NUTLEY, NJ – After Josh O’Neill and Vinny Russo teamed up to gain a one point lead for the Nutley Raiders Saturday afternoon, a 73-yard kickoff return from Will Perez of West Essex in the game’s last few seconds caused Nutley to drop their home opener.
The 27-22 victory puts the West Essex Knights at (1-0).
With four seconds left on the clock, Russo caught a 21-yard pass from the quarterback in the end zone. A successful extra point followed, which gave the home team a 22-21 lead right before their opponent’s game-winning play.
“We wanted them to get the ball far back and our guys should have cleaned it up, but they didn’t,” Raiders Head Coach Steve DiGregorio said in a post-game interview. “What we didn’t want to do was onside it, have them recover it on the 15 and throw a Hail Mary on the next play.”
Despite the upsetting final play, the coach commended Russo for fitting in one last touchdown.
“Russo had a hell of a play to get in,” DiGregorio told TAPinto Nutley. “He was beast on that play.”
After Nick Mainiero’s two touchdowns and a field goal in the first half, the Raiders led 15-14 at halftime, a lead they maintained until the last two minutes of the fourth quarter.
“We earned the lead, we defended it and we tried to build on it,” the coach said. “West Essex is a hell of a team. We knew this game wasn’t going to be a blowout either way.”
A three-yard run from Knights quarterback Zach Lemanski gave his team the first lead of the game 1:45 before the end of the fourth quarter.
DiGregorio was proud of how hard his team fought against the Knights on opening day.
“I saw a lot of fighting out there,” he told TAPinto Nutley. “They made some big time plays with the line protecting, Josh throwing and the receivers catching.”
The Raiders will host the (1-0) Bloomfield Bengals on Friday, September 15 for a rivalry matchup. The boys will make it on to the field at 7:00 PM.