Despite the addition of an impressive new quarterback, the Hillsborough High School football team got the same old result against Phillipsburg in Thursday night’s season opener.
Raiders senior Rob Nittolo, who transferred from Florida in the offseason, wowed the crowd with his strong arm and mobility. But Phillipsburg controlled the line of scrimmage and made big plays when it counted, posting a 31-21 triumph for its 11th straight win in the series.
Hillsborough’s last win over the Stateliners came in 2002.
About 1,000 fans waited out a two-hour thunderstorm in the parking lot before the Mid-State 38 Delaware Division contest finally kicked off at 9 p.m. It ended at 11:42.
Nittolo completed 13 of 33 passes for 218 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also had several passes dropped and got sacked three times. His top target was junior Scot Levonaitis, who hauled in four passes for 88 yards and a score.
“We were close but just a little off – little things like miscommunications,” Nittolo said. “I felt comfortable but we couldn’t get that one big play to spark the game.”
Phillipsburg made plenty of them. The Stateliners seized the upper hand with a daring call on its second possession. Facing fourth-and-9 from their own 16, the Liners stunned everyone by faking a punt. Joe Maso raced around right tackle for 62 yards. On the next play, quarterback Tyler Troxell hit Randolph Custodio on a 21-yard scoring pass.
“That surprised us all and I think that got them sparked,” Nittolo said of the fake.
Hillsborough’s attempt to respond ended with an interception by the Liners’ Stephen Friedman, who ran it back 30 yards to Hillsborough’s 35. Two plays later, on third and 8, junior Anthony Guarino sprinted 34 yards up the middle to bump the lead to 14-0.
Andrew Zitel jump-started the Raiders by returning the ensuing kickoff 52 yards. Five plays later he caught an 11-yard touchdown from Nittolo to cut the deficit in half.
A sack by Hillsborough’s John McDonald got the ball right back for Hillsborough, which marched 70 yards on 10 plays. A 48-yard laser on the run from Nittolo to Levonaitis keyed the drive, and Anthony Stavrakis capped it with a 1-yard scoring plunge. The extra point misfired, however, leaving Phillipsburg up 14-13 at the half.
It remained that way until Phillipsburg converted another dagger late in the third quarter—a 14-yard touchdown pass from Troxell to Guarino on fourth-and-9.
Hillsborough responded with a drive but failed to convert a fourth down from Phillipsburg’s 29, and the Liners rode battering ram Maso the rest of the way. The junior finished with 243 yards on 26 carries, and his 56-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter iced it.
“They wore us down at the end, but that’s on our offense,” Hillsborough coach Kevin Carty said, noting the 12-minute gap in time of possession. “We can’t be on the field that long (defensively).”
Phillipsburg finished with 359 yards of offense compared to 289 for Hillsborough.
“Rob is a talented player – really good – but we have to be sharper all around,” Carty said.
His Raiders will look to get to .500 next weekend with a visit to Westfield, which toppled Elizabeth Friday.
“This is the worst I’ve felt in coaching,” Carty said, sensing that an opportunity to knock off a brand name slipped away. “We have to get it right and we will.”