Rahway football begins with 26-19 home win over Hillside; Sophomore OLB Pendleton sets tone with early INT for TD; Hillside QB Miller tosses 2 TD passes

Indians led 14-0 at halftime; First game at Multi-Purpose Athletic Field at Rahway River Park expected to take place night of Sept. 23 vs. Cranford

RAHWAY – Odd football stat of the week in Union County: for the fifth straight year, Rahway’s first win came against Hillside.
The two Mid-State 38 Conference teams had to endure the high heat and humidity at Rahway’s grass Veterans Field Saturday afternoon (Sept. 10), with Rahway getting the better of the play in the first half en route to a 26-19 non-division season-opening triumph.
Here’s a look at Rahway’s first wins of the year – all against Hillside – for the past five seasons from 2012-2016:
Sept. 10, 2016: Rahway 26, Hillside 19 – at Rahway – Game 1
Sept. 26, 2015: Rahway 20, Hillside 14 – at Hillside – Game 3
Sept. 27, 2014: Rahway 35, Hillside 12 – at Rahway – Game 3
Sept. 13, 2013: Rahway 27, Hillside 13 – at Hillside – Game 1
Sept. 8, 2012: Rahway 32, Hillside 6 – at Rahway – Game 1
Rahway has also defeated Hillside the past eight seasons straight. Hillside’s last win over Rahway came in 2008 when the host Comets downed the Indians 18-12.
It didn’t take Rahway long to get on the scoreboard Saturday. On the third play from scrimmage, Rahway sophomore outside linebacker Zion Pendleton stepped in front of a Hillside receiver waiting for a screen pass on the left.
Pendleton timed his move toward the ball perfectly and at the 12-yard line used both hands to intercept Kevin Miller’s second pass of the season and return it untouched for his team’s first six points of its 2016 campaign.
Rahway, which despite just three wins qualified for last year’s Central Jersey, Group 3 playoffs, scored another touchdown before intermission to have a 14-0 lead at the half.
Rahway’s second possession of the first half came to a halt when returning senior quarterback Zahir Wilder dropped the football after the exchange from center. Rahway had a second-and-goal at the Hillside 5 at the time of the miscue, with No. 18 from Hillside recovering the fumble.
On Hillside’s next play from scrimmage, Miller did well to elude getting sacked and then broke contain and rushed up the middle for a nifty 12-yard gain.
During the same Hillside possession later on, Miller completed a 12-yard pass to senior wide receiver Jaden Stuckey.
Rahway was 0-2 last year before gaining its first victory.
On next Saturday, Sept. 17, Rahway will play at Gov.Livingston and Hillside will host New Providence in its home-opener. Both are 1 p.m. kickoffs.
GL is 1-0 for the first time since 2009 after winning at Voorhees 21-13.
To say that Rahway second-year head coach Brian Russo was elated with the opening game victory would be an understatement.
“I’m incredibly happy, especially considering the conditions,” Russo said.
In addition to the incredible heat on the grass field, the scoreboard clock did not work, making it quite difficult to know how much time was left.
Russo on the Pendleton interception for a touchdown: “we couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. We got a great opening kickoff from John Cardoza to pin them down (Hillside started on its own 5).
“Zion read the play right and he can pretty much do that on any kind of play.”
Turning the ball over was something that Rahway did not do at all in the pre-season.
“We have to overcome that and play much better if we are going to have a shot against GL,” Russo said. “We didn’t play our best game and it was an ugly win, but we’ll take it.”
Wilder completed a long touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Jerrish Halsey in the second quarter.
“It was a nice Hail Mary at the end of the first half,” Russo said.
Russo reported that senior running back Nasir Velez produced a long score in the second half and that fellow senior running back Terrance Anderson – hampered by a hamstring injury – came on in the fourth quarter to provide service as a valuable fourth Rahway running back.
“We’re going to have to execute better,” Russo said. “We can’t miss in the red zone like we did against Hillside.”
Hillside, guided by first-year head coach Barris Grant, will seek to bounce back against a New Providence team that opened with a rare shutout loss at home to Johnson, 38-0 Friday night.
Grant, along with Union County’s other new head coaches – Jamil Jackson at Elizabeth, Mitch Goodstein at New Providence and Corey Tucker at Plainfield – will attempt again to win their first games next weekend.
Grant had this to say about his team’s opening game: “we made a couple of mistakes, with the interception and the Hail Mary, which we didn’t knock away. That turned the tide.”
Grant said scoring touchdowns for Hillside – in this order – were senior slotback Nate McAlister on a 55-yard pass from Miller, senior running back Siraj Abdul-Malik on an 18-yard pass from Miller and junior running back Michael Fields on a 25-yard run.
“I thought that Fields and (senior) Nasir Reese ran the ball well and showed great presence,” Grant said. “Rahway had a good defense with a couple of big kids.”
Grant also praised the play of sophomores Boris Nicolas-Paul and Emmanuel Sass and McAlister and Abdul-Malik as backup receivers, with the guys ahead of them injured.
Hillside’s first Mid-State 38 Conference-Valley Division game will be against New Providence.
“We’re super-excited to play at home,” Grant said. “We had a good turnout of Hillside fans at the Rahway game.
“Teams usually get better the first three weeks. We lost to a good team in Rahway and New Providence lost to a good team in Johnson.
“The playing field is even. New Providence is tough to deal with. It will be a dog fight.”

PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - Rahway sophomore OLB Zion Pendleton (No. 24) returned an interception 12 yards for a first quarter score.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Rahway sophomore OLB Zion Pendleton (No. 24) returned an interception 12 yards for a first quarter score.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI -  Hillside first-year head coach Barris Grant, in long white shirt, prepares with his Comets before Sept. 10 season-opener at Rahway.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Hillside first-year head coach Barris Grant, in long white shirt, prepares with his Comets before Sept. 10 season-opener at Rahway.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - The  Rahway offense, at left, is on the move against Hillside.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – The
Rahway offense, at left, is on the move against Hillside.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - Rahway second-year head coach Brian Russo led his Indians to a season-opening victory over visiting Hillside.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Rahway second-year head coach Brian Russo led his Indians to a season-opening victory over visiting Hillside.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - The Rahway sideline on opening day at Veterans Field.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – The Rahway sideline on opening day at Veterans Field.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - Hillside first-year head coach Barris Grant eyes his team during pre-game warmup before season-opener at Rahway.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Hillside first-year head coach Barris Grant eyes his team during pre-game warmup before season-opener at Rahway.

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