Each time Hillsborough has won a state title, they’ve been an underdog.
In 1980, they beat statewide No. 1 Madison Central in the Central Jersey Group 3 final at Giants Stadium. Twenty years later, they upset Sayreville, ranked No. 4 in the Gannett poll.
This year, North Brunswick is the underdog against the another team called the Raiders, and they’re looking to turn the tables en route to their first-ever state championship.
It’s their third trip to the finals, but their second in the last three playoff seasons, as head coach Mike Cipot has brought the program great success over the past several years. They’ve won at least six games a season since his first campaign in 2017, going 40-12 in that span.
Here’s a closer look at North Brunswick’s finals appearances:
1979: Rams Run Over the Raiders
South River has had a lot of storied names in its football past. One of them – Kenny Jackson, who went on to become a two-time All-American wide receiver at Penn State and played with the Eagles and Oilers in the NFL – was instrumental in winning the 1979 Central Jersey Group 2 championship.
North Brunswick came into the game 9-1, but their only blemish had been against South River in the regular season, a 34-0 defeat. In the opening round of the four-team bracket, the Raiders knocked off second-seed Holmdel on the road, 10-8.
Unfortunately, the rematch against the Rams wasn’t much better than the first time around.
It was a busy day for Jackson, and his twin brother Calvin, a standout defensive end who had a 40-yard scoop-and-score. Kenny himself rushed for 100 yards on 15 carries, while passing 3-of-5 for 36 yards and a touchdown. And Troy Hill rushed 21 times for 119 yards, passing the 3,000 yard mark for his career in what would be a 23-3 win.
The Raiders’ lone score came from Steve Superick’s 23-yard field goal in the third quarter, cutting it to 10-3, but the Rams scored the next two touchdowns to pull away, and North Brunswick finished the season at 9-2, their best season since beginning varsity play in 1974.
2018: Instant Classic
In the first year that the NJSIAA returned sectional finals to the site of the higher seeded team, the Central Jersey Group 5 title game was played at Sayreville, with the final going according to chalk: the top-seeded Bombers entertaining the second-seeded Raiders.
North Brunswick was reaching what it hoped would be the culmination of a big turnaround; in 2017, Mike Cipot’s debut season as head coach at his alma mater, the Raiders went 6-4, equaling their combined win total from their previous four seasons.
Again, North Brunswick would come in with just one blemish, and again it would be against the same team they’d meet in the finals. In Week 2, they lost 34-14 at home to Sayreville.
The Raiders hoped to turn the tables. But again, it was not to be.
And this was a close one, with the Raiders having many opportunities that just fell short. And they played a helluva defensive game, allowing the Bombers just six points, coming on a two-yard TD plunge by quarterback Mark Whitford in the second half.
Sayreville went on to win the first-ever “bowl game” of North vs. South in Group 5, beating Williamstown in their own “Miracle at the Meadowlands,” while North Brunswick ended the season at 10-2.
The season still ranks among the best in school history.
And if they pull off the upset Friday night at Noonan Field, they will easily vault to No. 1.