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Seniors finish off amazing careers in helping Hillsborough win South Jersey Group V regional title

From the moment the Hillsborough football players in the Class of 2022 stepped onto the grounds of Hillsborough High School four years ago, their ultimate goal was to bring home a state championship.

This talented group of 19 seniors knew they were capable of doing something special and showed that off this fall by setting records during its perfect 13-0 campaign.

Hillsborough capped off its historic 2021 season by winning the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group V regional championship on Dec. 4 at SHI Stadium on the campus of Rutgers University.

Led by their senior-driven explosive offense and stout defense, the Raiders roared to a 28-7 victory over Kingsway Regional High School in the regional final to secure the program’s first-ever regional championship and become the first team in program history to go 13-0 in a single season.

“We’ve been talking about this since fifth grade,” Hillsborough senior quarterback Jay Mazuera said of winning a state championship. “This is truly the best feeling in the world. These guys are family to me. This is something I will never forget.”

It was an all-around team effort to win the regional championship by the Raiders, starting with the Hillsborough defense standing tall down in the red zone on Kingsway’s first drive of the contest with a goal-line stand midway through the first quarter.

“We knew what was on the line there and we stopped them in the red zone,” Hillsborough senior defensive end Will Dixon said of the goal-line stand. “Even though they drove down the field a bit, I had no doubt that our team was going to pull through.”

Hillsborough kicked things into high gear by its defense’s goal-line stand, driving 98 yards down the field to score the game’s first touchdown on a seven-yard run by senior tailback Tyler Michinard to go up 7-0 with 10:11 to go in the half.

Michinard’s 18th rushing touchdown of the season was the start of a 21-point dominating second quarter of play by the Raiders.

Following another turnover on downs forced by its defense, Hillsborough quickly found the end zone again three plays later with 4:41 left in the half.

Mazuera completed two passes for 61 yards out of those three plays, his last pass going for a 42-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Thomas Amankwaa to give the Raiders a 14-0 lead.

The combination of Mazuera and Amankwaa would strike again for Hillsborough just moments later.

On third down and 19 from their own 47-yard line, Mazuera saw that he had one-on-one coverage with Amankwaa on the outside and decided he was going to give his senior star receiver a chance to make a play.

Mazuera threw a deep ball up the right sideline to Amankwaa and the Rutgers University commit did the rest.

Amankwaa went up and made a great catch over the Kingsway defender and then high stepped up the sidelines and into the end zone for a 53-yard touchdown to put Hillsborough up 21-0 with 2:43 to play in the half.

“I have trust in Jay (Mazuera) and he has trust in me,” Amankwaa said of the 53-yard touchdown catch. “When he threw it up there, I knew I could go get it.”

Amankwaa had five catches for 129 yards in the contest as a receiver, while racking up 111 yards rushing on 12 carries in the backfield.

His two touchdown catches give Amankwaa 29 total touchdowns for the season. Amankwaa finishes his Hillsborough career as the all time-leader in touchdown receptions with 26 and his 50 total touchdowns are the most ever by a player in program history.

Amankwaa also ended his senior year with a stellar mark of 2,261 all-purpose yards, which is also a single-season program record.

The accomplishment that mattered the most to Amankwaa at the end of the day was leaving SHI Stadium with a regional championship and helping his 2021 team state its mark as one of the best in Hillsborough history.

“We had to win,” Amankwaa said. “There was no other way about it. It was definitely cool that this was local for us and that a lot of our fans could come see us play.”

Hillsborough took a 21-0 lead into the half, but watched Kingsway cut it 21-7 on the first drive of the second half with Nate Maiers scoring the only touchdown of the day by the Dragons on a 25-yard score.

The Raiders answered right back on the following possession.

An eight-play 65-yard touchdown drive ended with Mazuera scoring on a two-yard quarterback sneak to put Hillsborough up 28-7.

His three-touchdown performance gives Mazuera 27 total touchdowns for his senior campaign. For his career, Mazuera stands atop the charts with a program-record 39 touchdown passes

“When my number is called, I’m going to go make my plays,” Mazuera said. “That’s the best thing about all of us. All of us can make a play at any time.”

Hillsborough held Kingsway in check the rest of the way to rack up its seventh game this season of only giving up a touchdown or less.

Senior defensive lineman Andrew Santa Barbara recorded a sack and six tackles in Hillsborough victory, while senior defensive back Matthew Amofa recorded an interception for the Raiders.

Hillsborough forced four turnovers on downs in the victory.

Michinard gave Hillsborough two rushers over 100 yards in the victory with a game-high 130 yards on the ground.

Junior placekicker Sam Meechan went a perfect four-for-four in extra point attempts for Hillsborough in the victory. Meechan finishes this fall with a single-season program record 58 successful extra attempts.

Overall, Hillsborough outscored its opponents 480-132 during its perfect 2021 campaign.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the chemistry we have as a whole team,” Santa Barbara said of winning a state championship. “It’s a good accomplishment.”

Adding more accomplishments to the frenzy was the fact that the championship victory over Kingsway marked the 100th career victory for Coach Kevin Carty.

Carty said he couldn’t picture a better way of achieving the milestone and was happy to do so with this group of players.

“You can’t say more about going 13-0 and winning a championship here at Rutgers in convincing fashion,” Carty said. “It’s been a pleasure for me to watch these guys play with each other all year. They’re all business but at the same time have so much fun playing with each other. I’m so happy for them. I love these guys.”

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