NUTLEY, NJ - Nick Mainiero, Josh O’Neill, Johnny Luberto and Vincent Russo’s breakthrough season ended last night, as the Nutley Raiders varsity football team fell 40-0 to the West Essex Knights in the first round of the playoffs.
Nutley finished their season (3-7, 2-3 SEC) and their opponent improved to (7-3, 5-1 SEC) and advanced to the next round of the tournament, where they will host Parsippany Hills.
Nutley made a lot of mistakes on offense, which prevented them from scoring, Head Coach Tom Basile said.
“We moved the football real well in between the 20s and we just stalled because we made a lot of mistakes, a lot of mistakes on offense,” Basile said in a post-game interview.
In addition, the loss of senior middle linebacker Sabino Coppola had a negative affect on the team’s defense.
“We had to try to create some inside linebackers and move some people around,” Basile told TAPinto Nutley. “We had kids playing on defense, different positions and different techniques, to defend their offense.”
Coppola had a successful senior season, leading Nutley’s defense with 105 tackles.
This was the second time this season that Nutley suffered a loss to West Essex. They visited them for their season opener on September 9 and fell 27-7.
“We didn’t do as good a job as we did the first time around against them, almost half as bad,” the coach said.
West Essex is a strong team, while Nutley is thrown off after a single mistake, Basile said.
“They’re well coached, they’re just really, really solid fundamentally,” Basile added.
Basile and the team expected to have a tough season, considering how young most of the players are.
“Obviously when you’re (3-7) it’s a disappointment, but it’s not far off from where we anticipated knowing how young our team would be from the beginning,” Basile said.
Despite their struggles and the fact that Coppola – their strongest defensive lineman – will graduate in June, the Raiders have a team full of talented young players who will return next season and continue to improve.
Mainiero rushed for 640 yards en route to eight touchdowns during the regular season. The 5’7 junior running back scored the first touchdown of his career on September 24 in Nutley’s 31-14 win over Pascack Valley, after returning a punt for 95 yards.
He went on to return a punt for a 76-yard touchdown in the overtime loss against Orange and an 88-yard touchdown in the team’s 17-14 defeat over Chatham. Offensively, Mainiero made 16 tackles.
O’Neill – a sophomore quarterback – completed 68-of-143 passes for a total of 925 yards en route to four touchdowns. In addition, he ran the ball into the end zone five times.
Luberto – a sophomore linebacker -- recorded 68 tackles in addition to scoring one touchdown as a running back. 11 of his tackles came from the Orange game.
Russo added another 51 tackles as a strong safety. The sophomore recorded a career-high 16 tackles in the Paramus game on October 8.
Basile thinks this year’s younger players improved throughout the season and expects them to come back stronger in the 2017 season. He added that they now have the opportunity to learn from this year’s mistakes in order to improve.
“This experience could be invaluable,” the coach said.
The Raiders will return to the field in September 2017.