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Hillsborough thankful to play full season on the gridiron

Hillsborough High School running back Sean Levonaitis runs for a first down during the team's game against Edison on Nov. 20 in Edison. Levonaitis had three rushing touchdowns in the contest for Hillsborough.

The Hillsborough High School football team headed to Edison on Nov. 20 to face Edison High School in a Big Central Football Conference showdown to finish out the 2020 season.

Senior Sean Levonaitis rushed for three touchdowns and the Hillsborough defense racked five turnovers in what was a high scoring affair between the Raiders and Eagles.

Unfortunately for the Raiders, Edison got the final say with quarterback Matt Yascko running in for the two-point conversion try that helped the Eagles edge out Hillsborough for a 50-49 victory.

It was not the ending that Coach Kevin Carty and his Hillsborough squad wanted, but he said it didn’t take away from the relentless effort the team put on display on the field during the contest and having opportunity to play an exciting game.

“I was proud and excited of our guys and how they played,” Carty said. “We had a lot of different guys step up and make plays. We had a lot of seniors make plays. (Edison) just made one more and that’s how it goes.”

It was a slow start for Hillsborough, who saw themselves down 14-0 midway through the second quarter.

Following a botched punt by Edison that allowed Hillsborough to set up shop at the Eagles’ six-yard line, junior Tyler Michinard rumbled in for a six-yard touchdown to cut the Edison lead to 14-6 and get the Raiders on the board with 5:18 left in the first half.

It was Michinard’s first touchdown run of the season.

The Hillsborough defense came up with one of its five turnovers in the contest on the next possession to help the Raiders make it a one-point game.

A strip-sack by defensive lineman Ethan McLaughlin led to teammate Jordan Nussbaum scooping up the loose ball and running it back the other way for a 65-yard score to trim the Edison lead down to 14-13 with 2:33 to go in the first half.

The defensive unit of the Raiders made two huge plays early on in the second half to help Hillsborough climb back from its 21-13 halftime deficit.

Following a fumble recovery by Leo Schiro, Levonaitis jolted 41 yards to the end zone for his first touchdown run of the contest. A successful two-point conversion try followed with junior quarterback Jay Mazuera finding wide receiver Thomas Amankwaa in the end zone to help Hillsborough tie the game at 21-21.

Senior linebacker Luke Popadiuk recorded his first interception of the season for Hillsborough on the next drive, setting up Levonaitis to rack up his second touchdown of the third quarter on a 32-yard score to give Hillsborough its first lead of the game.

“The defense really got us going with some turnovers,” Carty said. “The pressure we were able to put on the quarterback was great. They really played well.”

Popadiuk secured Hillsborough’s third turnover of the second half with 2:08 left to play and with the game tied at 42-42, scooping up the loose fumble for his first fumble recovery of the season to give the Raiders’ offense the ball back.

Levonaitis again answered the call for Hillsborough after a big turnover, dashing his way off right tackle for a 21-yard touchdown to put Hillsborough up 49-42 with 1:58 left to play.

The senior running back finished with 252 yards rushing on the night in his last game as a Raider, giving him 958 yards on the ground this fall. The three touchdown runs provides Levonaitis with 13 scores this season, topping his 12 total touchdowns from last year.

“It’s definitely a great accomplishment,” Levonaitis said. “I work a lot off the field to get where I’m at today and I’m just glad I was able to be successful.”

The Raiders were in the driver’s seat, but Edison rallied back with a one-yard score by Yascko and then took the lead moments later when the sophomore quarterback ran in for the successful two-point conversion try with 52.9 seconds left.

Hillsborough now needed a game-winning scoring drive to win the game. The Raiders got passed midfield, but a holding penalty stopped their drive in its tracks and Hillsborough was unable to get a score for the win and finished the season with a mark of 4-4.

It wasn’t the exact ending the team wanted, but playing a full eight-game season when many other teams around the state could not, made this season a huge win for Hillsborough.

“I’m very thankful that we got to play a full season,” Levonaitis said. “I’m happy for the bond I had with my team and staying tough through everything. It’s easy to get negative during these times, so I’m happy I was able to have support from all people.”

Junior Will Dixon and senior Aidan Lugo each had a touchdown reception in the contest for Hillsborough. Mazuera threw for 122 yards in the contest and finished the season with 1,265 passing yards in his first year as a starter for the Raiders.

Carty made sure his seniors and all his players knew how much he appreciated their hard work during the season after the game.

“The guys in our senior group are just unbelievable men,” Carty said. “They’re guys that I really love and our underclassmen love. I wanted to make sure they got their due before we went back in our houses for a while. This experience is going to be invaluable for our returning players to build on for next year. ”

Hillsborough High School tight end Will Dixon makes a catch during the team's game against Edison on Nov. 20 in Edison. Dixon caught a touchdown pass in the team's 50-49 loss to Edison.
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