NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — Down by one with four seconds remaining in its home opener on Saturday, the West Essex football team needed a miracle to grab victory from the jaws of defeat. William Perez, who ended the game in walk-off fashion for a 27-22 Knights victory over Nutley, answered their prayers in the form of a 75-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
“I just told the guys that I need a few minutes to figure out what just happened,” said West Essex head coach Chris Benacquista. “We made a million mistakes this game and if we’re going to be the team we want to be we have to fix them, but the one thing I’m most proud of with these guys is even with four seconds left they believed that they could do something special.”
Perez’s return capped off what was a see saw final quarter of play for both teams. One play prior, Nutley closed out a 10-play, 85-yard scoring drive that lasted only one minute and 41 seconds.
“We score and they come back and take the lead it’s deflating,” said Benacquista of the Raiders' clutch late-game drive.
West Essex was not without its offensive prowess either, however, starting the fourth quarter scoring with a key drive late in the game. Perez, Anthony Sangillo, Vincent Scaglia and Dorian Gashi all played key roles in the 91-yard scoring drive. Quarterback Zach Lamanski bulldozed into the end-zone with 1:45 left to put West Essex up, 21-15.
“I love our offense—we’re very multi-dimensional we have a lot of athletes,” said Benacquista.
West Essex had an efficient offensive first half as well with a balanced attack. After trailing, 8-0, early in the first quarter, the Knights answered back with a 64-yard scoring drive. Anthony Sangillo collected 20 of his 64 rushing yards on that drive to set up a Vincent Scaglia 1-yard score.
The Knights continued their attack into the second taking their first lead of the contest. William Perez foreshadowed his late-game heroics by galloping 68-yards for a touchdown with 6:39 remaining in the half. Perez finished the contest with a game-high 125 yards and two scores.
“If you put the ball in the hands of Will Perez, he’s a special player,” said Benacquista. “He’s unbelievable, a two-way player and I don’t think he came off the field more than three plays.”
Nutley responded with its second score shortly after to take back the lead at 15-14 just before the half. A 65-yard scoring drive would set the precedent for a change in attitude and scheme on the West Essex defense that yielded a turnover and just seven points for the remainder of the contest.
West Essex’s victory improves the team to 1-0 on the season, as the Knights will head into a shortened week. The Knights will look to continue their winning efforts when they host West Morris on Friday night.
“We’re a young team and we made a lot of young team mistakes, but I think building off this game will yield big things ahead of us,” said Benacquista.