Stephen Davis received a rare honor Friday night.
It’s not often that a scholastic football coach congratulates opposition players at all.
It’s especially rare after said coach’s team lost the game.
It’s even less likely when said coach’s loss came in his debut as head coach.
And finally, it’s almost never that a coach shows the patience to wait for a reporter to be done interviewing the player to congratulate him.
But that’s exactly what happened Friday night to Davis, Phillipsburg's junior cornerback, after the 'Liners had handed brand-new Franklin coach Tony Racioppi his first loss (and Stateliner rookie boss Frank Duffy his first win), 20-6, in a Mid-State 38 Delaware Division opener at a steambath-esque Franklin High School stadium.
Racioppi waited for the interview to be done and then complimented Davis on his play.
It was a rare honor – and one the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Stateliner fully deserved.
Davis, playing cornerback in a game for the first time since eighth grade, looked like Darrelle Revis in garnet-and-gray as he defended pass after pass, denying the Warriors big play after big play that could have turned the game their way. Franklin kept throwing at Davis, Davis kept breaking up passes, and Phillipsburg stayed on track for the win.
“That was tough and gritty for Stephen,” Duffy said. “I am very proud of him tonight to play so well despite having limited experience at cornerback.”
Davis didn’t look inexperienced – just the opposite. He used his body, especially his strong and flexible hips, to gain superior position against physically taller and bigger receivers. He then used his hands to make plays while never coming close to being called for pass interference.
“I had started at strong safety as a sophomore, but playing safety is more about run defense and cornerback is about pass defense,” Davis said. “I started out this year at safety but we had some injuries and we needed cornerbacks, so the coaches called me in.”
And Davis knew the call would result in him being busy Friday night.
“Coming into the game, we knew their offense would be pass, pass, pass,” Davis said. “I knew I had to go up and get the ball, and being smaller than the receivers doesn’t bother me at all. I use all the skills I have.”
Davis made some adjustments during the game to compensate for Franklin’s heavy emphasis on deep routes instead of mid-range passes that, at times, appeared open.
“After that first post route that they almost got on me (Davis got a hand on the ball to Kevin Lewis) I couldn’t play seven yards off, I needed to play back deeper so they wouldn’t get by me,” he said.
The biggest play Davis made was again against the taller Lewis, this one in the end zone with 10-plus minutes left in the game. Had the Warrior hauled the pass in, P’burg’s lead would have been down to one score and Franklin would have owned all the momentum.
Instead, though, Davis got in perfect position, used his body to block Lewis' body and batted the ball harmlessly away.
The pass could not have been better defended.
“I knew we had to stop them there and I used my hips to get in position,” said Davis, who had to overcome some injuries of his own to get on the field at all this fall. “Then I had to go up and get the ball. It’s just playing Phillipsburg defense.”
Not quite -- it was playing brilliant defense.So brilliant that Stephen Davis deserved all the honors he got Friday night.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.