NUTLEY – Despite falling short of its goal of winning a state sectional championship, the Nutley High School varsity football team enjoyed a memorable season.
The second-seeded Raiders, who began the season with an 8-0 record, lost to seventh-seeded West Essex, 28-7, in the first round of the state North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 playoffs on Saturday, Nov. 14, at Tangorra Field/Oval Park to end the season.
The second-seeded Raiders, under head coach Tom Basile, finished with an 8-2 record, winning their second straight Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division championship. The Raiders fell to Caldwell on the road in the final regular-season game the previous week.
West Essex was led by quarterback Patrick Glenn’s three touchdown passes.
Glenn threw a 22-yard TD pass to Drew Lepre in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.
But right before the half, NHS senior quarterback Anthony Condito directed an 80-plus drive that was capped by junior running back Matt Roser’s nine-yard TD run on fourth down-and-three with just 43 seconds remaining, followed by junior Hunter Lechthaler’s extra-point kick, to tie the score at 7-7.
The Raiders went into the locker room rejuvenated.
But West Essex stole that momentum in the third quarter as Glenn hit Connor O’Reilly on a 77-yard TD pass for the tie-breaking score.
West Essex added two more scores in the fourth quarter. Glenn fired a 17-yard TD pass to Jason Rusignuolo and Matthew Jones had a six-yard TD run.
West Essex improved to 6-4.
The Raiders had a special senior class. In addition to Condito, the Raiders were led by such seniors as running back/linebacker Craig Merkle, wide receiver/defensive back Nick Miller, WR/DB Nick Senatore, RB/LB Devin Merritt, WR/DB Dean DiLauri, offensive lineman/linebacker Devin White, two-way linemen August Mustardo and Saul Abreu, WR/DB Dom Mozeika, and tight end/defensive lineman Brian Hewett.
Merkle ended his NHS career as the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards, touchdowns and points scored.
The following are Merkle’s season and career statistics:
- Rushing: 184 attempts, 1,355 yards, 17 touchdowns, 7.36 yards per attempt.
- Receiving: five receptions, 78 yards, 2 TDs, 15.6 yards per reception.
- 116 points, including one two-point conversion run.
- Rushing: 394 attempts, 3,278 yards, 41 touchdowns, 8.31 yards per attempt.
- Receiving: 18 receptions, 308 yards, 6 TDs, 17.1 yards per reception.:
- One interception returned for a TD.
- One kickoff returned for a TD.
- Total: 49 TDs, 1 two-point conversion run, 296 points.