The catch. Maybe that’s how the play Hillsborough senior Andrew Zitel made Friday night should be referred to from now on by Raider fans.
His terrific reception of quarterback Rob Nittolo’s pass for a 43-yard gain was the lynchpin of Hillsborough’s 28-14 victory over North Hunterdon in the Mid-State 38 cross-over game at Singley Field. The Raiders scored six plays later on Nittolo’s 10-yard pass to Scot Levonaitis to make it 21-7, but of course North Hunterdon kept coming as it had all night. The Lions cut the lead once again to 14-7 on Jordan Ditzel’s three-yard run, but Victor Delrio’s 23-yard touchdown with 48 seconds left sealed it.
The difference was Nittolo, who threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns two to Zitel, the other to Levonaitis. Others played big roles as the Raiders moved to 4-4 and kept their quest for a Central Group V playoff berth alive. North Hunterdon, alive in North 2 Group V, dropped to 4-4.
Hillsborough leads the series 23-8.
The play of the game came just after Mike Zandanel had sacked Nittolo for a three-yard loss, setting up a third and 16 from the Raiders 36 with Hillsborough protecting a 14-7 fourth quarter lead. Nittolo threw and Zitel juggled the ball, it hit off his pads, perhaps his helmet and right into his hands. A huge momentum swing for sure.
“They gave the inside guy an out route and gave me a streak and really I just let Rob throw it up and let me go up and get it, the defender made a great play, but I stayed focus and made the grab,” said Zitel. “I had it in my hands, the defender knocked it out, so I had to stay focus and regain possesion of the ball.”
The possession of the ball has been a Zitel speciality. He finished with five catches for 152 yards, coming into the game with 39 catches for 489 yards and eight touchdowns. Levonaitis caught seven passes for 75 yards on the night.
“I feel like anytime our offense is inside the 50 we’re going to score regardless of what happened before that play, when somebody catches the ball inside the 50 we’re going to go in for six, that’s always the game plan,” he said.
North Hunterdon covered the Raider receivers man-on-man better than any other opponent had played, Hillsborough coach Kevin Carty Jr. said. The Raiders took the lead on a 32-yard pass from Nittolo to Zitel with 2:54 left in the first period.
“They are a good team, that’s what makes me so proud,” said Carty. “I think our guys played tough every time they challenged us. We got a little bit of lead early and that really helped us.”
H– Zitel 32 pass from Nittolo (kick failed)
H– Zitel 55 pass from Nittolo (Nittolo run)
NH– Magaleski 21 pass from Monks (Beadle kick)
H– Levonatis 10 pass from Nittolo (Eilbacher kick)
NH– Ditzel 3 run (Beadle kick)
H– Delrio 23 run (Eilbacher kick)
Passing: H: Nittolo 14-28-0-247; NH: Monks 14-28-0-168
Rushing: H: Delrio 14-60, NH: Ditzel 18-86, R. Marron 9-56
Receiving: H: Zitel 5-152, Levonaitis 7-75; Magaleski 4-55, Schaedel 4-54, Follansbee 3-27