CALDWELL, NJ - The Verona Hillbillies football team dominated in all three aspects of the game on Friday en route to a 35-0 opening night blowout of Caldwell.
“I thought we played pretty well. When we can score in all three phases of the game we’re doing something right,” said Head Coach Kevin Batty.
Verona had a fast start and never looked back. Frank Riggio took the opening kickoff 90 yards to the end-zone to give the Hillbillies the early 7-0 lead just seven seconds into the game.
“I wouldn’t be able to do that without my teammates blocking. I just got the ball…it opened up when I was running I saw it block out, I cut it out and it was good blocking from the team,” said Riggio.
The Hillbillies excitement was clearly evident and fed into a packed bleacher area filled with friends and family.
“We were prepping for this for so long now. The whole summer the team’s been working, not been stopping, just working our butt’s off everyday,” said Riggio.
Verona continued the momentum with a stout defense on the next drive that resulted in an interception from Ryan Huze. Three plays later the Hillbillies capitalized by way of Jake McConnachie on a 25-yard touchdown reception with 6:44 left in the first quarter. McConnachie could be overheard saying he wasn’t finished as he foreshadowed a 71-yard touchdown grab that came in the third quarter.
“[McConnachie] is a big, physical receiver that can run and Cael [Zebrowski] threw a great ball after avoiding pressure on that last touchdown -- great ball, great catch and we’ll take it,” said Batty.
Verona was able to put themselves firmly in the driver’s seat with a phenomenal defensive effort that ultimately produced a shutout. The unit unofficially allowed under 200 yards of total offense to Caldwell while producing a sack and two interceptions. Jake Milmoe’s 55-yard interception return for touchdown gave the Hillbillies a commanding 21-0 lead with 7:15 left in the first half.
“I think defensively we played as well as we could have played in the first half. In the second half we came out, made some adjustments and had a lot better a second half,” said Batty.
Verona capped off their strong evening with a second special teams touchdown this time by Shane Lawless. Lawless’ 45-yard punt return for touchdown was the team’s opening score of the second half.
“We practiced special teams real hard everyday and I think our kids responded,” said Batty.
Verona will look to improve to 2-0 on Friday as they host their home opener against Boonton High School.
“We have to keep working and get better, keep working everyday and get better at what we’re doing,” said Batty.
TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove is an online newspaper serving the Townships of Verona and Cedar Grove. TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, and is a locally owned news organization serving the community.
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