HILLSBOROUGH. NJ - When it entered the locker room at halftime behind on the scoreboard Friday night, Hillsborough kept an even keel and knew exactly what it had to do.
“We were down, but when we got in that locker room, nobody turned on each other; nobody got upset,” Hillsborough senior quarterback Tom Ramsey told TAPinto.net. “We all said that we had to win, and we all knew what we had to do… Coach Carty just said for nobody to turn on each other and for everyone to keep the same focus we had going into this game, and that was to beat Franklin.”
Hillsborough took a punch to the gut after allowing two touchdowns in the first quarter to fall behind, 13-0, but the Raiders punched back harder to the tune of 30 unanswered points to come away with a 30-13 victory over Franklin (0-3) and remain unbeaten (3-0) on the season.
Junior running back Sean Levonaitis rushed for 140 yards on 29 carries with two touchdowns — the first two scores of Hillsborough’s 30 unanswered — while senior quarterback Ramsey added 201 all-purpose yards with a rushing touchdown to lead Hillsborough’s rally Friday night.
Senior running back Justin Dietrich added a rushing touchdown while senior kicker Franklin Wasserman connected on a field goal and 3-of-4 extra points to round out the Hillsborough scoring. Sophomore wide receiver Thomas Amankwaa led the team with 91 receiving yards with three receptions leading directly to scores.
But as impressive as the offense was, the defense arguably stole the show for Hillsborough. After allowing major passing plays of 76 and 45 yards, respectively, on two of Franklin’s first three drives, Hillsborough tightened things up and allowed just 67 total yards of offense over the final 33:16. Amankwaa and fellow sophomore defensive back Jay Mazuera each had second half interceptions to lead the defensive crew.
“We’re a good, complete defense right now,” said Hillsborough head coach Kevin Carty, Jr. “Our defensive line is tough to run the ball against; our linebackers are all over the place; and we’ve been very good in the second when people try to make throws. We’re getting turnovers and keeping them from getting big plays. They got those two big ones on us, which were not happy that they happened, but we really tightened up.”
The Hillsborough rally began immediately after Franklin’s second touchdown of the night. Franklin went ahead, 13-0, after a 45-yard pass from Kevon Gordon to Ricardo Folkes with 2:14 left in the first quarter. But on its ensuing drive, Hillsborough found its offensive playmakers and never looked back.
Levonaitis ran for a 3-yard touchdown with 9:16 remaining in the opening half to put Hillsborough on the board, 7-0, after a PAT from Wasserman. That capped off an impressive 10-play drive spanning 4:58 between the first and second quarters. The series was given life on two consecutive 30-yard hookups from Ramsey to Amankwaa, bringing the Raiders into the red zone.
After what must have been a spirited halftime in the Hillsborough locker room, Levonaitis once again came through, scoring on the first drive out of the intermission and giving the Raiders a lead they’d never give up. He scored on a two-yard rushing touchdown just 1:55 into the half to knot it up at 13, and Wasserman’s PAT would put Hillsborough atop for good. Levonaitis had a monstrous 20-yard run earlier in the drive, before a 31-yard pass to Amankwaa put the Raiders in the red zone.
“We knew we definitely weren’t ourselves in the first half,” Levonaitis said. “We weren’t blocking our assignments right, and even on defense, you saw the very first drive. But we went in at halftime knowing that, hey, we’re better than this; we’ve got it. We came out and made adjustments, and our line blocking was fantastic as we’re our wide receivers.”
That first touchdown of the half completely took the pressure off Hillsborough and led to explosive offense, stout defense, and nothing but positivity for the rest of the way.
“Once we got that first touchdown of the second half, the momentum switched to us,” Ramsey said. “We got big stops on defense, and we just finished it from there.”
Of course, it would be nonsensical to discuss Hillsborough offensive success without highlighting the play of its O-Line, which was critical in providing holes for Levonaitis, Ramsey, and Dietrich to run through, which in turn opened up the backfield and allowed Ramsey to uncork 115 passing yards.
On that line Friday included Marc Gulla, Jon Seaton, Ric Sarkar, Connor Graverson, Ryan Nussbaum, Jacob Straz, and Tommy Haber.
“I love my linemen; I’m so close with all of them,” said Levonaitis. “I know their ability and all their skill levels, and I’m just thankful I’ve got them. They’re able to get to the backers and close them off, so I can hit those cutback lanes. I couldn’t do it without them.”
That blocking up front help lead to two more touchdowns from Hillsborough to put this one out of reach.
After forcing a three-and-out on Franklin’s first possession of the half, Hillsborough got the ball back on its own 44-yard line before quickly finding the end zone again. This time, it was Ramsey (91 rushing yards) who gashed a hole while sweeping to his right and ran 26 yards to the house, making it 21-13 with 4:45 left in the quarter.
The Hillsborough defense again forced a three-and-out on the following drive, and Levonaitis returned the punt 50-yard to the Franklin 12, where the Raiders needed just one play to jump ahead by two scores. Dietrich ran for 12-yard TD on the first play of that drive, giving the Raiders their third touchdown of the third quarter and making it 27-13.
Wasserman added a 27-yard field goal with 7:36 left in the fourth quarter, capatalizing on an Amankwaa interception at the Hillsborough 26. The ensuing Franklin drive stalled in the endzone, with Mazuera plucking one out of the air to seal the deal.
"I had a good feeling at halftime that from an offensive perspective, we were gonna get more shots because we were going to keep getting stops and getting the ball back, then move the ball down the field," Carty, Jr., said. "They were making it a little tough on us on offense, but I think we knew we were gonna keep getting chances, because we were handling them on the line of scrimmage, doing a nice job of containing them, and we have some playmakers on defense.”
Gordon threw for 160 yards and a touchdown for Franklin, with 105 of those yards going to Deuce McQuilla. The Warriors' largest play of the night came on only their third, when Gordon hooked up with McQuilla on a 76-yard pass to the Hillsborough one-yard line, where Kevin Millman ran it in from on the next play to make it 7-0.
That lead extended to 13-0 when Gordon found Folkes on a 45-yard TD in the corner of the endzone on the first play after recovering a Hillsborough fumble.
"They have some good guys, and they made a couple good plays against us," Carty, Jr., said. "But it was tough for them to make many, because we were in good spots."