VERONA, NJ - The Verona Hillbillies football team won its first State Championship since 2015 following a 43-2 victory over Lenape Valley at home on Friday.
“It feels great…1969 50 years ago it was [former head coach Al Rotella]’s first State Championship here, he did it as coach in his second year and it was real special. My second year here 50 years later we win a State Championship,” said Verona Head Coach Kevin Batty.
For Batty, a VHS graduate, the victory is extra special. In just his second year at the helm he’s been able to return the group to glory with the North Two Group Two State Championship.
“The people are so great. This is such a great community, the alumni have been so great and supportive…it’s been tremendous and like I said when I got hired this is a special place and I love being here,” said Batty.
Verona made their mark on the game utilizing the backbone of their squad in the running attack led by Frank Riggio. Riggio collected an unfathomable game of over 200 yards rushing and five touchdowns. His two first quarter scores sent the Patriots into a tailspin.
“The line came to play this week, they were focused during practice and [Lenape Valley] has a good line and [our] line was hearing they were bigger and better so our line came to play,” said Riggio.
For Riggio, who’s been a target for opposing defenses all season the victory is the reward for hard work all year long.
“It’s the best feeling ever. We worked all summer long to get this, and we were finally able to get it, it’s the best feeling ever,” said Riggio.
The game had its theatrics as well as senior wideout Jake McConnachie was also able to corral a touchdown early in the second quarter off of a ‘flea flicker’ play. McConnachie finished the contest unofficially with five catches for 96 yards and a touchdown in what will be his last game on a Verona football field.
“We’ve been talking about this since seventh grade so it’s really awesome to be out here and actually do it,” said McConnachie.
The Hillbillies were stout throughout the game in all three phases, but particularly defensively. Allowing a mere 37 yards of total offense in the first half, the group produced multiple turnovers and did not allow a single offensive score from Lenape Valley.
“My defensive coaches have done a wonderful job. We bent and didn’t break all year and tonight we didn’t bend,” said Batty.
Verona’s victory gives the squad their 16th State Championship in school history along with a perfect 11-0 record. The team is not finished playing, however as they will now head to Metlife Stadium to take on North One Group Two Champion Lyndhurst with the chance to be the school’s first ever 12-0 team.
“We’re going to prepare just like we do every week. I told the parents in our meeting we’re going to run this all the way out and be ready for your kids to be here tomorrow morning for practice…we’re here and we’re going to go to work,” 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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