Raiders finish strong on Turkey Day

Defense, ground game run over Montgomery

By: Rudy Brandl
   MONTGOMERY — The Hillsborough High football team was determined to finish the 2005 season strong, no matter how difficult an emotional task it was to play its final game on Thanksgiving Day.
   The Raiders were hoping to use the Turkey Day tilt as a tune-up for this weekend’s sectional finals, but a tough first-round loss to unbeaten Jackson in the first round of the Central Jersey Group 4 playoffs left them with only one game to play on the holiday.
   The Raiders took a little time to get going, stumbling around much like they had in many of their previous games, but they owned Montgomery in the second half and rolled to a 26-10 victory before 2,614 fans at Cougar Stadium. HHS combined its usual hard-nosed defense and grind-it-out running game to defeat the Cougars for the fourth straight year since the new Thanksgiving Day series began in 2002.
   Montgomery (3-7) put a little scare into the Raiders with a field goal in the final minute of the first half that made the score 7-3. The Cougars appeared primed for an upset bid, but the Raiders regrouped during the lengthy intermission.
   "We talked about finishing this thing," HHS head coach Rick Mantz said afterward. "I reminded them this is the one we all have to live with all winter. We knew we had more than that. We knew we were better than that. We went out and finished on a positive."
   After exchanging possessions to start the third quarter, the Raiders opened up some breathing room with touchdown drives on their second and third possessions of the second half. The HHS defense set up both short drives with stops and two poor punts provided favorable field position.
   The Raiders scored twice without putting the ball in the air under the direction of senior quarterback Marc Zamarin, who picked up 13 of the team’s 44 yards on the short surge that pushed the lead to 13-3. Hillsborough needed nine plays and 4:01 to cover that distance and Matt Hawzen found the end zone with a three-yard burst off left tackle on fourth down and goal.
   Montgomery couldn’t pick up a first down on the ensuing possession. Rocco Mazzagatti pressured quarterback Chris Fischer into an errant pass on third down, forcing another short punt. The Raiders took over at the Cougar 47-yard line.
   Four plays later, senior running back Chris Jordan rumbled into the end zone from 28 yards out. Jordan also chipped in a 10-yard run earlier in the drive and finished the day with a game-high 83 yards on 12 carries.
   "The offensive line did a great job," Jordan said. "The pressure’s been on them and they put it together today."
   The HHS defense continued to dominate in the fourth quarter. Montgomery didn’t pick up another first down until the final minutes of the game against a bunch of reserves. By that time, the Raiders had built a 26-3 lead on quarterback Troy Cyburt’s six-yard dash with 2:50 to play. Cyburt kept the 9-play, 40-yard drive alive with an 11-yard completion to Dave Ellis on fourth down and finished it himself.
   Several Hillsborough defenders stepped up their efforts to make up for the absence of star linebacker Paul Mychalczuk, the team leader with 102 tackles. Mazzagatti was a force in the middle, while fellow linemen Mark Hoffer and Mike Kelderman contained the Cougars on the ground and pressured the quarterback.
   Linebackers Joe Senerchia, Anthony Visicaro and Gio Cintorrino played tough. Senerchia had a 20-yard sack that set up Hillsborough’s final touchdown.
   It’s fair to say the Raiders kept Montgomery out of the end zone for 59 minutes without their best defensive player on the field.
   "We knew we had to do it for people like Ryan Schofield (out with an injury) and Paulie," Hoffer said. "As a team, we played tenacious defense like we did all year. We played with a little chip on our shoulder. We wanted to go out in good fashion. Our whole defense played great. It was a total group effort."
   Mantz wasn’t surprised his club responded to the adversity. While they haven’t always been brilliant, the Raiders certainly haven’t quit all year. They maintained that hard-nosed approach in their final game.
   "We missed Paulie’s enthusiasm today," Mantz said. "The kids battled. We’re going to rally and pick each other up. That’s what we do."
   EXTRA POINTS — The Raiders started the game with an 88-yard drive in nine plays that ended with a 29-yard scoring sprint by senior halfback Jeremy Sporn, who finished with 58 yards on six carries … HHS picked up six first downs in the first quarter but only one in the second … Montgomery managed only six first downs against Hillsborough’s starting defense … Cougar quarterback Fischer had some success through the air, completing 15-of-27 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown … the HHS defense limited Montgomery to 16 rushing yards, while seven different Raiders accumulated 268 yards on the ground.