Hillsborough looks to rebound from first loss of the season

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Hillsborough High School football player Aidan Lugo leads the Raiders out onto the field before their game against Watchung Hills on Oct. 12. Watchung Hills defeated Hillsborough 16-13.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School football player Jordan Nussbaum celebrates making a tackle during the team's game against Watchung Hills on Oct. 12. Hillsborough is 1-1 on the season.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School quarterback James Mazuera scrambles for a couple of yards during the team's game against Watchung Hills on Oct. 12. Mazuera threw two touchdown passes in the contest for the Raiders.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School football player Aidan Lugo leads the Raiders out onto the field before their game against Watchung Hills on Oct. 12. Watchung Hills defeated Hillsborough 16-13.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School football player Jordan Nussbaum celebrates making a tackle during the team's game against Watchung Hills on Oct. 12. Hillsborough is 1-1 on the season.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School quarterback James Mazuera scrambles for a couple of yards during the team's game against Watchung Hills on Oct. 12. Mazuera threw two touchdown passes in the contest for the Raiders.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

HILLSBOROUGH – The Hillsborough High School football team suited up for a rare Monday night contest against Watchung Hills High School on Oct. 12 at Dan A. Noonan Field.

Previously scheduled to take place last Friday night, the game was pushed back because of a Watchung Hills student testing positive for the coronavirus and making all the school’s athletic programs shut down for two weeks.

Under cool and misty weather conditions, the Raiders took a 7-3 lead going into the final quarter of play.

Anchored by its sturdy defense, Hillsborough looked primed to improve to 2-0 on the season, but the Warriors had a rally up their sleeves.

Watchung Hills made the most of its two drives during the fourth quarter, finding the end zone on both of them to come away with a 16-13 victory and hand Hillsborough its first loss of the season.

“They were really tough in the interior and kept us from running the ball well and we didn’t make enough plays in the pass game,” said Hillsborough Coach Kevin Carty. “I thought we could’ve but we just didn’t get it done.”

After Watchung Hills surprised the Raiders with an onside kick to start the contest, the Hillsborough defense was able to lessen the blow and hold the Warriors to a field goal.

Hillsborough stifled the Watchung Hills’ offense for the rest of the first half, holding the Warriors to only 66 yards of offense and sacking quarterback Chad Martini three times.

Hillsborough defensive back Tyler Michinard had two of those sacks and finished with a team-high three sacks in the contest. Classmate Will Dixon collected two sacks in the game as the Hillsborough defense racked up a total of five sacks on the night.

“They played great for most of the game against a good team with a really good quarterback,” Carty said of his defense. “We were physical on defense for a lot of the game.”

Defensive back Troy Kennedy was “Johnny on the spot” for the Raiders with under four minutes to go in the first quarter, catching the tipped ball for an interception to set up the game’s first touchdown.

On the next play, Hillsborough quarterback James Mazuera found a wide open Thomas Amankwaa running up the left sideline for a 30-yard touchdown to put the Raiders out in front with a 7-3 lead.

The Hillsborough offense was unable to build off the touchdown as the Watching Hills defense held the Raiders in check the rest of the night.

Clinging to a four-point lead going into the fourth quarter, the Hillsborough defense ran out of gas in the fourth quarter as Watchung Hills stormed down the field to retake the lead with 11:27 left to play.

Following a 14-yard run to move the chains to start the fourth quarter, Kyle Saunders found the end zone on the very next play with a seven-yard touchdown run to put Watchung Hills up 10-7.

Hillsborough tried to answer right back on the next drive by getting the ball down to the Watchung Hills’ 35-yard line, but a defensive stand by the Warriors ended the Raiders’ drive on a turnover on downs with 8:27 left to play.

Watchung Hills put together a game-clinching drive on the following possession, going on a 10-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that saw Martini end it with a one-yard quarterback sneak to extend the Hillsborough deficit to 16-7.

Amankwaa made an outstanding play to end the game by taking a 42-yard wide receiver screen pass to the house for his second touchdown of the game, but it was not enough as Hillsborough dropped to 1-1 on the season.

“He’s an awesome player,” Carty said of Amankwaa. “I wish we could’ve gotten him in a space to make those plays earlier, but missed some opportunities.”

Mazuera threw for 102 yards in the contest. The junior quarterback now has three touchdown passes this fall and has four total touchdowns through the first two games of the season.

Hillsborough did play without its star running back Sean Levonaitis, who was out with a hamstring injury.

Carty said it hurt not having Levonaitis in the game, but believes his squad has a lot of good players and that they had the opportunity to come out of the contest against Watching Hills with a victory.

The Raiders will look to rebound on Oct. 17 when they travel to play football powerhouse Phillipsburg.

Carty believes his squad has the chance to have a great game against Phillipsburg and get things back on track.

“These guys play together,” Carty said. “They’re going to stay behind each other and keep working hard to get better. I want to see us have a good game against Phillipsburg and I think we have the opportunity to do that if we keep getting better.”