PISCATAWAY – His jacket long damp from the Gatorade shower, Hillsborough coach Kevin Carty Jr. soaked in the atmosphere following the Raiders’ 28-7 win over Kingsway in Saturday’s South Group 5 regional championship game.
Players jumped on the railing near the stands to celebrate with the loud fans with plenty of endless smiles and pictures.
“I don’t know what could have been better than this,” said Carty, looking around, happy to chat. “The environment that we had here today. The amount of people we had from Hillsborough here, where Tommy’s going to play – I don’t think it could be better.”
Yes, it was a fitting and an ebullient end to Hillsborough’s historic season at Rutgers’ SHI Stadium. This edition of the Raiders (13-0) are the first team in program history to go undefeated and they set a program-record for wins.
Two weeks ago, Hillsborough captured the Central Group 5 championship. Now, they add a regional title to the banner with the win over Kingsway (8-5), the South Group 5 champions.
Thomas Amankwaa, the dynamic Rutgers-commit, had two highlight-film touchdown catches of 42 and 53 yards and snagged five catches for 129 yards from QB Jay Mazuera. The do-everything player also rushed for 111 yards on 12 carries and made a key stop on a fourth down.
Mazuera finished 10-of-14 for 201 yards and added a 2-yard touchdown run, while Tyler Michinard scored on a 7-yard run and rushed for 130 yards on 19 carries. Matthew Amofa added an interception in the third quarter as the Dragons were attempting a comeback.
Additionally, Carty earned his 100th career win and his 67th at Hillsborough in 11 seasons and Andrew Santa Barbara had a team-high seven tackles (five solo).
“Of course, every team strives to be perfect, but for us to come out and be a man of our word, that’s a feeling I can’t even describe,” Mazuera said. “It’s been a crazy ride with all of them. I was playing with them since I was 5 years old."
There was a problem, though, with the Gatorade bath. As Mazuera grabbed a water jug with 1:20 left in the game, less than half of liquid was left. So, he ran to grab another jug and combined the two. After all, you need the proper amount of water to drench your coach.
That kind of resourcefulness goes a long way on the football field, as well, and the Raiders certainly have showed it all season.
En route to the sectional title, the Raiders outscored their three playoff opponents by a combined 133-28 with a stingy defense and a balanced offense. For the season, Hillsborough has won by an average of 38-10.
Still, the last two games weren’t easy early on. In the sectional title game on Nov. 19, North Brunswick led 8-7 in the second quarter before Hillsborough turned it on to win 35-8.
Saturday, the first quarter ended scoreless before Hillsborough methodically took a 21-0 lead into halftime.
Amankwaa put on a show in front of his future Rutgers coaches, including head coach Greg Schiano, who was on the field post-game.
“It was definitely a cool thing for all of us to be able to play our last game on this field,” Amankwaa said.
Mazuera said, “I was talking to him earlier on. I was like, 'How sick is it, you’re ending your high school career on the field you’re going to play the next four years?' He’s excited. He’s going to ball out when he gets here, so be ready for that.”
First, Amankwaa had some business to finish for the Raiders.
Kingsway was the team that started strong. The Dragons forced a punt on Hillsborough's opening possession and took over on their own 42-yard line. Kingsway moved downfield with two passes that set up a first and goal from the 8-yard line.
On a fourth-and-goal from the 2, Hillsborough stopped a run with a swarm of players to get the ball back.
“When these guys have had to make a hard play, they have,” Carty said. “They’ve done it and they’re confident because we have a bunch of good guys.”
The Raiders subsequently drove 97 yards keyed by Amankwaa runs of 11 and 12 yards and a 25-yard run by Michinard up the middle.
After a 14-yard scamper by Amankwaa took it the 7-yard line, Michinard ran it in for the touchdown with 10:11 left in the first quarter. Sam Meechan kicked the first of his four extra points as Hillsborough took a 7-0 lead.
After Kingsway got the ball back, the Dragons faced a fourth-and-one from the 41-yard line. Amankwaa pushed out Darrell Brown for no gain as Hillsborough held.
On the next possession, Mazuera threw a 19-yard pass down the middle to tight end Will Dixon. Two plays later, Michinard took the direct stop and handed it off to the quarterback.
Mazuera stopped and threw downfield to Amankwaa, who caught it at the 15-yard line and dove in the final few yards for a 14-0 Hillsborough lead.
“Once I saw one-on-one coverage, Amankwaa’s getting that ball,” Mazuera said. “Nobody in the state can touch him one-on-one. He’s got that opportunity, he’s going to go get it.”
Hillsborough increased its lead to 21-0 on a 53-yard touchdown pass from Mazuera to Amankwaa. The 6-foot, 195-pound receiver jumped over the defender around the 20-yard line. He snagged the pass with both hands, tucking the ball into his left hand and raced into the end zone with 2:43 left in the first half for a 21-0 lead.
“We worked over those plays the whole entire week,” Amankwaa said. “Our quarterback, he trusts me to throw those 50-50 balls. He’s been doing it over the years since we were both playing Junior Raiders. So I know that when I jump for that ball, I’m going to get it – and that’s all she wrote.”
In the second half, the teams traded touchdowns as Hillsborough earned the 28-7 victory.
“We always knew that this grad class, we’re going to be a special group," Amankwaa said. “And this whole team, we knew we were going to be a special group ever since the preseason. I mean, we had to buy in and trust each other. Coming off a rough year with COVID, we knew we had to bounce back with like something great. This is good for all of us.”
Andy Mendlowitz is a sports reporter for MyCentralJersey.com. To get unlimited access to local news throughout Central Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: NJ Football: Hillsborough completes undefeated season with regional title