilleFootball) for up-to-date information and stats. Visit our website at www.somervillefootball.com
*Update to video: Somerville will play Ewing High School in the first round of the playoffs.*