Banaciski, defense propel Raiders

HHS improves to 5-4 with win at Montgomery

by Rudy Brandl, Sports Editor
   MONTGOMERY – Defense has been the key element for the Hillsborough High football team during the entire 2008 season. Last Friday night at Montgomery, the defense scored the only touchdown of the night and spent the rest of the game protecting that lead for a 6-3 victory.
   Junior all-purpose star Mike Banaciski grabbed his first interception of the year and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown in the first period. While the Raiders couldn’t add to the lead on offense, they once again relied on their stingy defense to save the day.
   The Raiders (5-4) have been brilliant defensively in all but one game this season. They were coming off a shocking and embarrassing 32-7 loss at Ridge in the previous week and felt a need for redemption. Friday night at Cougar Stadium, the HHS defense returned to form and stopped the team’s three-game slide with another impressive effort.
   ”I think they took it personal,” Hillsborough head coach Vinnie Coviello said afterward. “We’ve hung our hat on playing strong defense all year. That hurt our pride a little bit.”
   Banaciski, the team’s leading rusher and scorer, added to his fine season resume with a huge play in the first quarter. He read the pass play and intercepted starting quarterback Connor Chick’s pass and sprinted to the end zone for a 6-0 lead.
   ”Teams have been running that pattern on us and the coaches had us prepared,” Banaciski said. “I waited for it and he threw it. I just stepped in front, got it and ran. It’s my first pick of the year. It’s exciting getting one.”
   Teammates Jonathan Jenkins and Ryan Buerkle picked off passes by Montgomery quarterback D.J. Ruhlman later in the game, giving the Raiders three for the night.
   ”Our whole defense played well,” Banaciski said. “Ridge was embarrassing last week. They really took it to us. We don’t like it when anyone scores. We just want to shut everyone out.”
   Senior linebacker Zach McGavisk led the defensive effort with 11 tackles. McGavisk almost single-handedly stopped the Cougars from scoring a touchdown late in the third quarter. Montgomery drove to the Hillsborough 8-yard line and had first down and goal, but McGavisk made three consecutive stops on Ruhlman to force a field goal attempt.
   Mathys Mesters, who missed on a 33-yarder wide right earlier in the quarter, knocked this one through the uprights with 3:10 remaining to cut Hillsborough’s lead to 6-3.
   Ruhlman had been moving the ball well on the ground with 58 yards in just over a quarter since taking over at quarterback in the second period. The Raiders dug in and stopped him in the red zone.
   ”We made an adjustment with an extra lineman and that gave Zach the chance to get to the quarterback,” Banaciski said.
   While the Hillsborough offense continued to struggle, the defense came up with more stops. Jenkins, a young sophomore playing corner back for his injured older brother Anthony, made a leaping interception of a deep pass from Ruhlman at the Raider 15-yard line with 7:25 left in the fourth quarter.
   The Raiders went on their best drive of the night trying to milk the clock and protect the lead. The running of Banaciski, who gained 97 tough yards on 25 carries, a big roughing the punter penalty, and a big Mike Daly-to-E.J. Williams pass kept the chains moving. Hillsborough took four minutes off the clock and punted to the Montgomery 16-yard line with 1:48 to play.
   Montgomery converted two pass plays into first downs to make it interesting, but Buerkle intercepted a Ruhlman pass at midfield to ice the victory.
   ”The defense played phenomenally again,” Coviello said. “They listen, they’re focused and they play hard all the time. They can adjust on the fly and they’re able to make plays.”
   McGavisk was the big leader in tackles (11), but he received help from Williams (6), Jake Latocha (5), Banaciski (5), Jason Smartt (3), Chris Tillotson (3), Nihal Shetty (3) and Chris Muniz (3). Juan Gutierrez made a big sack for a 12-yard loss to stop a Cougar drive late in the first half.
   The Raiders (5-4) will play at Rancocas Valley in the NJSIAA consolation game Saturday. Although they had high hopes of playing a more meaningful state playoff game, the Raiders have already shown they can win a game for pride.
   ”It was hard to prepare after the disappointment of last week (at Ridge),” Coviello said. “But we’re still looking to win every game.”