According to the Phillipsburg football roster, sophomore Nasir Ball is the second-smallest player on the roster at 5-foot-6, 135 pounds.
But few Stateliners came up bigger than Ball did at cornerback in Phillipsburg’s 14-6 Mid-State 38 Delaware Division win over visiting Montgomery on Homecoming Friday at Maloney Stadium.
Montgomery runs a pass-happy spread offense – Cougar quarterback Mike Patrizio threw 34 passes – and he has receivers such as Ryan Cashman and Kyle Kuminski that can make big plays.
But the Phillipsburg secondary – Ball and junior Stephen Davis at corners, seniorJa’Quan Jones at safety – almost totally denied Montgomery the deep strike that could have broken open a close game.
“I thought we played the deep ball very well; they took a lot of shots down the field on us,” Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy said. “Nasir was a big part of that.”
Ball had missed four games with a hand injury but has come strong,
“It’s fun out there for me, running around with my brothers,” Ball said. “This was the second game I was back. We really practiced hard all week against their offense and we had to do a good job guarding against their pass.”
Ball might have made the critical pass defense play of the game late in the fourth quarter.
Phillipsburg had just turned the ball over via interception at its own 39, and the Cougars, trailing 14-6, moved to the 35 where they faced 3rd-and-6. Patrizio looked for Cashman down the seam at the Stateliner 5, but Ball was all over Cashman in a perfectly legal fashion to make sure the Cougar had no chance to catch the ball.
“My job was to pick up the deep guy and make sure he had no chance to catch the ball,” Ball said.
He did that well all night. Duffy thinks Ball is a natural.
“Cornerback is a spot where some players just have natural savvy and Nasir has it,” Duffy said. “He has the the hip turn, the athleticism, the ball savvy. That’s a big part of what we do in pass defense is what Nasir does back there.”
Ball, pleasantly modest, hesitated when a reporter asked him if he thought he played well Friday.
One of his captains didn’t hesitate at all. “I think he played he a great game tonight,” said Stateliner senior Zach Troxell, who overheard the question. Duffy agreed.
Back in August, the only agreement on the P’burg secondary was that it was a major question mark. Now, it’s a major strength. Davis, who had an interception on a perfectly-defened out-and-up to end a Cougar threat right before the half, is playing at an all-league level, Ball is close, and Jones is a textbook safety, silkily slick on pass defense and a strong run defender.
So much for preseason prattle.
“We just forget about all that negative stuff,” Ball said. “We ignored the noise.”
And now Nasir Ball is making noise at cornerback that is getting harder and harder for anyone who watches Phillipsburg football to ignore.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.