Jake Sabo didn’t quite know what he had done when he delivered the hit of the game Friday night.
“I had no idea what happened,” the Phillipsburg junior said.
What had happened was that Sabo had just delivered a win to the Stateliners with his huge fourth-quarter clutch play.
Sabo, the Phillipsburg long snapper, walloped North Hunterdon sophomore punt returner Griffin Honthy to force a fumble that set up the Stateliners’ go-ahead touchdown late in the 24-17 win over the Lions in an all-timer of a Mid-State 38 cross-over football game in front of an enthusiastic packed house at North’s Singley Field.
Phillipsburg (5-2) had trailed 17-10 with 9:45 to play in the fourth quarter before rallying. Overtime appeared a distinct possibility – or even a long North Hunterdon (4-4) drive for then winning score – until Sabo stepped in to plant Honthy and propel P’burg to the win.
“That play changed the whole game,” said Stateliner senior quarterback Danny Fisher, who scored the touchdown set by Sabo on a one-yard run a play later at the 3:20 mark of the final period. “Jake works so hard for us in practice every day and the long-snapper reps are all he gets. And he made the play of the game tonight for us.”
The play unfolded almost in slow motion. With the game tied at 17, Stateliner senior punter Brendan Grube lofted a high, arcing punt towards the left sideline. Honthy circled underneath it as Sabo made his run at the Lion from the center of the field. With each step it became clearer what was likely to happen if Honthy didn’t call for a fair catch.
He didn’t, the ball arrived and then a split second so did Sabo with the force of a runaway 18-wheeler on nearby Route 78.
The ball popped out, Phillipsburg sophomore Joseph Kowalczyk jumped on it at the Lion 15, and the Stateliners were in business.
“I am supposed to do that on punt coverage, get down the field,” Sabo said. “It felt really good to make that hit. But I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t know the ball was out. I just had all my teammates tackling me and celebrating.”
With good reason.
Once Sabo found out what he’d done, he couldn’t stop smiling.
“This means everything to me,” he said. “Coaches tell us that special teams are a third of the game."
Sabo and the special teams sure meant everything to Phillipsburg’s win Friday.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.