What Phillipsburg has is a history of successful play and many traditions that bring a great aura to their program.
And because of that, anyone who beats the Stateliners immediately turns heads in the New Jersey football world.
And while very good across the board, what Phillipsburg does not have this year is a star like the highly coveted Thomas Amankwaa.
But Hillsborough sure does. And anyone not paying attention to the Raiders needs to start right now.
In a thrilling game that needed overtime in lower Somerset County, Hillsborough used a huge performance by Amankwaa - including a game-clinching interception - to take a come from behind, 21-14 victory over Phillipsburg, No. 17 in the NJ.com Top 20, on Friday night.
“We just put the state on notice tonight,” said Amankwaa, who has 10 Division 1 scholarship offers, including two from Power Five schools Syracuse and Pitt. “I don’t think too many people know about us and what kind of team we have (outside of our area,) but they will after this. We’re only getting started.”
It’s hard to argue with that, as Hillsborough is off to a 2-0 start. Phillipsburg drops to a rare 0-2 on the season. For his personal ledger, Amankwaa rushed for 161 yards on 15 carries and two scores, while catching three balls for 25 yards to finish just shy of 200 yards from scrimmage on the night.
Trailing 14-6 after three periods, Amankwaa made it happen on the first play of the fourth. He took a handoff from Raiders quarterback James Mazuera out of the shotgun, made a quick right cut, and bolted 58 yards to the endzone untouched to cut the deficit to 14-12.
The Mazuera-Amankwaa battery would connect again on the two-point conversion attempt to level things at 14-14, setting up overtime after a fourth that saw no significant scoring threats.
A wild overtime ensued, with the winners riding a steady diet of Amankwaa and fellow senior back Tyler Michinard inside the five yard line. On the fifth play of OT, Amankwaa would cash in from four yards out, and Sam Meechan’s extra point gave ‘Boro a 21-14 lead.
Phillipsburg would possess, and after a bad snap out of the shotgun a play in, found themselves in a perilous 3rd-and-28 from the Raiders 43. But quarterback Jahkye McLean - filling in for the injured Tristen Canzano - connected with Xavier Moore for 19 yards on a delayed route.
Then, on 4th-and-9, McLean perfectly executed a delayed screen to receiver Kevin Burgess, who plowed ahead to get the first down to stay alive, something that seemed improbable a minute earlier.
Faced with a 3rd-and-11 from the Hillsborough 11 on the next set of downs, McLean’s pass to the endzone was picked off by Amankwaa, sealing the game and setting off a raucous celebration form the partisan packed house at Hillsborough.
“That whole overtime pretty much sums up how up-and-down high school football can be. I seriously thought there was a good chance they’d convert that 3rd-and-forever by getting half and then half, and that’s what they did,” said Hillsborough head coach Kevin Carty. “Those are the kind of things good teams find a way to do, and Phillipsburg is that kind of team. I was so impressed how our defense kept their composure after that though.”
Early on, it seemed like the outcome would have been decided much closer to the 7PM kickoff time.
Disaster struck Hillsborough on the game’s first play from scrimmage, when a bad snap out of the shot gun allowed P’Burg’s Stephen Gural to recover a fumble at the Hillsborough 17. Five plays in, Moore would find pay dirt from three yards out to put the Stateliners up 7-0 after Matt D’Onofrio’s PAT.
Moore had a good game as well, rushing for 82 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, and catching two balls for 38 yards and a receiving score.
Following a quick Raiders three-and-out, Phillipsburg marched right down the field again. A 14 yard run on the drive by McLean was followed several plays later by a beautifully executed slant pass from McLean to Moore for a touchdown. Not seven minutes had gone by and P’Burg possessed a 14-0 lead.
But things changed at the end of the first quarter. It appeared Phillipsburg was going to go for a 4th-and-3 from the Hillsborough 37, but a forgotten yet key false start penalty sent the punting unit onto the field to try and pin the home side in deep.
The ensuing snap went over ‘Liners punter Matt Hikade’s head, and the senior had no choice but to secure the ball on his own 27 yard line.
Hillsborough took advantage with the drastic change of field position, as back-to-back passes from Mazuera to Akron-bound tight end Will Dixon got the Raiders on the board. The latter connection went from 14 yards, and trimmed the Hillsborough deficit to 14-6 after a blocked extra point attempt.
Dixon finished with five catches for 64 yards and score on his night.