There has been no challenge too big for the Hillsborough High School football team this fall.
Against top competition from the Big Central Football Conference, Hillsborough has reigned supreme over each team that has come its way, storming into the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group V Tournament at 10-0 on the season.
“I’m really happy with how we’ve been playing every week,” Hillsborough Coach Kevin Carty said. “The guys have risen to the occasion and have played the best when they’ve needed to. We’ve had a lot of different guys willing to step up and that has helped us with this balance and consistency.”
It’s not a surprise at all for Carty and his Raiders to be undefeated and a game away from playing for a sectional championship.
Hillsborough has always believed they were a state championship caliber team from the start of preseason camp, he said, and the Raiders have proven that by outscoring their opponents 370-103 so far this season.
On offense, the Raiders are averaging 37 points per game and have scored over 40 points in three of their last four games.
Highlighting that offensive dominance by Hillsborough are senior quarterback Jay Mazuera and all-around playmaker Thomas Amankwaa.
Amankwaa, a Rutgers University commit, has been a human highlight reel for the Raiders.
He has accounted for 1,801 all-purpose yards this fall with 22 total touchdowns. His two touchdown catches in Hillsborough’s 49-6 victory over New Brunswick in the first round of the state playoffs on Nov. 5 helped Amankwaa set a new school record for most career touchdown receptions with 24.
The school record was previously held by all-state wide receiver Jackson Parham, who currently plays at Elon University.
“It’s just exciting to see all the achievements he’s made,” Carty said of Amankwaa. “Jackson Parham was a great player for us. To break a record of his is a great achievement.”
Junior placekicker Sam Meechan also set a new school record in the victory over New Brunswick for the Raiders, setting a single-season mark of 41 successful extra-point attempts.
Carty says Meechan is one of many unsung heroes that helped Hillsborough go 10-0 so far this season.
“He’s been a real strength for our team,” added Carty.
In his role as a defensive back on the Hillsborough defense, Amankwaa has been a turnover machine with a team-high four interceptions.
Amankwaa has caught eight of Mazuera’s 18 touchdown passes this season.
Mazuera has recorded 20 total touchdowns this fall as the man at the controls of the Hillsborough offense.
The lefty signal caller has tossed 1,465 yards through the air and has an impressive quarterback rating of 127.
“It’s all about our chemistry,” Mazuera said. “My touchdowns wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of the running backs, wide receivers and the offensive line. All of us are working so well together. Couldn’t be around a better group of guys to be doing it with.”
Just as important as his performance has been on the field this fall, Mazuera has made sure to be the best leader he can be for his team off the gridiron as well.
“I’m just trying to be the best teammate on and off the field,” Mazuera said. “A lot of us are stepping up as leaders and trying to make this team the best it can be.”
University of Akron commit Will Dixon continues to be a steady target for Mazuera in the passing game at the tight end position, tallying 22 receptions for 277 yards and four touchdowns.
Junior wide receiver Charles Volpe is another top target for Mazuera, corralling three touchdown catches and nine total receptions this season.
Senior tailback Tyler Michinard has been a bulldozer in the backfield for the Raiders this fall, racking up 11 touchdowns and 811 yards on the ground, while also collecting 13 receptions for 113 yards and a score in the passing game.
Hillsborough has tallied 30 total rushing touchdowns this season.
A big part of that stat has been the stellar play of the Hillsborough offensive line, which features Marc Gulla, Ethan McLaughlin, Christian Quandt, Carson Deroner and Rohan Deb.
“We just plan on playing low, fast and violent,” Gulla said of the Hillsborough offensive line. “That’s our motto. We’ve been saying that since day one. We just want to be more physical than any team we come across.”
On defense, Hillsborough is holding its opponents to under 11 points a game and has pitched two shutouts in the last four games.
Sophomore linebacker Jonathan Lobelo has made a big impact at varsity level this season, currently leading Hillsborough with 69 total tackles.
Lobelo, Leo Schiro and Sal Volpe make up a solid inside linebacking corps for the Raiders, who Carty believes are as good as any group out there.
Michinard continues to make an impact at outside linebacker with 42 total tackles, 11 of which have been tackles for a loss.
Dixon has wreaked havoc in the opponents’ backfield all season from his defensive end spot and leads the Raiders with nine sacks this fall.
McLaughlin, junior Shane Donoghue and seniors Andrew Santa Barbara and Ray Giuliano join Dixon in the trenches across a Hillsborough defensive line that has impressed Carty all season long.
“We just have connected this year and are playing as a solid unit,” Santa Barbara said of the Hillsborough defense. “We have a great bond. We’re doing really well this year.”
The next challenge for the Raiders will be on Nov. 12 at Dan A. Noonan Field when they host Williamstown in the semifinals.
Williamstown won the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group V Regional championship in 2019.
Just as they have done all season, Carty expects his Hillsborough squad to be ready for the challenge on Friday night in front of their hometown fans with a spot in the sectional championship game on the line.
“Our guys have been ready for the last bunch of challenges we’ve had and hopefully they’ll continue to be,” Carty said. “Williamstown is a proud program and has been really good for a while. We know we’re going to have to execute on offense because they’re not going to give us anything easy and on defense, we’re going to have to get a really good player on the ground many times.”