Update: The Raiders will play at Monsignor Owens Field against Bloomfield on Sept. 15 at 7 p.m.
NUTLEY, NJ – It isn’t too often that you see a football game being decided on the final play.
But that’s what happened at Tangorra Field in Nutley.
It appeared the Nutley High School Raiders were on the verge of beating West Essex. They had just scored a touchdown to take the lead late in the game, leaving just enough time for the ensuing kickoff.
But West Essex’s Will Perez broke the Raiders’ hearts as he took the kickoff and returned it 73 yards into the end zone as time expired, giving West Essex an improbable 27-22 victory in the season opener for both teams on Saturday, Sept. 9. Perez finished with two touchdowns.
The play came after the Raiders scored on junior quarterback Josh O’Neill’s 21-yard TD pass to junior receiver Vincent Russo, followed by the extra-point kick , to put the Raiders up 22-21 lead.
Senior running back Nick Mainiero ran for a touchdown and caught another TD pass for the Raiders will look to bounce back when they host Bloomfield under the lights at Monsignor Owens Field on Friday night, Sept. 15, at 7 p.m.
The season opener marked the return of Steve DiGregorio as Raiders head coach. DiGregorio, a NHS graduate, Class of 1979, was the head coach of the Raiders from 2004 to 2011. He took over for his successor, Tom Basile, who was the head coach for the past five seasons.
The Raiders scored on their first possession of the season as Mainiero plunged for a 1-yard TD run. The Raiders then scored on a two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.
West Essex answered on the following series on Vincent Scaglia’s 6-yard TD run, followed by the point-after kick, to cut it to 7-6 in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Mainiero scored on a 33-yard hook-and-ladder play. O’Neill threw a pass to senior tight end Wayne Wittman, who pitched the ball to a streaking Mainiero, who raced down the sideline for the TD. The extra point put the Raiders up 15-7.
Perez scored on a 63-yard run later in the quarter as West Essex cut it to 15-14 at the half.
After a scoreless third quarter, West Essex took a 21-15 lead on Zach Lemanski’s three-yard run.