After all, Rotondi's a Hoboken boy through and through. He played there and coached there. He's a member of the school's Athletic Hall of Fame. He spent the majority of his life in and around Hoboken High School.
So this was the last time that a Union Hill football team was going to play Hoboken. It's a rivalry that goes back to the days where the ball was round and the equipment was limited.
Because Union Hill will merge with Emerson to form one Union City high school next fall, this was the final game in the long-standing Union Hill-Hoboken rivalry.
And considering that Union Hill hadn't defeated Hoboken since 1989, it was a game that Rotondi definitely wanted.
"It's always emotional for me to play Hoboken," Rotondi said. "I think the guys understand that. They always give that extra effort when we play Hoboken."
However, the last three times a Rotondi team faced Hoboken, the results weren't exactly favorable for the Hillers, despite the added effort. There were three lopsided setbacks by a combined score of 123-14. The last two games were one-sided shutout losses, 42-0 in 2005 and 34-0 last year.
But Rotondi was determined to make sure the current version of the Hillers realized that the past was the past.
"Last year, there was no question that they had superior talent to us," Rotondi said. "They had five Division I football players on that team. But this year, I knew that we matched up better. We had just as much talent as they did. I kept telling our kids that there were no superstars there and I think they bought into that package."
Rotondi also spoke to the kids about the great Hoboken mystique, about "Friday Night Lights" and the rock and the state championship banners that hang all over the place.
For decades, Friday nights in Hoboken have been owned by the Red Wings. The Mile Square City and in particular, JFK Stadium, has been a place of domination.
"As many teams that have gone into Hoboken on a Friday night, that's how many have gone home with a big loss," Rotondi said. "I know all about that mystique. I played at Hoboken. It's where I came from. I coached there for a long time. I knew what that program was all about."
Added Rotondi, "But the banners are from past teams. That's what I told the kids. They're not from now. I told them that they couldn't get caught up in the mystique."
And then finally, there's the idea that this Hiller team is representing history. After this season, there will be no such thing as Union Hill football. This is it.
"We've been using that as a bit of motivation," Rotondi said. "This is historic. This team will be forever remembered as the last Union Hill team. It's their last chance to make their mark. I keep reminding the kids that every time they walk onto the field, it's one more day of writing history, one less day that they will wear a Union Hill uniform. We don't dwell on it, but we certainly make sure they remember what they're playing for. They're going to be forever remembered."
So there were a lot of factors on the line last Friday night when the Hillers headed down the 14th Street Viaduct and headed into Hoboken one last time. The coach who was born and raised in the Mile Square City was taking a football team into his hometown for one last chance, taking a school that hadn't sniffed a win over Hoboken in 18 long years for one final shot at getting that elusive victory.
"Our kids were charged up and ready to play," Rotondi said. "I couldn't have asked for anything better."
The game wasn't exactly highlight film material. Everyone and their mothers believed that the game would be a high-powered offensive affair, with the two teams going up and down the field.
Even Rotondi though it would turn out that way.
"I was expecting a shootout," Rotondi said. "To be honest, I was expecting a high-scoring game. With our weapons and their weapons, I figured that the last team who had the ball would win."
But it didn't turn out that way.
"It was like two heavyweight fighters punching it out," Rotondi said. "We didn't give up the big plays and that kept us in the game. We kept waiting for the big blow to happen and it never did. We were going back and forth."
The Red Wings did a good job stifling the Hillers' offensive attack. Halfback Steve Ulacia, who had almost 200 yards rushing and five touchdowns in a win over Marist the week prior, could really never get going.
"They did a very good job in running to Steve all night and keeping him down," Rotondi said. "I always felt that we were just a block away from Steve turning the corner, but they did a good job closing it up quick."
Ulacia had only 23 yards on 15 carries. The yardage was hard to come by.
On the other side, Hoboken kept hurting itself with turnovers, handing the ball over a total of six times, three on fumbles, three on interceptions.
"That kept us in the game," Rotondi said. "We played defense and caused some turnovers."
Jewry Hernandez, who scored the go-ahead touchdown in the first quarter on an 18-yard pass from Tommy Velazquez on a fourth-and-five play, intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble. Fullback Jorge Evora, who was the game's leading rusher with 84 hard-earned yards on 22 carries, also picked off a pass. So did Diego Escobar. Defensive tackle Iban Mosqueda and cornerback Juan Mejia were flying all over the field, making tackle after tackle.
Every time the Red Wings came close to scoring, they did something to turn the ball back over to the Hillers.
So when the final gun sounded, the Hillers had the improbable 7-0 victory, ending 18 years worth of demons and getting one last win against the neighboring rival before the school's doors are closed forever.
More importantly, the Hillers are 5-0. They were 4-0 last year, before their season came to a crashing halt with the lopsided loss to Hoboken.
Now, the Hillers stand pretty in their chances of securing the ever-so-elusive NJSIAA state playoff berth, the one that has escaped Rotondi since he took over the program seven years ago.
There were close calls. In 2004, the Hillers seemed destined for a Group III playoff berth - and a possible first-round playoff showdown against cross-town rival Emerson - but the NJSIAA declared the Hillers ineligible for the postseason because three players were ejected in a season-opening rout of Dickinson.
Last year, the Hillers looked solid after four weeks, but missed out of the postseason playoff party by one single power point. Although the Hillers finished 2006 with a solid 7-3 record, they didn't have a playoff berth to show for it.
Now, with the 5-0 mark, the Hillers are solidly entrenched in fifth place in their North Jersey Section 2, Group III sectional with 34 points, with three of those teams having already played one more game than the Hillers. More than likely, the Hillers need only one more win and they will clinch a berth in their final season ever.
How fitting would that be? Union Hill heads to the state playoffs in the last go-round? It's almost fairy tale proportions.
"Winning that game was like winning the Super Bowl," Rotondi said of last Friday night's historic victory. "But if we're the real deal, we're only halfway there. We can't afford a hangover. It's tough to regroup after a win like that, but we have to regroup and face a team that is as good and may be better than Hoboken."
The Hillers face Hudson Catholic this weekend.
"I just hope the kids respond," Rotondi said. "Because from the first day, the driving force was to make the state playoffs this year."
The dream is becoming more of a reality.